# Wednesday, 09 January 2008

One year ago we tried to formalize the hosting of technical brown bag sessions at Vertica. After a couple of run-ups this time should be the real deal. We would take turns delivering a short session for our colleagues. A list of potential topics was created and someone was selected as responsible for the scheduling.

And now as the calendar says 2008 we can mark the one year anniversary of the “Vertica Beer & Learn Sessions”. Yep, you guessed it: We switched the lunch with a beer :o)

Marking this significant day I have decided to write a little more about our way of doing things as well as our considerations.

The topics for the sessions can be anything that has relevance to our daily work. A new technology that has been used, a project that has been completed, the use of new features in a product etc. We have even had the sales director talk about sales, in relation to our work as developers and consultants.

Right from the start we set the following four guidelines for the sessions:

  1. We would aim for bi-weekly sessions on Friday afternoons (which hopefully sort of explains the Beer part and of the name). This would be often enough to create a flow and still not over-ambitious so we couldn’t keep up.
  2. The sessions should be no more than one hour. We try to aim for 45 minutes, but usually it takes a little longer as soon as the questions start coming.
  3. Hosting a session should not require more than two hours of preparation. More time indicates that the host needs to perform research, and that is not the purpose. Also if more than two hours are required it might be a sign that the session will take more than 45 to 60 minutes to host.
  4. Being a presenter is optional. Obviously it would be great if everyone would like to present, however we have to recognize that people are different, and I do not believe anything good will come from forcing anybody to present.

Obviously it is not possible to make an expert of out anybody in such a short time regardless of the topic, but that really hasn’t been the purpose. The overall purposes of hosting these sessions have been:

  • General knowledge of technologies and products related to our work. A broad knowledge will help both during development as well as when talking with customers. The more possibilities you know of, the better solutions you will be able to propose.
  • Increased communication skills. In our work communication skills is at least just as important as technical skills. That is one of the reasons why we hire developers and not programmers.
  • Better understanding of what our colleagues work with. Getting straight to the person who is most likely to have a solution to a frustrating problem saves time for everyone.
  • Hosting the sessions Friday afternoon with a beer or two obviously there is also a social aspect to the sessions.

Now, after one year, I am quite satisfied with the results. A total of 16 sessions have been held (we had a two month break during the summer vacation period) and we have talked about everything from Business Activity Monitoring to Commerce Server and from Microsoft integration technologies to new language features in C# 2.0 and 3.0. Overall I think we have succeeded in attaining our goals with the sessions and they will continue in the New Year. The first sessions have already been scheduled and I am looking forward to continuing what I believe is a success.

I have heard of several others companies hosting similar sessions. Some during breakfast, others during lunch, and still others like ours on Friday afternoons. Feel free to leave a comment about the sessions at your work. The best way to improve what is being done is to share and learn from each other.

Wednesday, 09 January 2008 21:31:06 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   |  Trackback
# Wednesday, 03 October 2007

As mentioned some time ago in my post Training – Expense or Investment I had been setting up some In-house Commerce Server training for the eCommerce Team with former Commerce Server Product Manager Max Akbar.

Max was at the office for three days, and though expectations were extremely high, he even managed to top them. Not being a Commerce Server developed, I only sat in on the BizTalk integration part, where we got a good discussion about the Commerce Server BizTalk Adapters. As these behave quite differently from practically all other adapters, there were a lot to talk about.

The whole team where equally excited about the training, and both Søren and Brian have already posted blog entries with their experiences of the three days.

In order not for everything to be only technical, we all went out for dinner one night, as you can see from the picture below. Not only the eCommerce Team and Max, but everyone at Vertica were invited – even the Sales Director and the CEO :o)

Following this success we will definitely try to arrange more in-house training. The whole team together with a highly qualified trainer for several days is extremely valuable, both from a technical as well as a social perspective.

Currently we have started looking for someone to provide BizTalk R2 training with specific focus on the new EDI features. I already know of QuickLearn providing Deep Dive BizTalk courses, and all, but the newest member of the BPI team, have already attended their course. However, I would like some training with even more focus on the EDI features, than QuickLearn has expressed, they were able to provide. So if you happen to know someone you are more than welcome to leave a comment or send me a mail.

Wednesday, 03 October 2007 20:50:08 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   |  Trackback
# Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Approaching a new fiscal year at Vertica also makes it budget time. With help from my two colleagues, Søren and Troels, I have been in charge of the budget for training. This includes everything from conferences and in-house training to books and certifications. Though certainly not the most interesting part of my work it is nonetheless important.

I am not going to go into figures, but Vertica is spending, what I would consider a reasonable high amount of resources on training. However, we still very careful considering what event and conferences to attend, and in this post I would like to elaborate a little bit on how I see training, and what we do at Vertica.

Training should be looked at as an investment and not an expense. For most this might sound obvious, but my experience is, that this is certainly not the case everywhere. Almost every candidate we interview at Vertica asks about training (which is of course a fully legitimate and relevant question), some are telling that they are not even used to their company supplying books for them. I will come back to Tech Ed later but I heard something interesting last year: I cannot remember the exact numbers, but even though Tech Ed EMEA was held in Barcelona, and Spain is considerable larger that Denmark, there were more than twice as many Danes attending as Spaniards. I guess not everyone sees the investment vs. expenses relation the same way.

Not all Training is an Investment

There is a huge amount of possibilities when it comes to training, and careful planning and evaluation is important. Some of these possibilities are extremely valuable, whereas others certainly would be considered an expense more than an investment.

