O’Reilly School Curriculum: It’s not always about what’s new

Working at O’Reilly you can’t help but get drawn into lots of discussions about new and emerging technology that may or may not go big time. R, Junos, Tokyo Cabinet, Big Data–our internal email lists are a litany of chatter and debate,

As the director of the O’Reilly School of Technology, I’m responsible for identifying the curriculum we develop for our students, and it’s nothing like the process that goes into deciding what books we publish. O’Reilly book editors are constantly scanning the horizon, looking for new trends and developments in technology, languages, and systems, and placing bets based on what they see. This is because publishers want to be the first out with great content on a hot new topic or software release.

At the O’Reilly School of Technology we move much more deliberately. Building a good course or series of online courses is a long and expensive process. In addition to creating the curriculum, we have to build technology infrastructures to support learning Sandboxes that allow our students to interact with the technology they are learning. Second, and more importantly, we have to create University Certificate Programs that will help our students land — and excel in – real-world jobs. The end result is that courses based on older and more established technologies, such as Perl and Linux, have more demand than newer ones.

Here is a graph produced monthly by the O’Reilly Research team. It shows the relative popularity of topics according to book sales (in blue) and Job postings (in green):blog1pic1-thumb-240x240

 

At the School we are much more likely to pick the topics at the top of this chart and ignore those at the bottom. Of course, O’Reilly has tons of books on these topics as well as you can see from the large number of books sold. Many of those books are the standard in their topic area. Also, when new versions of those technologies come out, our editors are on top of those developments and usually have books out by time the new version ships.
Where we diverge in thinking is more toward the bottom of this list. Some of the technologies at the bottom of this list are the fast growing topics in the industry. For instance take a look at the graph of the popularity of Objective-C, the language of iPhone development:

blog1pic2-thumb-240x240

As you can see, Objective-C book sales are growing rapidly, but there still isn’t much of a job market. This is a hot topic right now and O’Reilly has many titles out on iPhone development and Objective-C. However, at the School we will most likely hold off developing new titles for this topic for quite some time until the job market reacts and takes hold.

Now take a look at the popularity of Perl:

blog1pic3-thumb-240x240

Most of the decline in this graph reflects a decreased demand for books. However, the demand for Perl programmers in the job market has remained relatively stable We already have some courses which cover Perl, but we are currently building a four-course Perl Programming Certificate Series, the first of which will be available later this month.

As we scan the technology horizon and place bets on additional course offerings, we are currently building a Python Series, a .NET series, an advanced Java series, and a C++ Series. I recently went on a 14-company sales trip in the New England Area and every company I visited was begging us to create an RPG programming series. (RPG is a 30 year old language for AS/400 and I-series IBM machines.) The companies want a learning solution that uses our Learning Sandbox approach. This would allow their employees to learn and gain experience on systems that aren’t being used in the production cycle. Given the age of RPG, and the demand I’m hearing about, clearly, it’s not always about what’s new in the computer education world.

Scott Gray
O’Reilly School of Technology

  • Ty Oft

    Hi Scott!
    Well, first of all just want to praise the efforts of the OST (and yours personally) in helping people get the skills they need.
    Just want to make a couple of comments on your article and maybe on OST courses.
    Not that I am necessarily interested in it at the moment, but I see a different picture on Objective-C demand (at least in the UK where I am based). Take a look at the two links on job trends:
    http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/uk/iphone.do
    http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/uk/objective-c.do
    To me they look like the craziest rise in needs for O-C developers (note please the graphs are on jobs not books or interests).
    Also on the OST courses. I would LOVE to see that more marketing and amazing advertising is put into promoting the OST certification (and that not only in the US but a world-wide bit of action). As I intended to take some courses with the OST I kept searching the Internet to see what people say about it, but all I found were a few articles repeated on different websites and even those from around 2007. Plus here and there a review by a guy completing a Unix certificate or someone else’s comments on out-of-date use of HTML.
    And that is a shame given the fantastic concept of the OST online courses. I would personally love to hear of an “O’Reilly Certified Java Programmer” (OCJP)certification, followed by an “O’Reilly Certified Java Developer” (OCJD) certification, more or(actually not one jot) less than a proper competition to the non-hands-on Sun’s SCJP and SCJD (yeah, someone claiming to work of OST said on a forum that OST is not competing with some certificates but with universities – right, as if OST is offering degrees). And the same for PHP, Phyton, DBs and the rest. It just sounds good: “O’Reilly Certified Developer”. With the stamp of UoI on it too, nothing will beat that.
    [Probably I am day-dreaming, but if I was to aim even higher I would weld together a couple of UNIX courses + 1 OOP course + the Java cert + the Advanced Java cert + a couple of SQL courses and maybe 1 XML and I will give it something like "O'Reilly Certified Software Engineer – Java" (“OCSE-Java”, how nice is that?); and the same for .NET when it comes out].
    I guess things like this don’t happen over night (not that they can not) and it would also probably require a good kick in the Marketing department, but at least in the UK when I mention OST + UoI people ask “Ah, is this another ‘diploma/degree mill’ from the US?”. It’s a shame, but it’s true and is based on lack of …, well I leave that with the marketers.
    Of course, the efforts at OST and the format of courses are laudable, while the O’Reilly and UoI names as well as the financial promotions on courses make the certificates valuable, and my rant/day-dreaming would not take the glory of successful employment for some based on these certificates. It’s just that I could see something even greater for OST than I can perceive at the moment.
    Nevertheless, congratulations one more time for the achievements so far and I wish you and your team and success for the future.

