Over the years you have developed a training program for open source software projects. What is special about training for open source software as opposed to training for other kinds of software?
To be honest, nothing. I like Open Source software much more than closed software, but we’ve taken a lot of good teaching ideas from programs designed by organizations like Adobe.
We’ve developed a strategy that we apply to whatever we teach. We call it the OSWay:
- Practical: Everything we teach is focused on the real world. We use real life examples and build real sites. Nothing abstract.
- Precise: We believe in workflows and a step-by-step approach.
- Plain English: Basically, why use two syllables when one will do? We try to teach people in the language they use every day, without jargon.
How did you come to create OSTraining?
I’ve had two careers in my life and neither was perfect.
I was a teacher initially and taught in Mexico, Japan, Australia, the UK, and the US. No matter where I went I loved the job, but the pay was awful. I always did web design work to pay the bills.
By the time I moved to Georgia, in the United States, my evening job as a web designer was paying better than my day job as a teacher. So, I started Alledia.com and built web sites full time. Thus, web design became my second career.
What was imperfect about web design? Well, after a few years and a few dozen web sites, I was spending too long in my office, staring at the screen, wearing my pajamas all day and starting to smell a little. I started to feel the urge to teach again. A friend asked me to teach a Joomla class in Chicago: I tried it and loved it. That reintroduction to teaching led to more classes in Atlanta, New York, Washington, and other cities. We kept growing and by 2010 I ended up combining my two careers and becoming a full-time web design teacher.
OSTraining covers the three top CMS programs: Joomla!, Drupal and WordPress. Is the training approach the same for all three or does the nature of each one determine a specific training method?
We use the OSWay for all three but the actual nature of teaching all three is very different. I’d say there are two key differences:
Audience: Joomla attendees tend to be from web design firms, small-to-medium size businesses and non-profits, and large tech companies. Drupal attendees tend to be from large government agencies and universities. That market is still much smaller than WordPress or Joomla, but they tend to have deeper pockets. WordPress attendees tend to be from web design firms, or entrepreneurs and business people who want their own site.
Time and Difficulty: Teaching basic site building skills takes a morning in WordPress, a day in Joomla and about three days in Drupal.
What is the scope of OSTraining? How do you train/certify your instructors, and what is the reach?
In scope, we’ve grown pretty big. We’ve a great team of several full-time teachers and over a dozen part-timers who teach live, create videos and support our site members.
Together our team teaches several thousands of people online every year and a couple of thousand people live in classrooms. We’ve done enough classes in big U.S. cities that most large companies, universities, and government organizations have sent someone. On the business side, we’ve worked with companies like Apple, Pfizer and Verizon. On the university side, M.I.T., Harvard, and other top universities are picking up on Open Source quickly, and in government many federal departments are as well.
We don’t actually certify our teachers at the moment. We look for people who already have both a strong web design and teaching background. We then put them to the test, doing a class alongside an existing teacher, and then they start.
Being honest, most developers and designers don’t make good teachers. That’s not a negative reflection on them, but it just takes several years to become good teacher. All our teachers have a formal teaching background, so it’s much easier to get them comfortable in the classroom.
You are the author of "Joomla! <explained>", the best selling CMS how-to book on the market. Can you tell us more about your writing career? Will there be more?
I had no writing career before this book. In fact, I deliberately avoided one. Quite a few people warned me against writing a Joomla book over the years. A friend coined the term YAJBB (Yet Another Joomla Beginner Book) and it neatly summed up why I didn't want to write one: it's been done so many times already. Then there's the book-writing process itself: low-pay, long hours and little reward. Most of my friends who wrote books said they got no royalties at all: only ancillary benefits such as being able to raise their rates.
In the end, I decided to write it for two reasons:
- The offer was from the Joomla Press (a portion of the money goes back to Joomla).
- After years of live teaching, it finally felt like I had something different to offer in a book.
Actually writing the book was as painful as everyone said, but it turned out well in the end. For the last few months Joomla! <explained> has sold more copies than all the other Joomla books on the market put together and also all the Drupal books put together. It helps that I buy a lot of my own books for classes (!), but at the same time, I do think we managed to present Joomla in a way that’s easy for beginners to understand.
Yes, we’re talking about more books at the moment. First will be a video version of Joomla <explained>. That’s already been filmed and is going through final editing now. Next there will hopefully be an update for Joomla 3.0 later this year. After that, we do have more in the works, but I can’t say any more yet, I’m afraid.
Steve, as a former member of OSM, you continue to give generously of your time to the Joomla! project heading up the PR initiative for the version releases. What do you see as the key challenges facing the Project right now?
I know there are a lot of different audiences in Joomla. The developers want the latest and greatest code. Business people want a strong and vibrant Extensions Directory. Template designers want improved core layouts and they want a new Template Directory to launch.
There are lots of wonderful people able to speak up for those audiences.
I’m going to unashamedly pitch for our audience, which is the ordinary person on the street using Joomla. The challenges for us there all revolve around making Joomla easy for them. What does that mean in practice?
- Joomla should be easy to update: the Joomla team have done great work on this and I really hope it continues with an easy update from version 2.5 to 3.0.
- Joomla should be easy to use: the Joomla UX team led by Kyle Ledbetter are hard at work on a new admin template for Joomla 3.0, and I’m sure it’s going to rock. You can see some samples here.
I love open source and I love Joomla. Our challenge is to take what we love and make it lovable for as many other people as possible.