posted by Eugenia Loli on Wed 9th Feb 2005 21:13 UTC
IconToday we are very happy to feature an interview with Aaron Hillegass, the famous tech instructor from the Big Nerd Ranch. We have reviewed his Mac OS X books in the past and this time we are going to talk about the actual process of the classes going on in the ranch every so often.

1. In general, who can attend your classes? What kind of programming experience must the participants have?

Aaron Hillegass: The courses assume different levels of experience, but all assume that the student is bright and motivated.

Aaron Hillegass We try to address the needs of many different audiences. For example, our "PHP 5 Bootcamp" (taught by David Sklar, author of O'Reilly's "Learning PHP 5") requires only HTML experience. "Core Mac OS X and Unix Programming," on the other hand, is for experienced programmers who need a deep understanding of how Mac OS X works.

When you name your company "Big Nerd Ranch", you tend to get students who are comfortable with who they are. I spend a lot of time with our students, and I am consistently surprised what a pleasant group they are.

2. Describe to us the nature of the classes. How does it work exactly? Is there any student participation in the process of the teaching?

Aaron Hillegass: Each class is a series of about 25 modules. Each module includes a 25 minute lecture and a one-hour hands-on exercise. Each class comes with a student guide and a CD of materials. We break for meals, and we take a walk in the woods every afternoon as the post-prandial grogginess sets in.

We carefully limit the size of the classes to no more than 16 students so that each participant has easy access to the instructor.

We don't try to sell the technology. If you are at the class, we assume you have bought in -- a sales talk would just waste everyone's time. In fact, we try to demonstrate a tools weaknesses. For example, during our PostgreSQL class, we go over the official TODO list so that the students know exactly what is missing.

3. Which are the most popular classes you host for Mac OS X and which ones for Linux?

Aaron Hillegass: Introductory level classes are always more popular than advanced classes, so it is tempting to eliminate the advanced courses altogether. Our students, however, really appreciate that there is a place where they can go to learn the tricky stuff. Also, we really enjoy teaching heavy classes.

"Cocoa Bootcamp" and "Core Mac OS X Programming" are only offered on Mac OS X. If you take our PostgreSQL, Python, PHP, or Apache class, you can choose the platform that you want to work on. We have both Macs and PCs, so some weeks we have Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, and even Windows in the classroom. We really enjoy the opportunity to see other operating systems in action.

These days, many students bring their own laptops. This enables them to work in the exact same environment that they will have when they return to work.

4. Do you have plans to expand your classes to other subjects?

Aaron Hillegass: We are always looking for new instructors and new topics to teach. This year we will add classes on Perl, Asterisk, and Administering Mixed Linux/MacOS/Windows Networks.

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