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What if we could learn IT skills at the speed of hackers?

IT training is not a marathon, but maybe it is a Skill Sprint, writes Nick Booth

IT criminals learn their skills on a need-to-know basis, so while they sprint ahead, we are held back by unimaginative tutors who insist on plodding through every feature of each system they are instructing us on. We only use 5% of the features, but the trainer is billing for the other 95%, come what may.

For some inexplicable reason, nobody has ever tackled this problem. But, finally, someone has come up with the answer – and he’s offering it as a service from which resellers could create fabulous value for everyone.

The man we want to thank is high-performance computing (HPC) expert Andrew Holway, who noticed that both training and consultancy are subject to unnecessary problems.

Training courses rarely give value for money as they are badly directed. The millions of instructions that a consultant offers their client often leaves them paralysed by indecision, and are calculated to create dependency rather empower the client with confidence.

This is the key to the change Holway has created. “Nobody remembers what you tell them, but they never forget how you make them feel,” he says.

Holway, who says he “kinda fell into supercomputers”, devised a fusion of the two knowledge-imparting disciplines. His new Skill Sprint framework gets its subjects up to speed as quickly as possible by making them concentrate only on what they need to know.

The result feels like a week-long maths exam, as one German client calls it. But since you are being trained using a real assignment, you emerge at the end of the course with two items of immense value. First, you have now smashed that Azure cloud migration you’ve been dreading. Second, you are now a Kubernetes Conquistador who fears nothing in the cloud.

Holway never does the work for the client – instead, he prompts them to think for themselves until they make the right choices. This way, they quickly pick up the basics so that the tutor can leave them to work things independently.

This seems such an obvious way of training that it makes you wonder why so many courses involve taking people out of productivity and sticking them in some unrecognisable environment and teaching them things they don’t need to know.

As the cloud multiplies the complexity of operations, the work of the front-line developers becomes ever more mysterious. They don’t have time to do their own work, let alone explain it to the rest of us. The growing gap in understanding will create huge problems for us all further down the line, so the culture of knowledge-sharing has to change, as does the gaining of wisdom.

“Technical know-how is what researchers call Tacit Knowledge, which is difficult to transfer via the written word. You can’t sit in a seminar room and learn how to use a lathe. Neither can you sit in a seminar room and learn how to use computer technology,” says Holway.

Training has to be structured around the desired outcome, and Holway has refined that model to devise a course that only tells you what you need to know and stops you wasting time investigating all the useless options.

“I’ve whittled it all down to a basic framework. It’s important to stop people getting too ambitious. They think they will want tools but I disabuse them of that. 90% of these ambitions are crap,” says Holway.

There’s generally a few core concepts and everything makes sense once delegates have grasped these, Holway says. It only works if the trainees do all the work and if they can be trained to stick to the basics.

“I don’t touch a keyboard any more. I’m banned. That’s hard to do, but it’s a necessary evil because the plan is that everything on the Skill Sprint job has to be delivered by the employees,” says Holway.

Benny Woletz, managing director of German cloud services company Cloudwürdig, says Skill Sprint created a new way to sell services.

Traditional training offers try to lock customers into long-term arrangements with complex solutions. “With the Skill Sprint concept, we let the technical team of the customer learn the skills by themselves and to subsequently implement independently. Cloudwürdig is still present as advisors, but the customer is not bound to us,” says Woletz.

Now Holway wants to open source the model so that more companies in the cloud channel can disseminate knowledge more rapidly. Skill Sprint offers the blueprint and the framework free – it will earn its money when companies need to consult it.

In the meantime, this strictly need-to-know, on-the-job training seems to solve a big, age-old problem for the channel – a yawning skills gap and a lack of ingenuity in devising courses.

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