    Kind regards

    Ty Oft

  • Carlos Valdes

    First of all, congratulations for a great and well done job!
    I am a student of the php sql certificate and I think it is great!
    And well, I agree 100% with the prior post.
    Additionally I think it would be good to see:

    That your courses give credits for a real UoI online degree. This would lend credibility to the Certificates (in a letter saying this gives x number of credits for such online degree) and would promote this kind of learning among young people.
    A promotional discount to your courses included in every shipped book (maybe a unique card or e-mail for e-books, with a number to be used once). Again to promote interest of all the people that buy books or e-books and know nothing about OST.
    Advantages for OST students. Ok, you already have discounts on books bought. What about a discount to the meetings like SQL summits where O’Reilly participates?
    The possibility to have a number/person to contact the UoI for a quick and direct answer (there is already one for the OST with Georgia. I hope she can easily answer); so that a future boss could call the UoI to get certainty of your credentials. This would help stop the diploma mill question stated before..Even more for students from 3rd. world countries (like mine, I must admit), where you can get a fake diploma/certificate/degree around the corner.
    In my country there is a high respect for University certificates like these as long as thy can be certain it is an original (That is, you worked and learned).

    And thanks, your help has been great! Right now, in the middle of the certification, I have the possibility to work in the conversion of a legacy COBOL/LAN system to PHP/mySQL/WAN. Now I see no problem doing that.
    Thanks again!
    Carlos Valdes

  • Scott Gray

    Ty and Carlos, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

    Ty, there are two things to think about. One is the rate of job increase and the other is the rank of number of jobs for those skills. No doubt we’re seeing the rate for Objective-c skills accelerate, however, the total number of jobs openings for Objective-C still pales in comparison to other programming skills. This happens with every new technology development. We saw the same thing with Ruby a couple of years ago. Now, that trend has leveled off and the job market never really got that big. The reason it leveled off is because the other languages responded by creating Web Frameworks similar to Rails.

    Now that people are realizing that iphone and ipad apps can but created using web technologies, we may see some of that increasing demand for Objective C programmers level off and see an increase in demand for web developers with experience in creating mobile apps using Web Technologies. We’re definitely keeping an eye on this and will have to respond with the job market responds.

    As for marketing, we are stepping things up, but we need to manage our growth so that we can be certain to serve each and every student the best that we can.

    As for credit, this is something we have been researching for some time. Not only with the U of I, but with other institutions and other options. All I can say right now is that we are making significant progress in this direction.

    Thanks again!

  • Eileen

    I am completing a business degree, with a plan that includes designing mobile APPs (curriculum platforms and mobile database tools for businesses and non-profits) but I do not have a technical design background, and do not know what to look for, or what to expect (pay), when advertising for someone with the skills to design excellent mobile applications for business. I have called other design schools, who say that their students mainly specialize in games, and may not have the capabilities to design mobile business applications…. Do you have an overview (non technical) course for business managers in how to hire designers? Do you have graduates or students looking for projects that could help charities with mobile APP designs?

  • Kurt Krueckeberg

    I’d like to see a D programming language course. Seriously, I would, uUsing Andrei Alexandrescu’s The D Programming Language as a text.

  • http://www.epromos.com promotional products

    Eileen, its nice to see you taking an interest in design. I don’t have any advice where to go, but want to let you know in my experience, having both programming and design backgrounds would be very attractive to any business. programmers and designers tend to clash, both have such different goals.

  • http://www.articad.cc Greame

    I’d never really thought how authors choose new topics, it must be a nightmare! Imagine writing a book on a subject that you think is ‘emerging’ only for it to barely register on the public consistence and your work to then be wasted!

  • Robert

    I have been very pleased with the subjects chosen. I think things like java, linux, php, html+css and javascript are great choices since they are heavily used and well established.

    I am also thrilled with the choices for the new courses in development (perl, python, c++, and advanced java).

    I think most of the bases are covered. What I would like to see now is to go deeper rather than wider. That is why I was happy to see advanced java in development. I would love to see more programs added that are advanced continuations of the programs already offered.

  • http://www.freeporn.com/ Carla

    First of all, congratulations for a great and well done job!
    I am a student of the web designer certificate and I think it is great!
    I think most of the bases are covered. What I would like to see now is to go deeper rather than wider.

  • http://hornypharaoh.com Liza

    You have a point in here, but I must say that new stuff count almost always. Because new stuff are based on old ones. So, they come hand in hand. Old and new must stick together.

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    I am surprised to see that perl is in much more demand then objective c. If you start looking at dice.com for technology jobs you will see perl is not so popular. It is very flexible, but has nothing to do with c++, which is the base of most stable pieces of software. So I am surprised, really surprised…