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TOGAF 9.1 at Firebrand - An Independent Review

Posted : Sunday, 15 September 2013 09:37:00

I’m a techie. I prefer to stay close to the codeface and like/need to get my hands dirty with code. I am aware however that there is a world outside tech and from the point of view of improving ones understanding of the world of IT and business, its good to occasionally look up from the latest issue of Code magazine and make the effort to understand this different world. Being a contractor, time IS money, so from my point of view the most cost effective training option for me is immersive learning and one of the principle providers of this knowledge delivery method is Firebrand Training. I have done a large number of courses with Firebrand and have seen them grow hugely over the last few years. I started out gaining an MCTS in .Net 2.0 and since then have undertaken a number of different certified learning paths. A couple of years ago I did the Firebrand intensive PRINCE2 course in order to both gain a better understanding of a formal PM methodology and also increase the range of target contract opportunities open to me. I enjoyed the course (and thankfully passed). While I typically work in Agile environments and therefore PRINCE2 remains largely theoretical, the understanding of corporate structure and process I gained from it has been invaluable. Last month I took 3 days off work to participate in a 3 day TOGAF 9.1 course run at the Firebrand campus just off the A1 at Wyboston lakes, what follows is an independent review of the course and facilities offered by Firebrand.

The course I undertook was to gain certification as a practitioner of TOGAF, the explanation and contents of which are contained in the following document:

http://pubs.opengroup.org/architecture/togaf9-doc/arch/

I took this course at Firebrand Training:

http://www.firebrandtraining.co.uk/courses/the-open-group/togaf-certification

NB Firebrand regularly run offers and promotions so be sure to check any applicable discounts if you’re thinking of doing this

The Firebrand model is to provide everything that delegates need to survive allowing total focus to be directed toward learning. This includes food, accommodation, stationery, coffee, coffee and more coffee.

Delegates are generally required to arrive the night before the official start of the course for orientation and introduction which provides a chance to meet fellow students and the instructor in an informal introduction session before the fun begins. There is also a session where the FB guys run through the facilities, hours, policies etc. and having “done Firebrand” numerous times I find this reminiscent of the cabin crew pre-takeoff thing.

The course structure was delivered via copious handouts and overhead projector slides. I have to say the quality of some of the handouts was generally poor with complex multicoloured diagrams being rendered at a quarter of the original resolution and in greyscale. This made a few of the diagrams completely illegible so ideally I would have preferred to see a supplementary handout with full page and full colour copies of the more important TOGAF documents. That said the instructor of the course was very capable of highlighting the key ideas represented in the various slides allowing copious note taking to fill in any knowledge gaps left by the handouts. The TOGAF syllabus was broken down over 2 days – day 1 was focused largely on the Architecture Development Method (ADM) and structure of the Architecture Repository, with the remaining TOGAF elements being delivered on day 2, day 3 was devoted to practice exam questions as well as the exams themselves. There is a lot of content to cover in such a short space of time but the instructor Martin, was very good at keeping up the pace and providing appropriate breaks and segues in order to keep the course running to schedule while not boring the delegates to tears with what is, by any stretch, pretty dull content. I found this aspect of the course particularly challenging as for someone like myself from a coding background where its all about the detail, there is none in TOGAF. I also expected a hard copy of the TOGAF document but instead were supplied with an electronic copy which given the often changing nature of the document makes more sense, both from an environmental point of view as well as the fact that part 2 of the exam features a electronic version of the document so it makes much more sense to get used to navigating the soft copy! I would strongly advise anyone thinking of doing this course to take a laptop though as I didn’t and this made accessing the document difficult, the guys at Firebrand were able to provide me with access to a PC though so I could gain familiarity with the document ahead of the exam.

The Firebrand strapline is “Immerse, Accelerate, Measure” so it should come as no surprise that there will be exams on their courses. There is a dedicated Prometric test centre on site and the TOGAF syllabus requires delegates to undertake two exams to gain the certification, a 40 question multiple choice closed book test followed immediately by an 8 question open book exam. Results for both parts are not revealed until part 2 has been completed. Part 1 is effectively a memory test where part 2 tests candidates understanding of TOGAF concepts and practical application thereof. Practice examples of both exams are provided as part of the Firebrand course.

The facilities at Wyboston are adequate and appropriate with on-site gym, driving range and other leisure facilities – I found little time to enjoy these however preferring to focus my efforts on the course itself using free time to revise my weaker areas. I did (ahem) find a few hours on day 1 to visit one of the bars at Wyboston which is a very picturesque lakeside setting and provides a very relaxing opportunity to unwind. In my opinion the food was good and I found it to be sufficiently tasty although one or two of the other delegates didn’t seem so impressed. Also I have no specific dietary requirements so I don’t know how well they are catered for. The rooms are basic but all have en-suite shower WC as well as TV, all rooms are arranged geometrically around a central garden in a series of identical corridors which can make the task of navigating to and from the classroom and dining facilities initially challenging. In the training centre itself are the classrooms, a social area, some refreshment stations and a number of PCs for delegates to check emails etc – I have to say i was shocked at how poor these PCs were! As I said earlier as part of the course I needed to familiarise myself with a the TOGAF PDF but the communal PCs on offer were barely able to run Internet Explorer (version 7 unbelievably) let alone Acrobat Reader which wasn’t even installed! I tried to open the document in a browser based PDF reader and it crashed the PC, I gave up trying to read my email via OWA after 10mins waiting for the inbox to render! I was quite surprised that a company running courses on some bleeding edge tech had such poor hardware – I guess however that in the age of the smartphone, delegates rarely need to use these machines and as such are present pretty much just for show, I only became aware of this glaring inadequacy as I didn’t take my laptop AND my Galaxy S3 smartphone was in for repair the week I was doing TOGAF so I was reliant on a particularly irritating non-smartphone.

In summary I can say honestly that for me, the immersive learning approach works best – both from the point of view of my personal learning style as well as minimizing the amount of time I have to take off work.

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