I remember when I was almost fresh out of school, working in my very first job at Rambøll Informatik. Obviously I was quite inexperienced and got very happy when I was signed up for my very first "real life" course. It was a Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) based course held by one of the top Microsoft training centers in Denmark. I don’t remember the name of the course, but it covered several of the technologies I was working with at the moment, including MS DTC. I admit that MS DTC might not be the easiest Microsoft technology to understand, however the trainer had obviously never worked with it, and was not able to answer even the simplest questions if is was not on his slides. My own experience with MS DTC was limited, but still surpassed that of the teacher. Quite a downer for a young kid eager to learn.

During my time at Rambøll I experienced this once more at a SQL Server 7.0 course, and ever since I have had a real hard time with these MOC courses – especially when combined with a professional trainer not doing much other than training. Thus we have also never had people from Vertica attend these MOC courses at training centers.

So what do we do at Vertica?

When we select events to attend at Vertica we look at a series of things. The following is more or less a prioritized list of the aspects taken into consideration:

  1. What are the topic/topics, and how deep does it seem to be?
    This is quite obvious. It is relevant to us or not, and does it have sufficient technical depth?

  2. Who is the presenter?
    Preferably a well-known industry specialist or maybe someone from the appropriate product team in Redmond. I am not going into too much detail about presenters or art of presenting in this post. Some presenters though are better than others and have the ability to make even the dullest topic interesting.

  3. Who is the organizer?
    Is this arranged by Microsoft or some third party? If it is a third party, who is it and what is their track record for arranging training?

  4. 4. What is the cost?
    At some point we do have to look at the cost, as we do not have unlimited funds. This includes entry fee, travel, hotel costs etc. Also being in IT Services we have to take into account that every time a consultant spends a week at a conference, he/she also does not invoice a single hour. Though training is an investment is would be naive to disregard this.

There are other things to consider, but these are the top 4 questions we ask whenever we get invited to or look at any training.

In-House Training

As Vertica is growing in size it starts to make more sense to arrange training in-house. Up until know we have very limited experience with arranging this, pretty much limited to a 2½ day training session on the Covast EDI Accelerator for BizTalk and a couple of late afternoon beers with Patrick Tisseghem from U2U discussing Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. Both very good experiences.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have been setting up in-house Commerce Server training with Max Akbar. Max used to be Commerce Server Product Manager and is now the owner of Commerce Server Training. He will come to the office for three days of training for everyone in our Commerce Server Team, in the beginning of September. We all have great expectations for this, and I am sure we will not be disappointed. I am pretty sure my experience with the teacher at the MS DTC course will not repeat itself :o)

I also believe that in the future we will try to do more in-house training, as long as we can get the right people to do the training. This way we can train the whole team at once.

The Vertica Training Schedule

As I started of saying we have been working out a budget for training prior to the new fiscal year starting. Although some events have been named not all funds are earmarked yet. Events and possibilities will show up during the year, but so far the schedule looks pretty much like this:

  • Tech Ed Developers, Barcelona
    I attended Tech Ed for the first time last year together with Søren. It was also the first time someone from Vertica went there, and it was a very good experience – technically as well as social. The sessions, speakers and the event as a whole were excellent and we are sending someone again this year.
    With an Early Bird registration fee of €1.945 + VAT it is also not the cheapest way to get training. Add travel, hotel cost etc. and it gets quite expensive. Maybe Microsoft should start seeing Tech Ed as an investment as well, and not as revenue :o) It is all worth it though.

  • Microsoft SOA & Business Process Conference 2007, Redmond
    Held on Microsoft Campus and arranged by the BizTalk Server Team, this is the BizTalk conference to attend. Vertica was represented for the first time last year, and that brought several ideas already implemented and running in production for customers. It is four action packed days for only $199!!

  • JAOO, Aarhus
    It will be the first time anybody from Vertica attends the JAOO conference. I have heard so much good about this conference and it is held right in our backyard in Aarhus, so it is a bit strange that we have never gone before. Originally a Java event (the biggest in Scandinavia) and that might also explain why we have been a bit awaiting in attending. The focus has changed and now covers a broad range of topics in professional software development, incl. project management. 

  • Designing SOA Solutions with Microsoft Technologies, Copenhagen
    Two day course almost in our backyard. If is held by QuickLearn, who from the BizTalk Deep Dive course which all BizTalk developers at Vertica have attended, as well as the BizTalk 2006 R2 course. Qualified and knowledgeable trainers are what we have seen and I expect that to be the case here as well.

These events leave room in the budget for other events not yet scheduled. I.e. with the Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 release early next year, I wonder if we will see a PDC late 2008(?). Note also that no single person is attending all these conferences – that would be a lucky guy :o)

Instead we try to share the knowledge with colleagues when somebody is returning back to the office. However, I have to admit that this is something we could get better at, and we are continously working on that.

One of the new things we are starting is that whenever someone attends a course or conference he or she should afterwards do an internal presentation for everyone else at our bi-weekly Beer and Learn sessions. Every other Friday we stop working early and take turns presentation a topic for everyone else.

Wrapping up

There are a lot of other topics to cover when it comes to training, and I might come back to that in a later post. This could include non-technical training, personal incentive for training and certification etc. However, this was some thoughts about how we see training at Vertica, and what we do to make sure we stay ahead of the pack.

There is certainly a lot of ways to look at training, both from an employee and from an employer’s perspective. But regardless it should be looked at as the investment it is, when addressed in a serious and well-planned way. I am certainly not saying that what we do at Vertica is the only right way, and as with everything else is it important to strive at continuously getting better.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007 19:07:20 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |   |  Trackback