Read this before paying for training

There's only one way to find out if a training or certification class is worth taking. Heed this advice to avoid throwing away your hard-earned money on a fraud.

What do you say to a 30-something person who wants to become a computer programmer? I have a friend who has been bitten by the technology bug. He learned a little HTML, a little Java, and now he's bent on becoming a developer.

I proffered three pieces of advice:
  1. Hang out with some developers. Find out how they really feel about their work.
  2. Try some free lessons. You can find a free, online tutorial for just about any programming language.
  3. Take some classes. "Before you sign up for any paid training," I said, "ask for references."

What happened next still has me reeling. I'd like to know if any of you have had similar experiences.

No references? No money, honey!
Training and certification companies are in the business of selling training. As is true in any industry, if you go looking to invest in training in IT skills, you're going to run across a few con artists among the quality training providers.

In his article, "The glaring hole in technical training: High-end classes," Mike Sullivan raises the question, "Why do [training companies] continue to advertise their course offerings without the first mention of who will be teaching it? The answer, I believe, is simple: They are picking the low-hanging fruit."

Mr. Sullivan—who counts MCSE+I, MCDBA, MCT, and 19 years of IT experience among his credentials—laments the fact that most training companies don't hire the best possible instructors. He also points out the lack of quality advanced training for experienced IT professionals.

My friend, the IT-wannabe, has contacted at least four training companies in the city where he lives, fishing for advice and information. "You should get an MCD," one source told him. "If you want to be a developer, get your Java certification," he heard from another.

My advice remained the same: Ask for references. I said he should ask for the names of at least two graduates of the program. And I insisted he must actually call these people and talk to them.

If it sounds like hogwash, it probably is
My friend calls one night and says he's whittled the list of training providers down to two. "Did you ask for references like I suggested?" I asked. "Yeah, but they said they couldn't give me any."

"Whoa! All engines stop! What do you mean, they 'couldn't' give you any references?"

"Well, they said they didn't do that. And besides, most of their students got jobs without even passing the certification.…"

Color me stupefied. I felt obliged to point out to my friend what I assumed was obvious to any casual observer: If a training company can't or won't give you any references, that's a bad thing. That company doesn't deserve your business.

After I railed about the state of IT training for five minutes, my friend finally promised he would demand references from training companies. He got a single name from one company, and two names from another firm. Folks, is it just me, or is that pathetic? I can't imagine giving one red cent to any institution that can't provide evidence of more than one or two satisfied customers.

The state of IT training
Shouldn't these training companies have a dozen pages worth of names of recent grads who are eager to brag about their new skill sets and pay raises? If you've recently paid big bucks to complete a training or certification course, how did you decide which vendor got your business? Please drop us a note or post a comment.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battlefield. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff's View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you'll get a bonus of Jeff's picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers. If you already subscribe, e-mail this column to a friend.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox