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En Route to Certification, or Assessment?

3000 community considers the routes for measuring level of MPE ability

By Glenn J. Koster, Sr.

The IT industry has long been known for projects which fail to make deadlines, go over budget or are cancelled. Just as bad is the reputation IT has for implementing solutions that do not correctly address the requirements as originally specified. Whether it is a software project, a hardware installation or simply a training solution, the results are often less than what end users wanted or management expected. In recent years much has been written on how to address the growing concerns about project management within IT. Unfortunately, virtually all of the discussions have centered on project management techniques that work well for software projects, or they have focused on standardization issues that work well for hardware. I think it’s time that someone dealt with the issues surrounding training — specifically MPE training.

In any training cycle, there are at least three places where it is prudent to do a review of the process. The most obvious checkpoint is immediately at the end of a training session or seminar. We all know what I am talking about. We have become so used to filling out “feel-good” questionnaires that we rarely put the truth down anymore. Filling out questionnaires that ask “How was the instructor?” or “Was the instructor knowledgeable?” rarely does any good. Most of the time, we simply fill it out because it is requested of us and we do so without much thought. Consequently, this type of assessment has become virtually useless in determining the effective of training solutions.

Another important checkpoint for doing an evaluation is before we actually schedule any training. This is more of an assessment of where we are, both individually and corporately, than an actual review or analysis of a particular training option. I would suggest that this should be an important element of any corporate training solution. Unfortunately, in the MPE arena, there is no currently available assessment tool. Assessment tools should have as their focus the ability to determine current knowledge levels and track progress toward desired levels.

An adequate assessment tool for MPE would at least have to cover the basics, such as file systems, utilities, the accounting structure, and security issues. A complete assessment, especially for developers, would probably have to also include Posix, Internet solutions, compilation and libraries. Locally, each site would need to include an assessment of knowledge of each third party application in use, such as Adager, DB General, Maestro and the like. A comprehensive tool would also be able to determine various knowledge levels, not just a mastery of a subject area.

A third checkpoint is an after-the-fact analysis. This is the kind of assessment that is most often referred to as a “certification process.” There are two important uses of this type of checkpoint analysis. The first is that after you have returned to work and have started to use what you garnered in training, you want to assess how well your training is affecting your everyday performance.

Second, you may wish to determine if you really know the information you think you do. I need to emphasize that I think this must be a secondary purpose behind certification. Tragically, most certification programs simply concentrate on this as a primary function, and forget about the impact on your day-to-day activities.

Within the MPE arena, I feel that the lack of a certification process has hampered the acceptance of MPE and the HP 3000 platform in many instances. In all fairness, HP claims to have a certification process available. This process is geared toward resellers and does little more than ensure that a reseller has an adequate knowledge level to truly market the HP 3000. What do you use to determine whether or not a new hire has the knowledge they purport to possess? What do you use to determine the effectiveness of training programs you participate in? In the MPE arena, you don’t!

I think that it’s important to distinguish between what I mean by certification versus assessment.

The whole point behind an assessment is not to validate what a person knows, but to develop a road map for where a person needs to go. If you were to relocate from Colorado to Kansas, as I recently did, you would start with determining where you were before seeing where you wanted to go. A road map of the routes from Missouri to Kansas would probably be of very little use. Secondly, you would want to figure out where you were going. Consequently, you would probably rule out any as useless any maps to say Wyoming or New Mexico.

With maps in hand you can begin to assess what roads are available, what roads are under construction, your method of travel, and the time that you have to get there. If you’re in a hurry, you might simply hop on a jet from Denver to KC or Wichita, trusting, of course, that your possessions will arrive by the time that you need them. If you are rushed but concerned about budgets, you might take the interstate. If your relocation is one of a more leisurely nature, you might consider the “US Highway” system. If you wanted to really take in the scenery and get to know Kansas, you might opt for local, county roads for your journey. The trip would probably take a good deal longer, but when you arrived, you would definitely feel that you knew the area you traveled through – even though you might not understand all of what you saw along the way.

The importance of certification is completely different. Given the same analogy, certification would be the review process that you might use after you arrived. You might be able to determine, reflectively, whether the roads really were appropriate for your purposes. You might even be able to reflect on what you learned along the way and how your understanding of Kansas might help you adapt to a location vastly different than what you are used to. If you are of a political persuasion, you might even be able to certify that you know Kansas because you traveled a certain path — in which case, certification would be especially important to you.

This brings up an interesting point. I have witnessed many discussions on the Internet in recent months regarding certification, particularly MPE certification. One of the biggest arguments against certification is that it has no bearing on real needs – it’s just a political trump card to use in a search for a better job or increased importance. I have no disagreement with this argument as most have implemented it. However, I think it is an error in judgement to write off the importance of this tool when used in conjunction with a true assessment process to determine truly where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Now back to the analogy. In the MPE arena there are times when it is important to get from where you are to a thorough understanding of a particular aspect of MPE in a very quick time span. For example, you may have a need to implement an MPE-based Web solution with a very limited timetable to do so. Such a necessity might force you to accept a “mass travel” training program for a particular product or aspect of MPE… equivalent to catching a jet. You may get to your destination when you need to be there, but chances are you have no understanding of how you got there.

Other times, you may truly wish to get from a general MPE knowledge to a specific knowledge level in as quick a timeframe as possible without busting the budget, so you opt for the training highway. The most reasonable alternative here is the traditional classroom approach. Everyone travels the same road, arriving at the same destination in approximately the same time. At other times, the more scenic route is acceptable, but time is still a factor. This type of training need lends itself to Internet-based training very well. Unfortunately, with MPE, that luxury is not yet available.

Finally, you may desire the scenic route. You get to travel at your own pace, stopping over at various points long enough to make sure that you have a good understanding of the location. Here training might simply be digging through the manuals feverishly or simply attempting to learn “as you go.” If budget is not a problem, it might also be reasonable to contract for a customized training solution.

The point that I am trying to drive home is that the solution you implement will depend on the purpose, the budget, and the timetable you are operating under. However, regardless of what method you determine is right for your situation, it requires a thorough analysis beforehand (an assessment) to determine where you are and where you truly want to be. In the end, you must also analyze the results. One of the most effective tools in this “end analysis” is the certification process. I agree that it has been used and abused and overstated in importance in many circles, but it can have a very effective result.

Certification or assessment? Which is a better alternative? I suggest that neither can stand on its own. My answer would be…both!

Glenn J. Koster, Sr. has been involved with the HP 3000 since 1976 and the days of the Series I, teaching at both the corporate and college levels, both MPE newbies and experienced gurus. He is currently a consultant and trainer for Fort Collins, Colo.-based consulting firm Managed Business Solutions (970.224.1016).

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