Two weeks back, I took a week-long Access Manager 7.1 beta course (AM3480). I've been wanting to blog about it ever since. The problem is that the week-long class set me back about a week.
As I've said in this blog before, I love classroom learning. That hasn't changed. I could easily take this class three weeks in a row, learn something new each time, and love the experience. It's a sickness really. Perhaps “sickness” is a strong word, but I do have an unusually high amount of enthusiasm toward learning in a classroom setting.
Beta as a Good Thing
The course was a “beta” course, which I think turned out to be a bonus. The class was taught to Sun employees in order to work out the kinks and perfect the content. There were nine of us. Instead of being taught by a course instructor, the class was taught by a course developer, specifically David Goldsmith. You can view a video of David explaining Federated Identity. Federated Identity was something covered in the class, so you can get a little sense of the type of material covered in the course. The video is part of a series of training hot topics.
About the students in this beta class, I was, without a doubt, the least technical person in the room. The other students were identity management developers, service folks, support folks, etc. Luckily, the class is designed to catch the less technical people, like me, too. The labs were very helpful in that respect. We also got a lot of explanations of why material was in the class, which ended up providing a pretty good perspective of what customers need and expect to learn about Access Manager. Students' comments were highly encouraged. It was all part of the process of determining what should and shouldn't be covered in the course when it's available to the public.
What I Learned
I took the Access Manager 6.3 training course and I noticed a lot of maturity in both Access Manager and in the Access Manager training course this time around. I was able to follow the course much better this time, mostly because I've become more familiar with Access Manager over time. However, more than a modicum of my increased understanding is because of the emphasis on real world situations. Kudos for that. The product can be pretty abstract. Performing the labs isn't enough to unveil all the cloudiness. But the explanations of what was being accomplished in the labs and what it means to customers were very helpful.
It's the Little Things
As I explained in a previous blog entry about training classes, it's the little things that really make it fun. Here are a few little, but cool, things I picked up or at least was exposed to in the class:
A UNIX trick: In the bash shell, the “CONTROL + r” combination gets the shell to try to complete your next command by matching what you start to type with commands you've typed in the past.
Browser Cache Issues: The browser cache can get in the way. I didn't know, but you can stop the browser from caching. I knew you could clear the cache, but even then I followed that by closing the browser. It seems that closing is not proper. Quitting is proper. I assumed they were the same. Who knew? Apparently, everybody else in the class.
CLI Options for Most Everything: Not to say that I actually learned the command-line options for everything, but we usually tried both a GUI option and a CLI option. There are various reasons for knowing the CLI commands, such as related to scripting and security. I appreciated and understood those reasons better than I have in the past.
As it should be, the customer is all important. You leave this course knowing it. We heard a lot about why new features had been added or why certain facts or commands were being taught in the course. Basically, such lessons turned out to be history lessons about customer requests and expectations over the years.
The Real World
The federation chapters and the deployment chapter were very good for me because they focused on real world examples. We got a taste of deployments involving distributed authentication UI server and other scenarios that include a variety servers in the DMZ (with firewalls on both sides).
And we saw deployment examples where Access Manager was installed as a WAR file instead of through the Java Enterprise Server installer. This lightweight installation option is often demanded by customers and is the form in which OpenSSO is downloaded. In fact, the Access Manager WAR file option is often compared to sliced bread, the wheel, and chocolate ice cream. Customers love, love, love this thing. You can actually get your hands on the Access Manager 7.1 Beta WAR file. It's all part of the Java EE 5 SDK downloads. The following is the download specifically for Access Manager 7.1 Beta WAR. For that last link and other Sun links to an actual download, you need a Sun Online Account. It's a free but required step. Anyway, it was good to see something in the class about the WAR file option.
Time or Lack Thereof
It always comes down to time or money. In this case, it was time. As a class, we couldn't complete all the labs. I, personally, fell behind a few times. I came in early every morning and stayed past 10PM one night (probably not an option for students in the regular course) to catch back up. UNIX shortcuts and such are pretty unfamiliar to me. Therefore, I found it helpful just to watch other students bring up prior commands, use vi, and stuff like that.
With my extra effort, I managed to stay up with the class all the way through. Actually, the students were all a serious bunch. A lot of students stayed late. There was no email going on during lectures, pretty intense learning. All the same, the class as a whole couldn't get through everything, so it seems that some things will have to be taken out. Somehow, I don't think a seven-day class will fly. I'd sign up in a second, but a class of one just doesn't make much cents.