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Boot camps are to teach beginners enough to ‘keep from getting killed’. We teach ‘officers’ how to direct — and win — the network war.

You’ve been eyeing those simple letters – MCSE – CCNP – or some others — enviously for a while now. You know colleagues who’ve used them to snag a salary increase, garner a little added respect, or to provide a roadmap for continued professional development. You’re dying to grab some of that action for yourself, but you just don’t have the time, patience, or stick-to-it nature necessary to self study for the next six months. If this describes you, a healthy dose of accelerated learning, commonly called a boot camp, may be just the thing to feed your craving for certification.

What’s In A Name?
The first thing you should know about this training option is that the common name – boot camp – though memorable – is somewhat controversial. Herb Martin, owner/operator of LearnQuick.Com’s “Accelerated MCSE in a Week” program, puts it this way: “We do not have a boot camp. Our seminar is for professionals who want to learn the most possible — if anything we consider it a ‘graduate seminar’. Boot camps are to teach beginners enough to ‘keep from getting killed’. We teach ‘officers’ how to direct — and win — the network war.”

And then there are others who find the title “boot camp” so alluring that they try to claim it for their own, whether or not it applies to their program. This includes some evening only programs and even community college courses that extend for months. But as Susan Thayer Yates of ACREW puts it “There is only one type of boot camp, and that means fast, hard, mean and dirty training. It’s painful. It’s stressful. It’s successful.”
But whether you call them boot camps or accelerated learning programs, there’s one thing these programs have in common: total immersion. Whether it’s Cisco networking hardware, Microsoft operating systems and applications, computer telephony, or something else, attendees eat, sleep, and breathe their subject matter for days on end. Class start early and run late every day. Classmates often dine together, especially for lunch. It’s a physical and mental mini-marathon with a single purpose: to learn as much as possible in as little time as possible. For many people it’s the learning prescription that finally brings them their sought after credentials.

If these programs can be exhausting, they can also be stimulating. When else do you get a chance to totally bury yourself in the topic at hand without distraction? And to surround yourself with like-minded, success-oriented colleagues like yourself? And unless you’re an extremely experienced veteran of the subject at hand, you will learn many new and interesting things you can bring back to your job and quickly put into practice.

Boot camps can be the perfect solution for people who have been putting off training for certification. They force you to concentrate, cover a lot of material, and are over relatively quickly. They are not for people with no technical background. To use accelerated learning as a path to certification, you must already have a foundation in the technology at hand and you must be motivated.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the total amount of time you’ll have to devote to a boot camp program goes beyond the actual time spent in class. You will also have to prepare. Most accelerated programs will give you materials to review in advance. Make sure you follow their instructions. You’ll also want to get as much hands-on experience with the software and hardware in advance as you can. These are not show-up and you are guaranteed to pass the tests affairs. Your success is going to be directly related to the time and effort you expend.

Looking for accelerated learning vendors?

Locations: Evergreen, CO

ASAP Computer Help
MCSE boot camp
Locations: Portsmouth, NH; Hartford, CT; Orlando, FL; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Seattle, WA; Los Angeles, CA

Automated Research Systems Ltd (ARS)
CCNA boot camp
Locations: Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Ft. Lauderdale FL
Boot camps for CCNA, CCNP
Locations: Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX, Jacksonville, FL

IT Academy
Boot camps for MCSE, CCNP, CCDA, and CCIE (pending)
Locations: Denver, CO, San Francisco, CA
MCSE boot camp
Locations: Dallas, TX

NT School
Boot camps for MCSE, MCSE+I, CCNA/CCDA, CCNP
Locations: Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Columbus, OH; San Diego, CA

Boot camps for MCSE, CCNA
Locations: American Fork, UT (near Salt Lake City)

Wave Technologies International
Boot camps for RHCE, CCNA, MCSE, CNE, MCSE, MCSD, Network+, A+, CCNP (pending)
Locations: Many, including Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Reston, VA; Atlanta; Dallas; St. Louis; Chicago; Minneapolis; Raleigh, NC; San Jose, CA; Cleveland; Denver; Houston; Long Beach and Orlando FL;

Finding The Right Program
If you think that accelerated learning is for you, then take care to search for a quality program. These days you have quite a few options to choose from. You can locate potential programs by asking colleagues, through advertisements and articles in magazines such as this one, and by searching the Internet using the keywords: certification boot camp. To help you get started, a resource list is included with this article.

Remember, don’t be fooled by boot camp/accelerated learning wannabes – a boot camp is not one day long, nor is it four weeks part time. Look for something that runs full-days for at least a week and has a history. You don’t want to be their first student. Pay close attention to who the actual instructors are. How long have they been in the computer industry? Do they have plenty of hands on experience with the technologies they will teach? Are they experienced trainers? Some programs are accredited by certification vendors, but in my experience this is neither a requirement for nor a guarantee of quality.

The best way to assure quality is by asking for references and checking them. Any accelerated program should be willing to provide you with a list of former students that you can contact. Find out what those students experienced in class, and ask them what they didn’t like as well as what they found valuable. Ask them if the program was what they expected and if they feel that they received their money’s worth.

Pay attention to the logistics as well. Find out exactly what’s included in the program fee – lodging, food, exam fees, materials, and so on, and exactly which certification exams will be covered. What will the class hours be and what is the classroom’s physical layout? Will you be able to take the exams during the training, or are you expected to complete them on your own afterward? What level of skill and experience are students expected to have, coming into the class? This is an especially important question as some accelerated learning programs are targeted at higher starting skill levels than others, and you don’t want to be lost starting the first day or bored the entire week.

Prices and amenities vary considerably between programs. For example, ACREW’s MCSE program runs 16 days and costs $9,595 including on site lodging, meals, exam fees, and materials. LearnQuick.Com’s 5 day MCSE program costs $3,000, including some meals, but not lodging or exam fees. IT Academy’s MCSE boot camp tuition is $5,995, not including lodging or exams. If you’re coming from far away, you’ll need to add airfare to the tab as well.

You may be able to save about $500 in lodging fees if you find a boot camp within driving distance of your residence. However, even it’s possible to make a daily commute, seriously consider springing for the hotel anyway. As mentioned earlier, the days will be long and the goal is total immersion. Staying on-site will reduce distractions and fatigue and help you get the most from the training experience.

Although this is a lot of money, it compares favorably to the cost of taking separate instructor-led class covering the same material in a more leisurely format. A single instructor-led certification course given through a technical training center and covering the objectives for a one certification exam can easily cost several thousand dollars. Remember that certification has a clearly identified power to advance your career, increase your productivity on the job, and more than reimburse your expenditure. Think how nice it will be to move from wanting a career-boosting certification to owning one.

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