I’m back in West Chester now, and newly certified in ITIL Foundations of IT Service Management.

I was the youngest person, as usual, in our class of 12. When they went around the table for introductions, the others mentioned that they had 15, 23, 25 years of I.T. experience. When it was my turn to say how long I’d been working, my question — “Does college count?” — got the expected laughs.

I learned a lot of useful information in the course, but have mixed feelings about the overall experience. See, the company offering the course decided to make it three days long — two days to learn about ITIL, one-half day to review their best practices and the remainder of the third day for the ITIL certification test.

The way they condensed what should’ve been a four- or five-day course into three days was really ridiculous. Our class was grueling, going from 8am to 5pm each day with a few “stretch breaks” plus lunch. Furthermore, they gave us homework to complete after hours. Hell, even when I first registered for the class last month they sent me homework to complete and bring with me on the first day.

The instructor basically bulldozed through chapter after chapter so that we could cover the entire subject of ITIL in two days. In fact, one of the homework assignments was to read a chapter at home, and then each person had to explain a portion of the chapter to the group. It was interesting to hear from different people for once, but it also looked like they just didn’t want to teach that particular convoluted subject.

They also cut short almost all group discussion, presumably so they could keep to their precious timetable. To me, this was one of the most frustrating decisions, since I considered the chance to sit down with other I.T. professionals and compare notes one of the most appealing aspects of attending the course. Instead, I sat with 12 other people for nearly 24 hours, and still came away knowing almost nothing about their I.T. environments or the specific support challenges they faced.

So it wasn’t the content of the course, but rather, the way it was presented that rubbed me all wrong.

There’s one other thing I did like: the instructor. At first glance, she seemed like your average sweet southern-accented elementary school teacher. But she told about how, as a child, her aunt would frequently shoot squirrels and cook and feed them to her. And at one point, when there was a scratching sound from behind one of the walls, she exclaimed, “Mmmm, squirrels!” As the course wore on, she made other offbeat statements that I don’t think the other people picked up on. I left with the sense that despite her appearances she was an extremely interesting person, and I wished I’d had time to get to know her better.

Of the people I did get to speak to at length, two of them were from Lockheed Martin. I was surprised to learn one of them was based just a few minutes from where I currently work. At the beginning of the course, “Bill” made sure to tell me he had two degrees, one B.A. and one master’s. On the second day, he told me how he’d written a book on artificial intelligence that was used as a textbook for some college courses. Then, when we had group activities and “Bill” was supposed to be playing the role of the end customer, he immediately stepped out of his role, using I.T. jargon like DASD and “hot spare” when describing his support demands. This is the guy I had to sit next to for the entire course.

So imagine my surprise when, on the third day, Bill turned to me and said “Aaron, I gotta tell you, you’ve done pretty well on these [sample] tests.” Uncomfortable, I joked “Well all I did was copy your sheets!” To which Bill responded: “Nah, you got a lot of questions right that I got wrong.”

Chuffed, I confided in Bill that even though our 40-question certification test was scheduled for an hour, I was sure I could finish it in a half-hour. I had a train ticket for 6:50pm but didn’t want to walk around Penn Station for 50 minutes.

Bill was extremely skeptical, so we made the bet. The exam started at 3:50. I flew through the pages as Bill, sitting next to me, plodded from one question to the next. I finished at 4:05. First one.

As I gathered my papers and got up to leave, I wanted to pat Bill on the shoulder to say goodbye. I refrained, though, because he never looked at me, and I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was surprised or pissed off.

I caught the 4:45 train home.

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