Today’s economic uncertainty has reeled in a lot of discretionary spending on items like training, so many organizations may not be willing to foot the entire bill for an employee’s training or certification. Besides, even in the best of times, many developers are too much in demand to be out of the office for a week of expensive off-site training. Let’s have a look at some cheaper alternatives.

Work the Web
Many training companies offer online versions of their classroom training at a considerably lower cost. For example, IMG Education Services offers two varieties of their “Mastering Visual Basic 6 Development” class. The instructor-led training lasts five days and costs $1,995. The online, self-paced class, on the other hand, is nearly one-third as expensive at $699.

Other online-only companies provide even lower-cost training. has a large selection of relatively cheap training packages available, ranging from introductory C programming to SQL Server administration. offers certification preparation packages for download at around $25 each.

Of course, there is a reason online training is generally cheaper than its classroom counterpart. The primary benefit to instructor-led training is the accessibility of the instructor to answer questions. Look for programs that simulate this by providing a discussion forum or e-mail list to allow students to collaborate and get questions answered.

Sometimes, the best approach is to just train yourself. Forming study groups with like-minded coworkers or friends is one way to do so. For example, several members of the development staff here at Builder meet regularly for after-hours Java certification study.

To form your own group, find a person who has already passed, or at least taken, the certification for which you’re preparing and recruit that person into your group. Local user groups can be another source of study partners if you can’t find any available at your office.

Check vendor Web sites for the recommended curriculum for a certification. Armed with this information, you should be able to build your own study program, either for your study group or for yourself. Here are some places to start:

Alternatives to vendor certifications
One slightly radical solution might be to eschew the entire vendor certification system and pursue an independent, and often dramatically cheaper, certification. falls into this category. It certifies employees for several large organizations including IBM, Manpower, and EDS. They offer a wide selection of tests for around $20. If you pass, you can request a certificate proclaiming your achievement for $8. Compare this with the $100 cost of a typical Microsoft certification exam, and you can see that substantial savings can be had by not paying for a vendor’s logo on your certificate.

I have a quasi-masochistic love of taking tests and have taken several at Brainbench that were free at the time. The Visual Basic test was similar in difficulty to the Microsoft VB Desktop test, and I believe that it concentrated less on fact memorization than did the equivalent Microsoft test.