Linux/Unix System Administration Certificate in April, and earned his Certificate in June.

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Breaking down barriers to learning = faster on-the-job skills

I love getting unsolicited email like this from our students:

“Hello Everyone at O’Reilly School of Technology (especially Kelly),

Just an update…Since I completed the Linux/Unix System Admin Certificate courses, I have received 3 job offers to go to work as a Linux System Administrator. I have accepted one of the offers and I will be starting work next week.”

This email is from Bill McKinley, who enrolled in our Linux/Unix System Administration Certificate in April, and earned his Certificate in June.

He goes on:
“It really felt good to know the answers that the Chief Technical Officer asked me in my interview. At another interview, the Tech Manager told me he was just ‘going to skip to rest of the questions’ and followed by saying ‘I’ll have HR send you out an official offer letter by the end of the week.’ And they did…so the hardest thing about taking courses at O’Reilly School of Technology became deciding which position to accept!

Thanks O’Reilly School of Technology for very useful real world courses that are loaded with good applicable information. And thanks to my instructor, Kelly, for the insights, guidance and teaching. I will be taking additional courses from O’Reilly School of Technology in the future…especially since I can immediately apply the info I learn!

Thanks again,
Bill McKinley from Texas”

These are the kinds of emails that keep me going. And in case you’re incredulous at the idea of someone getting a system administration job after working on it for only 4 months, here’s how it works:

When we started this school back in 1997, we set out to break down the barriers to learning that too often prevent smart, hardworking folks like Bill from getting the job they deserve. By barriers I mean things like rigid schedules and location, but I also refer to the intimidation that comes from the notion that technology is out of reach for the non-alpha geeks out there.

We wanted first of all to take away any need to download and configure hardware or software for a class, since that can often be harder than the class itself. Then, the idea was to streamline and automate project building, the handin process, the grading process — ONLY things that were not essential to learning and skills-retention. Finally, our goal was to ensure that all work was done in the actual technology being learned, with real-world projects and courseware that was conducive to learn-by-doing, rather than simulations or watching videos.

The result is a combination of self-paced courseware and open-ended projects, a web-based Learning Sandbox, and instructors in a one-to-one coaching role, that allow the student to quickly progress by working on their skills in a guided fashion — making mistakes, getting coached, and then taking that to the next level. The instructor doesn’t allow the student to go on until she masters the previous concepts, yet the student is allowed to master those concepts in creative ways by building websites, databases, programs, etc. that play to her strengths. The best part is, when finished, there is a large portfolio of projects in the student’s account that she can show off to potential employers.

And this is exactly what Bill did — he was given a Learning Sandbox with a virtual Linux root server, courseware which guided him along, and his instructor Kelly who graded all his projects in detail and coached him when he got stuck. He experimented with all kinds of Linux commands in that server, built actual networks and scripts, and installed software. Undoubtedly, he screwed up the server at many points and had to get Kelly’s help to fix it. And I’m sure that there were many instances where Kelly handed back a project and said “you need to improve A, B, and C and hand this back to me” until he got it right. Maybe there were times he’d get frustrated, but he persevered.

Isn’t that just the kind of experience you need in order to be a system administrator? I’m sure this is why his interviews went so well — not only could he show them exactly what he could do, but he could also address any potential problems because he’d already experienced them. In short, he was on-the-job ready in 4 months.

I truly believe that in breaking down learning barriers, we at O’Reilly School of Technology have created a shorter path to career education goals. If you’ve already been through college, why must career education take years when the skills you really need for the job you want can be acquired so much more quickly? After all, HR and IT managers really don’t care how much time you’ve spent sitting in a classroom or studying for a paper exam — they want to hear about your actual experience doing the tasks that are needed for the position, and your abilities to solve the problems that will crop up. So why not skip the superfluous methods and get right to acquiring the skills at hand? Those are the questions we are always asking here.

P.S. Congratulations to Bill on his exciting new job! We’re so proud to have played such a big role in his success.

  • Tony Fernandez

    I read it

  • Ryan

    As a prospective student, I really enjoy reading these types of success stories. Can others comment on how much the OST certs have boosted their resume and helped them land new jobs in the IT field? I’m very curious because I have worked in software technical support for years and looking to transition into other areas of IT, but have no IT certificates or continuing ed training. I do have a Bachelor’s degree, but it’s not in Computer Science and I graduated in the late 90’s so the coursework I took back then is certainly outdated. Can OST courses and portfolio make a huge difference even though they are not University level credit or actual industry certifications? Just looking for some additional insight before signing up. Thanks.

  • Trish

    Hi Ryan,

    Sure, we get success stories like this all the time. Check out a small subset here:

    Of course I’m biased, but I believe that our courses (and the portfolio you create while in them) will make a big impact on your effort to transition into your desired IT position. This is especially true since you already have a degree (even if it’s not in CS) and already have IT experience. Diversifying your technologies and demonstrating your IT skills in a tangible way to employers will always help you to stand out in the job market.

    Thanks for your comment,

  • Alka More

    Hi Trish,

    I want to write letter to you but not able to find any link to submit my letter. Could you please email the procedure to submit the letter.

    Alka More

  • David

    Hi Trish,

    Do these courses provide you with enough training in various programming languages to list them on your resume as being “Technically Proficient in …”?

    David Green

  • Trish

    Hi David,

    Yes. If you complete a Certificate series, then our intention is for you to be technically proficient enough for at least an entry-level job in that discipline.


  • Ryan

    Hi Trish, I have a question. Do you know if the .NET Programming Certificate will be updated to include the .NET 4.0 Framework concepts? It appears that it’s still using 3.0 currently. Thanks.

  • Trish Gray

    Hi Ryan,

    Yes, we have a brand-new C#.NET course coming out very soon, this month (January) I believe. This course will be using Visual Studio 2010 as well as the new .NET framework.

    Thanks for your comment, and Happy New Year!

  • Ryan

    Hi Trish, any updates on the C#.NET course?

    Also, does the portfolio allow for a student to build/host other “practice” applications that are not necessarily part of the course assignments? I’m curious about what the portfolio actually looks like, and how prospective employers have typically responded to these from current/past students. Thanks!

  • Trish

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your comment. I checked on the status of C#.NET part 1, and it is indeed finished and ready to go. However, because of complications with Microsoft licensing, it seems we can’t release it until part 2 has been completed. I’m so sorry for the frustrating delay on that — it’s things like this that keep me programming in open source!

    As for the portfolio, I have better news: yes, you can build any application you like using the tools at your disposal, and you can present them in your online portfolio as long as you keep your lab account open.
    Generally the portfolio is like a web hosting account — you create a landing page which can list out the projects you want to highlight in any way you choose. In my qualitative experience, I’ve found that students have gained quite a bit of value from their online portfolios, especially in the job interview area.

    Please let me know if you have any further questions.