Considering Boot-Camp ROI

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In 2001, after successfully attending an 11-day Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) boot camp, and a 16-day Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) on Windows 2000 boot camp, someone from Novell Education approached me and asked me to review one of their boot camps. Initially I hesitated because I was unsure what the ROI would be and because I was tired of camp. Nevertheless, I agreed to attend a five-day Novell-authorized Certified Directory Engineer (CDE) boot camp in Tallahassee, Fla., where I would analyze Novell’s boot-camp methodology for instructional quality and ROI, two points I didn’t consider at first when I attended the other two boot camps. When I attended those first boot camps, all I wanted was to get certified as quickly as possible (and I achieved that goal).

Novell’s CDE boot camp involved a 4.5-day exploration of two Novell courses. We spent two days on Directory Technologies and 2.5 days on Advanced NDS Tools. Unlike the other boot camps, we received no study guides, practice tests or other test-prep materials. We simply got 4.5 days of instruction from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and students could voluntarily stay late to work on labs. (I chose not to.) More than 60 percent of the class was devoted to hands-on labs, with remaining time in lecture and discussion. It was a relaxed environment, with only a modest level of tension. Both CCNP and MCSE boot camps I attended featured rigorous 12- to 16-hour days, with lots of tension.

On the fifth day, students in the CDE boot camp had the opportunity to sit Novell’s CDE Practicum, an exam where you connect remotely to five live servers at Novell headquarters from your test site. Those servers included both NetWare 4.11 and 5.0 servers in a single tree. Each test-taker was asked to repair up to 10 directory service errors and then to perform five to 10 simple administrative tasks in less than two hours. If you left any task undone or any error remained in the tree at the end of the exam, you failed. This was a fantastic test of one’s understanding of practical concepts and techniques involved in working with NDS. Obtaining CDE certification also required candidates to take written exams on the two Novell courses covered in the boot camp. No time was allotted for these other exams; students were encouraged to take them on their own after they returned home.

Except for me and one other student, all the students in my class left the boot camp certified as CDEs. That student failed the practicum at the end of the boot camp, but passed it one month later. During the boot camp, all students used their lunch breaks to take and pass the written exams, but I chose not to.

Instead, I decided to test the boot camp’s instructional methodology. Boot camps traditionally rely on short-term memory and a focused, non-distractive environment where all learning and tests follow a rigid, published schedule. I opted to wait two months to take the Practicum. I relaxed, I enjoyed the holidays and only studied my notes from the class for an hour the day before the exam. I passed the Practicum with seven minutes left on the clock. It was without a doubt the best IT certification exam I’ve taken in the past eight years. It tested my skills and knowledge, but did not test my ability to read “War and Peace” or to memorize absurd facts. It was a professional high.

But I was not yet a CDE: I had to pass both written exams. I waited another month, then took both exams on consecutive days, again with only an hour’s study before each one, relying simply on my boot-camp notes. I wanted to know if my instructor really prepared me for them. Indeed, I passed both exams at the Novell Instructor level. The boot camp’s instructional methodology was superb. It relied neither on short-term memory nor a focused, non-distractive environment. Instead, it relied on sound teaching methods.

After earning the CDE in early 2002 I asked, “What return will it yield?” What I found was that I had to follow a business model that I’ve used since entering IT: I had to promote myself and the certification, then gauge the response. My plan was to give it a year before making a final decision. As I did this for the CDE, I did the same for the MCSE and CCNP boot camps. After a year, my MCSE ROI was zero; my CCNP yielded only a modest return, but enough that I would attend it again given the opportunity.

The CDE results surprised me. I assumed its ROI would be zero or less, much like the MCSE. On the contrary, it was unbelievably positive. My Novell business grew from less than 20 percent to more than 80 percent of my income. Contracts and teaching opportunities came from unexpected sources based on the CDE. Plus, I landed some support contracts that would have been impossible without the cert. Thus, I recommend the CDE to those who want a positive ROI on boot camp. I also commend it as an example of what boot camps could and should be, as opposed to long days of lecture, drills and exam-focused training.

Warren E. Wyrostek, M.Ed., is a contract network trainer and senior network engineer. You can reach Warren at wyrostekw@msn.com.

 

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