Friday, April 27, 2007

Corporate Trainings

I finished my first commercial Ruby on Rails application in October 2005 and I've been using it ever since. For most of this time, we've been one of the very very few offering Ruby on Rails in Singapore. Most of our customers are not exactly technical so they wouldn't really care even if we used Cobol :-). What they did care about was the price and delivery time. I don't know why, but writing about advantages of Ruby (and Ruby on Rails) comes very unnatural to me. It feels like saying what everybody knows. At the very minimum, most of the technical people have heard about it – whether they like it or hate it at least the don't go like “You're programming in WHAT???”

The situation seems to be turning even in this part of the world. Thanks to Ruby brigade I met a handful of Ruby on Rails programmers and a few handfuls of wannabes. After almost 2 years in isolation it was really great to see and meet Ruby programmers (other then my own trainees and employees :-). While all this was nice, what really made an impact was ever increasing demand for corporate training. More and more big companies approach me with corporate trainings. The reason is many are parts of global corporations, many of their internal systems were created elsewhere and now they need a local support. It may come as a shock that MNCs use other systems than just SAP, but it seems to be easier and way cheaper to use a few smaller, independent systems for handling a portion of daily operation.

I started my first Ruby course in April 2005 and for the past 6 months I spent roughly 40% of my time doing training. This has been a major shift for me as only as recently as 1 year back I spent around 90% programming and only 10% on other stuff. I started training in Changi prison and it's almost unbelievable how rewarding this experience has been. I cannot even describe how much the guys have changed. When I walked there the first time I sure saw the potential – around 30 guys doing (or more fighting) with every possible limitation you can think of but still determined to succeed. It may be an old truth that you will appreciate the value of something only after you've lost it but it's really valid. All of the ubiquitous things like Internet connection, access to new books, access to community support (reading the posts or posting questions) – all this is off limits in prison. And yet I didn't find any surviving broken existence in there. So many times I have wished my own employees showed half of the determination, zeal and persistence I could see in there. The more you have, the more you start taking things for granted and the more comfortable you become.

What I felt the guys needed was just better resources and some direction (IT wise). We went through some really tough time – I still remember explaining recursion for the whole Sunday, OOP, TDD and many other things. Well, none of them had any prior formal IT education. But then, maybe it was more to their advantage. Most of the time I find it much harder to work with computer science graduates than with people who never studied IT but have some logical and mathematical thinking. It's surprising how difficult it is to unlearn all the coding cowboy habits as opposed to just starting afresh. This is not to say that OOP or Ruby or design patterns or TDD or agile methodologies or anything else I do is the only way (or that it's correct at all). It's just one of the ways and the one I happened (in reality it took much more then just happen :-) to believe in – but more about that in my other blog posts. Anyway, it's really great to walk in there now. It's completely a different crowd – you see people being able to think, to analyze and to even transform all that into a working product. Sure it's not all wine and roses...but I would really like to see this kind of commitment in many other organizations I worked with.

I realized much of this when talking to people at one of the Ruby Brigade meetings. That's when I realized that I may be running quite a tight ship in regards to development principles – but so far I've really appreciated that nobody on my staff would say things like: “I do tests only when I feel like”, “I've never been into testing much”, “We do bug driven development”, “What's that 'assert' thing mean?” and many others.

To conclude with, I must say that I have always been an extremely fast learner – I've never had problem to learn anything but it's a completely different ball game to teach what you know. One thing is to look at something and understand it and a completely different one is to explain it to somebody else. And I really love it :-). And it finally gives me a reason to start working on my e-learning platform I've been planning since high school.

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