At the beginning of August, I was able to go out to Mill Valley, CA for the .net developer series training at Sitecore USA Headquarters. The course was 4 days of Sitecore goodness, with a certification and a day of hands-on building with Sitecore. Once I found out I would be heading to training, I spent a fair bit of time trying to find out what it would be like and searched for details of the certification without much luck. So for those out there who want to know a little bit more before you’re in the thick of things, here is what happened for me!
The quick and dirty description, for those who want to avoid the wall of text: I’d say this training is a must for any developer switching over to Sitecore – without it, it can be really hard to get the whole picture of the product and really see what it is capable of. Even for those of us who had been using Sitecore for a bit before training (there were a number of us in the class), it was very useful to see how to do things the ‘Sitecore way’ and to learn a few things that are just not available through searching alone. The Fundamentals day will introduce you to what Sitecore is all about and why you should be so excited to use it – it will also show you how to begin using it as a developer or user. The two developer days will give you a good background for doing most tasks that will be requested from clients, and the day of prototyping will give some hands-on practice in doing just that. Also, certification will grant you access to other areas of SDN and the ability to request support through them for the product. It’s also part of your company becoming a Sitecore Partner.
So... here are my experiences, from beginning to end... after the cut!
Before the training, I received instructions on how to prepare my laptop and install the starter kit – the instructions were all straightforward and they set up a time to contact them for help if I needed any assistance with getting ready. I didn’t encounter any issues and it was smooth sailing! I’d recommend taking a look through the starter kit website to get a little bit familiar with it since you’ll be using it a lot.
Flying out of Atlanta to California, I arrived on the Sunday before Monday training began and was able to take a look around. I stayed at the Larkspur Hotel, which is just a short drive from the training location and decently close to a number of amenities. Driving into Mill Valley, one thing I did notice is that parking is at a premium – I ended up eating mostly near the training location or at the hotel restaurant (which was actually amazing if you enjoy Italian food). Day one was a little difficult finding food in the direction I went, but as I said, near the training location were a number of things; notably on the other side of the highway from training you can find a Starbucks, as well as the Harmony restaurant (all-day Dim Sum) and an ‘In n Out’ burger place.
Back to Sitecore!
Day one – Sitecore Foundations!Arriving at the Sitecore offices, I was directed upstairs to the training room, which was a modest size and had rows where you could set up your laptop and take a seat. We all set up nametags and our instructor (Craig) introduced himself, then we all gave our introductions and picked out our choice for lunch from a local restaurant menu. Books were passed around for the slides we’d be looking at so that we could follow along and make notes, which were definitely worth hanging onto as they will work as a good resource for others who may not be able to make it to a training course. After the intros, we got right into things and were given a good overview of what Sitecore is, how it works, and how we can use it. It was a general introduction and not very specific – some of the students were only attending that day, in order to get more familiar with the product. If you’re already familiar with Sitecore it’s a good review, and if you’re new, try to follow along as well as possible because the next two days will definitely push that knowledge!
Day 2 – Sitecore .net Developer Day 1This is where things really got started! We all came in as before, picked out lunch from a different menu (the lunches were phenomenal), and then received our new book for the next two days… it’s a much bigger book! The format for these days was a little different: Craig would give us a demo of the topic and then go through the associated slides with more details. After that, we would flip to the back of the book and do exercises to implement what was shown or simply to get a feel for it (all the steps were given as well as code to complete each exercise). Each set of exercises would have some optional ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’ options. I’d really recommend doing these as they are some good practice and some of the topics come up on the test. Plus, it’s much easier to remember them when you’ve spent time typing it all up. ;) Another recommendation is that if you find something handy/useful/test-worthy, make a note of it/sticky tab the page or something for quick reference later. After the exercises we’d have a break before going on to the next section - 5 minutes, sometimes shorter or longer depending on how long everyone took for the exercises.
Day 3 - Sitecore .net Developer day 2 (Test Day! ...Maybe!)We came in for the 2nd day and it was the same as the day before – a quick pace of demo, slides, and exercises. At the end of the day we did a review of everything we had covered and then a review of what was expected for the certification. Our class did our test on the morning of the last day, but I think that will depend on your instructor and the class.
Now for what I know I was looking for: Certification Test Information!
This may change, but when I took it: the test was 40 questions, multiple choice with 3 answers each. You had 55 minutes to complete the test and it was done online, where you had access to all of your resources except each other and other people (no IM’ing was allowed). Although the 'open-book' aspect makes it sound like it would be easy, do keep in mind that the test is only 55 minutes, which doesn’t give a lot of time to look up answers or get your Google on. In order to pass and thus be considered certified, you needed to answer 28 questions correctly.
Most of the questions I saw (they are pulled from a pool of questions, so every test is different – you could get lucky and get all the ‘easy’ questions, or unlucky and get all the hard ones) were variations of something like this: Bob has a layout and he wants to do X - what is the best way? Then you’re given 3 plausible answers and you need to choose the best. Usually one is a little more clearly wrong than the other two, and of the others, you’re wise to consult the Best Practices notes from your book to decide on which will be the best/fastest/most accurate. There were also a fair number of code questions with the same approach, but since we had the starter kit, you could just cut and paste to try things out if the answer wasn’t clear and you were doing decently on time.
Once you've complete the test, the instructor will send you an email which lets you know: if you passed or not, what you got wrong, and the correct answers for any of those missed questions. If you didn’t pass, you can take the test again in 24 hrs at the earliest. If you fail it again, you can petition to take it once more, but they’d rather you re-do the course at that point, to make sure that you have a good grasp of the concepts.
Once day 3 ended, we all went back to our hotels and partied (or played D&D over Skype if you’re me).
Day 4 – Day of Prototyping (and taking the test for some)As mentioned, we started this day by taking the test after filling out our lunch requests. A couple other things about testing: to begin the test, everyone gets a login and then you log in again with your SDN email and password - make sure this is working before you head out to training! That done, the test begins and an hour later you get to know your fate.
Afterwards, there was a brief break to recover from test-taking and we began the day in earnest. Our task was to build out a site for an organization: the class was broken up into teams (green team!) of two and each assigned a portion of the site to complete once the class at large determined the site architecture to use (this was a democratic decision with the instructor and class). We could use all of our resources and the instructor was available to help as well – it was a good chance to get ‘real world’ experience with the product and I think was very helpful for some of the students who were newer to
Sitecore to actually see it in use.
After that, we all headed home and got to enjoy the very long drive through San Francisco rush hour to the airport while dreaming of all the things we could do with Sitecore.