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Dan Stroescu: Online trainings will not replace in class sessions

Dan Stroescu is an experienced IT specialist and VMware trainer. He has versatile knowledge in IT pre-sales, support IT infrastructure, marketing. He has several certifications as a VMware instructor, VMware Certified Professional. He also had certifications and accreditations for several EMC, HP and Oracle platforms and products. We have managed to talk to him about his experience, training tips and much more.

How did you get into training? What did you do before that?

– I started my career in the IT industry ten years ago as a support engineer. My job was initially to assist my colleagues and troubleshoot common issues related to either operating systems, printers or client-side applications which were malfunctioning. Back then, the level of IT knowledge was very limited – people would call you just to fix a typo in a website address. I realized that I could make my job a lot easier just by explaining to my colleagues what went wrong and how to fix it by themselves instead of calling the support department. I could see that comparisons, real life examples could make a difference… I still remember the time when I compared the internet with a phone address book – each device has an identity, we connect to unique names with a specific format but in the backend the name is switched to a number (an IP address). It would be impossible to remember all IP addresses from websites we use every single day like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo and so on. In the same way we store a name for each number recorded in our mobile so when we call our friends or relatives, we prefer to remember the name and not the number – but they all have to be unique…

Afterwards I switched to a pre-sales job, I interacted more with enterprise customers, I had to understand their technology needs, generate needs sometimes and help the internal sales departments promote the solutions from the company portfolio. I was faced with the challenge of explaining the added value of a specific product (software or hardware) in a customer environment. I enjoyed it a lot! During my time as a pre-sales professional the opportunity came to become a VMware trainer and I agreed, virtualization was and still is a major goal of all customers.

In how many countries have you trained people? Do you have to change your methods according to the different cultures?

– I have trained people coming from most of the countries in Western and Northern Europe (United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) and in the Middle East only in the United Arab Emirates, but if we consider live online deliveries as well, I’ve had people attending from all over the world (including North America, India, Africa and so on).

Even if you, as a trainer, deliver the same content, if you want to be successful, you need to adapt. From my point of view, the methods and content need to adjust according to the background knowledge and local culture. My objective is to develop the knowledge of the trainees, skills and competencies related to a specific product but if they’re lacking the prerequisites for the course, I prefer to explain basic concepts rather than just presenting to official courseware.

In northern Europe for example students are very tech savvy and it’s hard to present something that they don’t know already, most of the time I need to perform demonstrations or tests on very new features in order to keep them engaged. On the other hand when you have students coming from countries with little or no access to technology you might be forced to reduce the complexity. For example I was asked once to define the concept of an operating system to a student attending my course – it’s sad but true.

In your opinion what are the best ways to train people? To what do students respond well?

– Keeping students engaged (especially for a full week) is not an easy task. People respond well to real life examples, scenarios that have happened to you or to them – if you can fix an issue or explain why a service didn’t work in their production environment it would be a lot better than just going through the slide deck.

Sometimes students are just starting to learn so they don’t have any past experiences with the product. In that case a good idea is to ask questions (“what would you do if the server becomes unreachable?”, “can you tell me the difference between High Availability, Fault Tolerance and backup/restore?”), make the course more like a workshop.

Also, very important from my point of view is to encourage students to speak up. Don’t say immediately “No! You’re wrong, you’re not paying attention!” but try to find something correct in what he or she said, make him or her aware of the mistake in a polite way.

Lately there has ben a great deal of talk about mobile trainings, online video trainings and so on. Would they replace classic training and are they as good as in class sessions?

– For countries in which the cost of the training is a major concern I would say that a live online delivery can help a lot. Instead of paying for travel, accommodation costs for the trainer, we might as well access the session through the internet or even less expensive by recording important presentations and making them available to students.

But from my point of view the experience isn’t the same, and they won’t replace the traditional in class sessions. Why? First, because you might be attending the course from your office or from home but not 100% concentrated on the topics presented. The trainer doesn’t see you, you mute your microphone and you can just go back to your regular job (either because you get bored or because tasks are sent to your e-mail address).

Second, I find it sometimes difficult to make a drawing – the tools are out there but a bit limited. I prefer the regular flipchart. Troubleshooting is more difficult as well, especially if it’s something that you can’t control like the bandwidth or latency experienced by the student from home.

Many people have different ways in which they learn new things. What would your tips be in order to help someone to learn better?

– People tend to remember what is drawn together with them, so rather than showing designs on PowerPoint slides go to the flipchart and start from a blank page constantly asking the audience if they agree with you. Hands-on practice is mandatory. If the theoretical approach leads sometimes to confusion, encourage the students to test the service/feature presented (or do it yourself on the projector!) and they will fully-understand in the end.

Also, as stated previously, real life examples typically help, instead of saying we recommend the average disk latency to be below 15-20 milliseconds I would say “last week I was asked to troubleshoot an environment incorrectly sized. The disk latency values were constantly above 100ms and the virtual machines were taking ages to boot, they were almost completely frozen”. Expectations should be set properly from the begging of the course, you can’t suddenly consider yourself an expert just because you’ve attended a training, or don’t be disappointed if some areas are still not clear.

We also know there is a huge lack of digital skills at the moment. What in your opinion are the skills and certifications that would serve people the best in the near future?

– If we were to discuss digital skills the level has increased over time, young people learn to code from high-school or even earlier, new employees already know how to setup and troubleshoot basic services like internet access, e-mail access and so on. I would recommend for each individual to follow their passion, even if the earnings are better in a specific area now, things might change but if you aren’t happy with your area of expertise you will get frustrated and it will be hard to evolve or migrate to another technology. Also, try not to “hunt” for certifications, they provide value to your CV only if you have the hands-on experience with the technology, otherwise they’re useless.

If you’re not sure where to start the learning process, a major trend is cloud computing, it doesn’t really matter if you learn to use the services provided by Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, VMware vCloud Air or others, the idea is to be aware that in the near future companies will not survive the costs of managing their own datacenter. Instead of dealing with power, cooling costs, servers, storage, networking, software licenses and personnel, they could just rely on an external service provider and pay for what they use in the same way they consume electricity for example. Internet connectivity nowadays is reliable and with good performance so why not centralize the processing power and consume based on real demand? Switch from CAPEX to OPEX.