Over 50 and e-enabled

As part of last year's E-Business Month, we offered ITers over the age of 50 the chance to learn e-business skills. Howard Rhind...

As part of last year's E-Business Month, we offered ITers over the age of 50 the chance to learn e-business skills. Howard Rhind took up the challenge

After winning a place on Computer Weekly's "retraining for the over 50s" programme, I was a bit dubious about exactly which course to select, as there was considerable choice. But in the end, it seemed sensible to choose a course with certification, so I opted for the CIW (certified Internet webmaster) course,which consisted of an i-Net+ professional foundation course and three certified professional qualifications for the server administration, internetworking and security courses run by training provider Wavetech.

I had a little experience of Web design before undertaking the courses, but no Web or server administration or security experience.

The foundation course commenced with the arrival of six manuals and a CD-Rom. The CD-Rom contained short teaching videos on various topics, example simulations for NT and Unix systems - in case direct access was not available - and 150 test questions in a similar format to that of the exam.

I started the course in earnest at the end of January and spent on average two to three hours a day studying, which I found difficult to maintain.

All the material was very well presented, and I had no difficulty in understanding the various topics. However, I was concerned about my "retention" capabilities.
I was assigned a tutor for the duration of the course, with whom I had regular contact and was able to call on by telephone or e-mail in case of difficulty. He constantly reassured me that, providing I had adequately understood the subject content and concepts, it was not necessary to retain every single piece of information.

Three weeks before the "boot camp", I was given a test over the Internet to ensure that I had reached a sufficient standard for the classroom work. I was quite worried about this, but I passed with a few per cent to spare.

In summary, I estimate that I spent about 300 hours on self-study, including watching the CD-Rom teaching videos, carrying out the simulations and doing sample tests. It was easy to get started on the course and there were some topics that interested me greatly, such as Internet security. Remaining motivated was more of a problem, but I kept telling myself that this was "a golden opportunity" that was very worthwhile pursuing.

The mentoring was a great help, and my mentor constantly reassured me that "it would all be OK" - and he was absolutely right.

The boot camp involved a two-week intensive course in London. A lot of my concerns regarding my unfamiliarity with Unix and NT proved to be unfounded, as there were ample demonstrations and hands-on exercises during the classroom sessions.

The exams were spread throughout the training - an approach that seemed to work really well for me.

In the end, I obtained three out of the four exams, having failed the remaining one twice by one mark. I intend to rectify this later, but I have no complaints. The area in question was NT and Unix administration, which I need some more hands-on experience with.

Having now completed the course, I realise how useful it has been and how much knowledge I have gained. There were a number of topics that I had heard mentioned or read about in the past that I now understand properly.

In particular, I am amazed at the lack of security around both corporate and personal use of the Internet. This is the area that I would very much like to become involved in.

The course involved a large amount of learning, but I did not find it particularly difficult as long as I could keep the motivation going.

I would say that anyone over the age of 50 with a technical background and an active interest in the subject could retrain in a similar manner.

The final problem was getting a new job. I have followed the correspondence in Computer Weekly on the difficulty of both young and old candidates trying to find IT work with interest and I think there is undoubtedly some age discrimination in evidence.

I eventually obtained employment as a computer systems administrator at Hickman & Rose Solicitors, a firm that specialises in human rights. Their computer system runs on mixed NT/Linux servers with about 50 NT workstations. I am in the fortunate position of having a long hand-over period, and every effort has been made to introduce me to the complexities of the current system with a structured programme and friendly and patient training from the current incumbent.

The CIW training and certification has been invaluable. There is no question that without this training I would not have been able to undertake this employment. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity and look forward to using all my new skills in due course.

Howard Rhind: from APL to Web
I am an ex RAF engineering officer, qualified C Eng, MIMeche, AIMgt, who left the RAF in 1976. During the next six years I worked for petrochemical company MW Kellogg in the project management, cost estimating, scheduling and budget control areas, both in the UK and abroad.

It was here that I was introduced to time-share computers and APL (a high-level mathematical programming language), which I soon found of great interest and assistance. Shortly after this, the early PCs became available and I became responsible for the introduction of IBM PCs and software across the company.

When the petrochemical industry went into recession in the early 1980s, I took voluntarily redundancy and started my own company to exploit the use of the PC. Over the next two decades, I wrote customised software for a number of blue-chip companies, using dBase II, III and Clipper.

I had several attempts with Visual Basic and Access, but never really progressed with them, as I considered my existing programming tools far superior. This was, with hindsight, a big mistake.

Latterly, I moved to Computer Associates Visual Objects, which allowed me to provide some very effective Windows programs. My last project was the conversion of the US Navy's UK civilian payroll system from Dos to Windows - a three-year project which has just been completed. But I became acutely aware of the lack of future work and had been considering a return to Visual Basic or possibly learning Web programming or Java. It was at this point that I saw the Computer Weekly offer to "retrain the over 50s" and decided to apply. Much to my surprise, I was successful.

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