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A Nose For The Essentials, Interview with Yakov Werde

A Nose For The Essentials, Interview with Yakov Werde

Though I spend most of my time consulting on software systems, I also have the pleasure of teaching a variety of courses on Sybase Tools. As a Certified Sybase Instructor, I was able to attend a recent conference in Santa Fe that Sybase put on for its instructors. While there, I sat in on a Java course taught by Yakov Werde. Yakov is a very talented teacher, skilled in communication and humor. It's a good mix. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn from him.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak about his job and get a small glimpse of Yakov after hours.

Olson: Briefly tell the readers about your position and what your responsibilities are with Sybase Education.

Werde: Formally, John, I wear the title of principal tools instructor for Northeast Education. Informally, the job has me acting like a college professor, but without the black robes of academia. I'm "on platform" (insider talk for teaching a class) at least 40 weeks a year. The balance of my time is spent learning new technologies, building proof-of-concept applications, creating new courseware, assisting our education sales force, mentoring new instructors, and learning from my students how to be a more effective instructor.

Olson: In addition to teaching, you create courseware. That can be quite challenging, especially if the subject is a largely untested new product release. How do you go about designing and developing material for a version that is in alpha test and is barely usable, and whose feature set may still be changing?

Werde: The process of designing a new course is not unlike designing a new software system. As with anything else, you have to have a nose for the essentials. Knowing the technological underpinnings of what you have to communicate and how to effectively deliver and reinforce those concepts to a professional audience is the foundation of the whole courseware creation process. Once you have that conceptual framework, all the details fall into place.

The vast majority of our tools software presents the technological background and then shows how to use our tools to build in that environment. None of our courses are strictly "how to"-based. For example, in FastTrack to PowerBuilder, we teach basic object-orientation and how to leverage it in PowerBuilder.

Another example is our EAServer Administration course where, among many topics, we teach about five kinds of Internet security risks and how to implement the proper safeguards in EAServer.

As far as working with alpha software to build the labs and take screen shots, sure, there is a bit of frustration from sudden GPFs or partially implemented features, but time is allowed for that kind of stuff. Our GA courseware is all tested and validated against GA products on classroom machines before it's released.

Olson: I'm sure some of our readers have the stereotypical opinion that those who can't do, teach. What would you like to say to them?

Werde: Well, John, it's also been observed that behind every great achiever is at least one great teacher. An inspiring, effective teacher can really boost someone's career. Part of our mission in the classroom is to facilitate the learning process. I, for one, am not satisfied when presenting something until every student "gets it."

Most, if not all, Sybase instructors are industry-seasoned developers, with a wealth of experience to share. We didn't start out in education, but somewhere along the road discovered the education process and actively chose to make it our careers. All of us maintain industry certification in our respective fields and are additionally certified to teach in the classroom. We're also continually enhancing both our "soft" (people) skills as well as our "hard" (technology) skills.

I always say, I have the hardest and the easiest job in the world. The best part of my profession is that I never feel like I'm "going to work." Teaching is loads of fun!

Olson: So you go to a site and teach from 9 to 5, then what? Is the life of an instructor lonely or do you tend to make friends with students and others you come in contact with?

Werde: What do I do after hours when I'm on the road? Now comes the time when I praise my fabulous wife. I have a bunch of kids at home, and she bears lots more responsibility when I'm not present in the evening. She's really great about my career and in spite of the occasional difficulty is really supportive of me.

Mostly, my life on the road is like my life at home. I spend at least an hour on the phone at night doing homework with my kids and making sure they keep up with their interests and responsibilities. I'm also an aspiring trumpet player. I travel with my horn and use some quiet time on the road to build my chops and improve my technique. Yes, I use a mute!

I've also made many fast friends with some great folks in lots of towns. There are many stories. Recently, on a trip to Edmonton, Alberta, a super gentleman took me, together with his family, to the provincial museum. We spent several hours sharing life stories while I had a personal guide to all the local history and culture I could take in. This kind of thing happens all the time.

Olson: It sounds like you are fortunate to have many kind students in your courses. Do you also have students who do annoying things? What things really bug you?

Werde: Students of Sybase education are highly educated, intelligent professionals. There are no petty annoyances. But we can talk about educational challenges. There are plenty of those. Two kinds of situations stand out in my mind.

The first happens when, for whatever reason, a student doesn't have the prerequisite background. We don't give pretests before granting access to our classrooms. The worst case happens when all the other students in the class are aggressive achievers with a solid background. In this situation the class can be thrown out of balance. I have to compensate by offering lots of additional explanations and spending time during labs, helping the unprepared student catch up.

The second situation happens when a corporation forces a sudden career or technology change on some of its workers. In that situation, the student doesn't really want to learn something new, but has to - or else. In these kinds of situations I usually resort to humor and levity to keep the classroom environment on the lighter side to make swallowing the pill a little easier.

Olson: Many thanks for taking the time to speak with me. One last thing, though - this is an opportunity to speak directly to students and potential students. Do you have a message for them?

Werde: My message to you, my dear reader, is we are Sybase Education. Our mission is to enable you to master the latest tools and technologies rapidly and effectively so that you are empowered to succeed in your career. I hope to see you in my classroom soon!

More Stories By John Olson

John D. Olson is a principal of Developower, Inc., a consulting company specializing in software solutions using Sybase development tools. A CPD Professional and charter member of TeamSybase, he is co-editor and author of two PB9 books, and the recipient of the ISUG Innovation and Achievement Award for 2003.

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