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Learn Programming in Five Easy Lessons

In last week's column, I asked whether you thought Microsoft should more clearly separate training from certification. Your feedback was impressive and well thought out. If you want to read all the responses, click here. Please feel free to post additional comments and ideas as well.

Most of the readers who responded seem to feel that training's primary purpose should NOT be certification, that training and certification really are two separate things. Training should train people to do a job, and after they start doing the job and gain some experience, they might feel confident about taking a certification exam.

Several readers comment on the frustration of attending class with people who don't have the background to be in the class—that is, people who think they can simply take a 1-week class and be prepared to pass an exam. Instead of learning all they need for the exam, these students keep the whole class from learning much of anything. Their questions are so basic, involving concepts such as how to use the GUI tools, that they keep the instructor from moving forward and covering the more crucial technological topics.

One reader, Gloria, takes a different tack. She suggests that people who really want to learn a product or technology check with their local colleges to see whether they participate in the Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP). I infer from Gloria's comments that she feels that 4 or 5 days might simply not be long enough to learn even the basics about a new technology—even if you're taking a formal training class to learn how to do a job. For many subject areas—in particular, for programming classes—I agree with her wholeheartedly.

SQL Server, which is my primary training topic, has two main courses. One, an administration course, deals with concepts, technologies, methods, and the use of the SQL Enterprise Manager GUI tool. For the most part, adequately prepared students (i.e., those who meet the prerequisites) can complete all the labs and understand most of the concepts. Although I usually don't focus on what will be on the exam, some students have passed the SQL Server Administration exam using only what they learned in my class.

The other SQL Server course is a programming course in the Microsoft dialect of SQL (Transact SQL—TSQL). For most people who really want to learn something from this class—whether it's how to develop good SQL code to support their applications or enough to pass the certification exams—5 days isn't enough time. It's difficult to become fluent in a programming topic when you do only a couple of small exercises before you move on to the next topic. The time allowed in the class for labs is never optimal. Some people finish early because they understand a particular topic, but for those who get stuck or who missed a key point somewhere along the line, the time isn't nearly long enough.

I've often wished I could teach the SQL Programming class in a college environment. When I was a college teacher, most of my classes met for 2 hours, twice a week. Students could work as long as they wanted on their programming assignments. If the students got stuck, they could come talk to me or one of the teaching assistants.

But that's just my fantasy. I've learned to deal with the 5-day format, but I agree it isn't the ideal way to really learn programming.

So whether you're taking a class to learn the material or to help prepare for an exam, you need to be aware that you might not get everything you need in 1 short week. You simply have to keep working and keep learning.

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