Back in November I posted Review
of Developing Windows Based Applications for VB.Net and C#.Net. One of the
points I mentioned in the article was that the company I work for requires all
developers to become MCAD's
within 12 months of hire. I also promised to report back on the
effectiveness of the book - which brings us to this article.
In addition to the MCAD within 12 month rule, we also require developers to
pass the VB.Net exam within the first four months. Because it was a new
requirement, that meant all of us had four months. Because three out of six
developers had never taken a MS exam we decided to meet once a week for an hour
at lunch to review a chapter, ask questions, look over sample code. Each
developer was assigned a couple chapters to study in detail so that they could
lead a lunch time discussion and all developers were required to have read the
chapter prior to the session. This worked out pretty well. Invariably there
would be a point (often many) that someone was not clear on that someone else
could address. In some cases we'd head back to a dev machine afterward to take a
look at some code to prove a theory. This kept everyone on track and kept them
from getting too far off track, it's all too easy to get busy with work/life and
leave the studying to the last minute.
Does this indicate the book is weak in some areas? A fair question. Our group
comprised two senior developers, one mid level, three junior developers, so we
had the range of experience, and the resulting range of questions. Overall I was
very satisfied with the book and thought it did a good job of covering what I
ended up seeing on the exam.
Transcenders were an option, but we
mandated that they could not be used until the study group had completed all
chapters (scheduled to end with one month remaining to the deadline). We wanted
them to pass the exam, but we really wanted them to learn as much about
VB.Net and how it differed from VB6 as possible. Clearly a computer based exam
simulation is a great prep tool. Part of it just getting the feel for how the
testing software works, the different question types, getting into an exam frame
of mind. Every time I've used Transcender I've always ended up exposing a couple
areas where I was weaker than I thought, not due to lack of study but rather
because the book I used didn't cover it adequately or at all - or it just didn't
So how did it wind up? Two developers had the time line extended because of
internal delays, the remaining four passed. Three on the first attempt, one took
two tries. I attribute the two tries to exam jitters rather than a lack of
knowledge. I polled each as they returned, each thought that the Transcender had
made a difference and that we should use it from the beginning for the next
exam. From their perspective it makes total sense, their goal is to pass the
exam, they have a lot riding on it. From my perspective the last thing I want is
them just learning the prep software and passing the remaining exams but not
spending the time with the book and the tools to really learn what's going on.
Is that last fair? Could you know nothing about a subject, use prep software and
pass the test? Probably not. Yet I am sure that if you get too much of an idea
of what's on the test, you'll spend less time studying the things that you think
won't be on the test.
The other point to look at is did taking the exam help us move to .Net? It
did. Everyone has acquired decent familiarity with the tools and understands the
basics of data access (pretty important in a corporate environment). Senior
level developers still write better code .Net than the juniors do, still apply
more advanced techniques than the juniors do. We had hoped it would also raise
the skill level (quality/elegance of code/solutions) but I can't tell that it
did. Not unexpected, but we were hoping. Learning to write good code
takes practice, review, introspection - hard to pick that up in a few months.
We're using .Net for all new projects now, there are a couple of older apps
we'll rewrite once we've acquired more experience.
One unanticipated benefit was that all the new certifications gave our CIO
something to brag about a little, good press doesn't hurt any department!
For the next exam Developing
and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft
Visual Studio .NET we'll use another MSPress book, MCAD/MCSD
Self-Paced Training Kit: Developing Web Applications with Microsoft® Visual
Basic® .NET and Microsoft Visual C#™ .NET, I'll report back on it once
I've had a chance to finish reading it. We've also decided to study individually
this time. This is partially due to workload and scheduling, but also because we
need them to learn to study on their own. We'll still meet informally to answer
questions about problem areas, but not much in the way of dedicated training
time at the office. Will it work out as well? We'll have to see!