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Inside Sun's Java Training Classrooms

From pure Java to applied Java

"Although I work independently, I have worked with Sun for several years now and I would rate their training resources extremely positively given the dedicated training centers and comprehensive study guides that the company makes available to students in this space. In the context of the Java courses that I work on currently, what makes the classes continually relevant is that although many of the base constructs and foundations of the technology remain unchanged from year to year, there are specific areas of development where skills need to be updated constantly in relation to implementation in a typical programming environment," added Earl.

Sun's corporate training materials are enticingly written to welcome you into the Java community and make you feel like you're part of a winning team: 6 million developers, 1.2 million mobile phones, 1.65 million smart cards and 1106 members of the Java Community Process. What's not to like about those figures?

Sun breaks its training structure down as follows:

  • Classroom sessions: This is described as the real-time, hands-on, collaborative segment of Sun's total offering; in the U.S., the UK, and elsewhere, the company has built dedicated centers of "training excellence" that are well equipped, comfortable and extremely conducive to a pleasant working week.
  • CD-ROM based training: This is intended to be the self-paced follow-on training for some courses, or can be viewed as a cost-effective option for those not able to get to a training center and pay the course fees.
  • Web-based training: Like the CD-ROM-based option, this is also self-paced and cost-effective, but is potentially also more interactive.
  • Team training: This is an option offered by Sun that the company says is versatile and customizable.
  • Live virtual classes: This environment is both online and real-time; it is also highly interactive and delivered by experts.

Objectives
As previously stated, the particular course I attended was focused on Java Standard Edition 6.0. It was structured to first describe the Java runtime environment and the syntax of the language. It then covered object-oriented concepts as they apply to the language and then moved on to the more advanced features of the Java platform.

The course took into consideration the fact that while the Java programming language is operating-system (OS) independent, the GUI that it produces is dependent on the OS in which the code is executed. Sun is clear to point out that a good degree of post-course practice is needed to gain full levels of proficiency with the techniques taught in the classroom or via its other training channels.

One reality check perhaps and something that kind of resonates with what chief executive officer and president Jonathan Schwartz said at JavaOne earlier this year in his press break out sessions - these courses are not cheap. I'm sure they pay for themselves so-to-speak if you approach them properly. But even if Sun's open source offerings (OpenSolaris, Java, Netbeans, Glassfish, MySQL, etc.) are free, back in San Francisco Schwartz reminded us that Sun is there to make the technologies available and "Sell you support when you need it."

From Pure Java to Applied Java
I spoke to students attending the course throughout the week and they were all pleased with the amount of hands-on experience they received with a view to getting to grips with the nuances of the language. I also spoke to the management at Sun to try and get a more holistic view of the general composition of the company's training programs.

"I like to explain the structure of Sun's Java training resources by describing the Standard Edition (SE) 6.0 segment as rather like the fundamentals of learning a foreign spoken language - let's say French - in terms of the need to first of all grasp the construction of grammar and core terminologies. This, if you like, is the ‘pure' element of Java learning; and from this point students can progress to an ‘applied' segment focused on developer certification for real-world implementations. If I can extend the analogy here for a moment, I'd describe that second applied tier as rather like being dropped in a field in rural France and having to fend for yourself and actually work with the terms and functions that are now somewhat familiar to you," said Kevin Streater, customer learning manager for Sun Microsystems.

"From the applied learning segment, developers can then move to learning a third technology tier working with Java Enterprise Edition (EE) 5.0 where they will gain the skills needed for exposure to major-scale enterprise level projects. This EE segment sits at version 5.0, so as such it is ‘behind' yet ‘above' the work carried out at the SE 6.0 level. This is because as new features emerge in SE, they have to evolve and therefore scale up to EE before they can be implemented at that level."

Streater went on to confirm the fact that greater attention is being paid to staff training issues during the current economic downturn. Investing in staff productivity is now more important than ever - and as a benchmarking tool for recruitment, companies are paying greater attention than ever to the hires they make to ensure they bring in the best people for the job. Professional certification being a tangible point of reference as it is, it is arguably becoming even more important in an increasingly tightening labor market.

The Analyst's View
Sun has recently commissioned an IDC whitepaper that analyzes the skills-focused resources that the company says are so important to developers in the field today. Available at http://uk.sun.com/training/certification/performance.html, IDC explored the impact that Sun's certification can have on team and organizational performance. Key findings include notes such as the fact that development teams with 50% of team members certified on relevant Sun technologies and processes tend to perform at the top tier of operational performance. Specifically, this means performance improvements in application development by more than 40% over teams with no certified team members.

As a further example for system administrators, teams with high concentrations of certified staff had about 20% more of the corporate servers centrally managed, increasing efficiency and reliability. Teams with Sun certified system administrators met their deployment commitments up to 88% of the time (30% more often than teams without Sun certified administrators), which is particularly important in high availability or shared services environment.

This has been a really good chance to get one step closer than usual to Sun. I saw that the students remained focused throughout the course, right through to the end of the session each day. This was probably helped by them having a very enthusiastic teacher who really knew his stuff, but who am I to say that the other trainers aren't just as good? What would be very interesting from this point is to carry this project forward and see how Sun builds the individual students' knowledge base to the more development-centric course levels and then to its Java Enterprise Edition level. But that's for next time!

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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