IT training gets an extreme makeover

From movie-like videos to hands-on hacker contests, fresh approaches to skills development have gussied up the world of IT training.

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Reaching for the Clouds

Providing techies with a crash course in business principles is one thing. Offering them hands-on training in areas such as app development or Web design, however, requires plenty of processing power and valuable IT resources. But cloud computing is changing all that, allowing trainees to experiment without draining IT resources.

"I can teach a class, Ruby on Rails, for example, and people can then deploy their application on the Internet using cloud resources," says Eric Presley, CareerBuilder's CTO. "Training for technology professionals has moved beyond theory. Now they can actually try it, touch it, feel it and push it out for other people to see."

CareerBuilder has gone so far as to give IT professionals a day off -- and a financial incentive -- to experiment with new technologies. Every quarter, the company holds a "hack day" in which IT employees are given 24 hours to work on anything they want outside the scope of their regular responsibilities.

"The entire IT department shuts down for a day and allows everyone to hack on any ideas that they want," says Daniel Cosey, CareerBuilder's director of information management. "This includes any training they want to get done -- a data inquisition, a new product idea or a new algorithm for our search engine." Here's the best part: The IT professional who presents the most impressive idea wins $10,000 and six weeks of paid work time to implement it.

By embracing self-directed IT training that involves competition among engineers and IT workers, CareerBuilder has created a program that's far more likely to have a lasting impact on participants than standard workshops, says Lee. "If training is entertaining, employees will pay better attention to it and what the message is," she explains.

Obstacles Ahead

Nevertheless, innovations in IT training can carry risks. For example, companies need to make sure that their network infrastructure is capable of delivering training videos across the enterprise. That's something Broadway Bank had to consider when it decided to distribute Digital Defense's SecurED training series across its 40 banking centers throughout the year. "I think we'll have to be careful about how we distribute SecurED," says Huntsman. "Fortunately, one of the things that Digital Defense did early on was put their training modules into the Quicktime format so they won't utilize a lot of bandwidth."

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