Observations on the online portion of the ColdFusion Specialist program.
So I finished the ColdFusion Specialist videos. The program consists of online and an in-person components. The online training videos came out about mid September and all participants were required to complete this portion prior to the actual class on the day before the CF Summit. I was only a few minutes into the first video when I realized Nolan Erck was the instructor. He has presented on CF at pretty much every conference I have attended and gives great sessions so I knew the content would be good moving forward.
The videos take a lot of opportunities to teach best practices which i think is outstanding. I probably took more notes on principles that were shown or advocated than I did on the CF specific content itself. I even reached out to Nolan on a couple of questions regarding best practices. Maybe that’s because i’ve been around a while so a lot of the topics are pretty much refreshers. I think this is a great use of the course to guide a captive audience into more modern and stronger development practices. I did keep going back and forth while listening on whether is the course teaching me to be a better developer and learn CFML overall or just content to pass an exam. There would be instances where something would come up that i know because i have been doing CF for a while now but someone coming straight in would not. It’s a delicate balance as there is great content I think everyone should hear especially starting out to get into good habits. Then again you have to know enough to be able to follow in some cases and maybe you learned bad habits getting to that baseline. In the end i decided it should be both. I cant comment on if it does both successfully until I know if I pass. I can say now that I’m done with this part it did succeed in the former.
So that being said this is not something a brand new developer should jump into as their first CFML exposure. I know for some there is the temptation to think taking a certification exam is the “way in”. I’d still start with the Learn CFML in a Week website and the Ortus books first then come back to this. That way you are learning good habits and the specialist preparation is a refresher that will also teach you a few good points along the way. A lot of assumptions are made that there will be a baseline of knowledge going in, such as a basic understanding of script syntax. Some topics can jump straight into the nuances of the topic and when and how to use and skip right over the general syntax of this is how you write the tag, these are the attributes, etc.
I definitely think one should be used to working in script going into doing this program based on just the video portion. The videos make heavy use of it versus the tag syntax and i understand why. Modern CFML coding means using the script syntax over tags in almost all instances. If you are old school and still pretty tag heavy you’ll have that pause where you’ll do the translation in your head of what you are seeing back to how you would “tag” it.
So as a “seasoned” ColdFusion developer did I take away anything new. Of course, there’s always things to learn and things you’ve forgotten that you need a refresher on. Thats why i always like to take a new course or do that new guide when it comes out. No one knows everything and you don’t know what you don’t know. The whole section on custom tags felt new. I don’t know if i never knew it or just forgot it all because i’ve never really used them. Maybe I never will going forward but I know more about them now. I’ve been cutting and pasting my getter and setters in my CFCs for so long that I just never got around to searching for a better way. I didn’t know the accessors=true attribute was out there. I knew there had to be a faster way to do those repetitive functions but in the interest of speed and being frankly lazy I never looked for it. There’s a lot of other little tidbits in the videos that are worthwhile. So even if you’ve been around the block there is still value in the certification.
So the million dollar question. Do i think the videos will help me pass the specialist test? Answer, honestly I have no idea. In the past going into a certification I had practice exams, some written study guides, etc. Even back when they used to do the first CF certification i had those. I don’t know if this exam is one of those multiple choice where i’m going to trip you up with some obscure attribute you’ve never used or is it real world examples you give a solution for. Hell, it could be a certificate you get just for doing the online and in-person sections. It’s all a black box and that makes going in disconcerting. I do think based on the content chosen for the videos i know enough to pass if it is a written exam. The in person component at the summit may fill in more content or be just a refresher of the videos, guess we will see.
My final thoughts on the online portion of the course is that i feel like this really is the first iteration and a work still in progress. There is a lot of cleaning up and evolution yet to happen. I think the specialist course really has been in flux to this point and still may be. The announcement topics differed from the first outlines to the actual video chapters in the online portion. Most of the core content stayed consistent but it doesn’t feel polished yet with the changes from announcement to announcement. For example the summit site still states a section on Introduction to ColdFusion and CF Builder which were not part of the videos. In no way is this a commentary on Nolan’s videos as they were great. Just general concerns to the program being a success. There were references in the videos to having seen something in an earlier one which we didn’t. A talk about how we learned about processing forms and sanitizing user inputs that didn’t happen. There is an empty directory in the source files for the form content so it was planned at some point. There’s a similar missing Chapter Eight if you compare source files versus online videos. The numbers on the videos don’t always match the chapters numbers which may be due to those missing entries i just mentioned. Were the topics dropped as something to be covered or was there not time to be included? (See Update Below) Kishore needed to send instructions on where to find the source code as it was not easily located. When i tried to run some of the examples i couldn’t get it to work, which granted could’ve been my fault. Nolan did let me know that i wouldn’t need to run the code during the in-person session of the program but for the next people it’d be nice to be able to test with. I’ll probably see if there’s somewhere to do a support ticket about what i saw to get it to the right people.
We all know those nitpicky people who see one discrepancy and they are out, the world just ended, and they start to complain. They miss the forest for the trees and those people will have many opportunities to gripe if they choose to. Easily remedied with a few touch ups but if people have to pay then it’s better to avoid it.
I also hope that the certification does eventually become uncoupled from the summit so those that can’t attend can still get certified. If a developer wishes to go it on their own with just study materials they can do so without being required to do the in-person component. All in all I’m satisfied so far and I’m looking forward to the in-person section. A big part of that is I like the idea of being in the room with the CF engineers, if that is still what is planned, so I can hear things straight from them as well as Nolan, whom i learned will be an instructor as well.
I’ll do another one of these on the in person component and the how we actually are assessed and if more content is covered. I’m not going to give the answers but maybe the next group can garner some more information on how things will go when they take part and it will help their preparation.
During the lunch break of doing the in-person session today I did get a chance to talk with Nolan. The source of the empty folders was that while going through the course some topics ended up being covered in other ways earlier so those sections were skipped since they were already dealt with. The folders were not removed so they ended up still being in the download but left empty. So that solves some of the mystery around those and hopefully will be removed from the download.