Managing Training

The great thing about introducing programmers to NEXTSTEP is that its style of object-oriented programming is such a fresh and powerful departure from traditional computing environments. Of course, that's the main difficulty as well.

"People always hear that once you learn the NEXTSTEP programming environment, you're able to build applications more quickly and efficiently than in other environments," says David Besemer, principal of Besemer & Associates, a NeXT certified training partner in Boulder, Colorado. "But what isn't always said is that the learning curve to get to the point where you're building programs is very steep. It's a rich environment. There's a lot to learn"

"Our developers had strong Cobol skills, limited C background, and virtually no background in object-oriented techniques," says Don Winn, a senior analyst who coordinates information-technology training at PanCanadian Petroleum in Calgary, Alberta. Under NEXTSTEP, "they felt like they went from being expert Cobol programmers to suddenly not knowing anything."

The NEXTSTEP learning process can take as long as two or three years before substantial results start to become evident, according to an estimate by the director of training at a major NEXTSTEP shop.

"I've seen customers disabled because they didn't get sufficient training not in NEXTSTEP, but in object-oriented techniques," says Jan Tyler, head of services marketing for NeXT. "Customers have to be made to realize that it requires education to get the full benefits of object programming."

NeXT realized this early on when it opened its first Dev Camp, the five-day course it runs at its facilities in Chicago and Redwood City. At $1800 a head, the company provides instruction tracks geared toward various student populations end users, application programmers, system administrators, and NeXT technical-marketing partners. For organizations that want to train a lot of people, NeXT will set up a private, on-site Dev Camp for $15,000.

In June of last year, NeXT introduced its mentorship program, which is similar to programs created by third-party consultants. Approaches vary, but the basic tenet of mentoring is to replace book learning with hands-on, guided apprenticeships. "You really won't be successful until you have at least two object-oriented development efforts under your belt," says Joe Ortiz, product marketing manager for Pencom Software, an Austin, Texas-based NEXTSTEP training partner. "There's a difference between reading articles and actually doing it."

NeXT's new mentoring programs are tailored to cleave closely to the application needs of the customer's organization. After closely studying these needs, NeXT crafts courses and exercises that will generate at least a portion of the prototype of the real app. NeXT consultant-teachers are available at the site for 25 to 30 days during a 10- to 14-week period, according to Tyler. If this mentoring program sounds good, it ought to: NeXT charges $100,000 for it.

Whether you're interested in a mentoring arrangement or more standard classroom instruction, NeXT itself is not the only option. To ensure high-quality training from third-party providers, NeXT has established a network of Certified Training Partners across Europe and North America. Many offer both on-site and off-site training arrangements.

But the instruction that NeXT and its training partners offer won't do for everyone. Some organizations have chosen to develop their own curriculum. One of the most elaborate in-house training programs in the NEXTSTEP world is going in Winn's training department at PanCanadian.

When the company's IS managers sat down to design a NEXTSTEP curriculum more than a year ago, Winn and his colleagues came up with a long list of criteria goals they wouldn't have been able to achieve if they'd used third-party trainers or sent their people to NeXT's Dev Camp. For example, they wanted to bring their programmers, user customers, and system administrators along quickly, but with a proper introduction to the concepts of object environments.

Also, they wanted a system of modular courses that would provide breaks, during which programmers would apply the concepts they'd learned, before returning for subsequent, more advanced course modules.

But most importantly, PanCanadian wanted ownership of its training process again, something that would have been difficult or impossible if it had brought in third-party trainers or gone to NeXT.

Since the courses were developed by PanCanadian's IS department, the firm had the freedom to design course work that was relevant to the company's specific business needs. "That way, the training took on a whole different level of relevance," says Winn.

For the first year or two of its entrance into the NEXTSTEP world, Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) brought in many outside consultants to teach classes for developers and sent many programmers to Dev Camp, according to Joe Troccolo, director of the education department at the Chicago-based financial trader. But now, with a critical mass of in-house expertise, the firm relies more on a kind of grass-roots approach to transmitting NEXTSTEP knowledge to new hires. "New people are pretty much trained right in the department," Troccolo says.

Most trainers also face the task of instructing nonprogramming end users. The hard part for SBC was finding the best time to deliver instruction to traders and others who are tied to market hours. So SBC made videotapes that provide instruction in some basic NEXTSTEP applications Wingz, NeXTmail, WordPerfect that the traders could watch after trading hours.

Training managers like Winn and Troccolo recognize that one of the defining characteristics of working with NEXTSTEP is that the first two years of a firm's experience with it are a critical time. Programmers, administrators, and users aren't just getting an introduction to NEXTSTEP; the entire organization is getting introduced to NEXTSTEP and object-oriented programming. Like individual people, companies and systems learn and evolve, and managing that evolution is an important part of the trainer's job.

by Paul Karon

Real World is a continuing series that looks at the nuts-and-bolts issues of implementing NEXTSTEP solutions in large organizations.