Tip of the Trade: Back to School, Geek Style

By Carla Schroder (Send Email)
Posted Apr 3, 2007


Technology changes so much. If you haven't figured out that a career in IT means a lifetime of continuing education, this is probably not the field for you. Sure, Fortran gurus and COBOL cowboys still eke out meager existences, but the world marches on, and continual change is the norm.

Need to brush up on some IT skills but don't have the time to go back to school? O'Reilly Media and the University of Illinois have partnered to create the O'Reilly School of Technology, a Web-based continuing ed program for technology professionals.

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The Internet itself is the world's biggest library, and anyone with drive and time can learn just about anything. There is also formal education available for folks who prefer more structure. Thus, O'Reilly Media, the largest computer book publisher, and the University of Illinois have partnered to create the O'Reilly School of Technology.

The course work is self-paced and very hands-on. It is done through the Web-based Learning Sandbox software. An instructor helps you, just like in a physical classroom, and you must pass quizzes and tests to progress. Successful course completion earns CEUs (Continuing Education Credits) or Certificates for Professional Development. These are not the same as degree credits, and they don't apply toward any degree programs.

Current course offerings include Linux/Unix System Administration, Web Programming, and Open Source Programming. They are available in beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. A career counselor can help you sort out where to start. Students get private lab accounts on the school's servers, and Linux/Unix students get shell accounts.

As usual, there is a small fly in the punchbowl for Linux and Unix students. The Learning Sandbox is officially supported on Windows and Macintosh. Linux and Unix users are advised that "Students have had success using the Linux operating system and Mozilla on a variety of platforms, but due to the vast number of distributions and browsers, these configurations are not officially supported by our technical staff."

Why didn't the ISV didn't pick two, for example Debian and Red Hat Linux running Firefox, which covers 90 percent of the Linux universe, and support those? Or hire some kid to roll up a custom-bootable Unix or Linux CD with all the necessary components?

Flies notwithstanding, the Learning Sandbox is an excellent program that's going to continue to grow and add more courses. Visit the O'Reilly School of Technology for more information, and go to Useractive.com for a demo of the Learning Sandbox.

Post-publication addendum:

The fine folks at O'Reilly contacted me with this clarification:

"We do actually support Linux machines in our courses. The only reason we said we didn't "officially" support it is that there's no way of testing 100% of Linux flavors to make sure our Sandbox works perfectly on every one. This disclaimer was at the insistence of > Trent Johnson, our sysadmin and creator of the Nomad Linux flavor."

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