My return to education begins.... in a distant sort of way

Posted on Wed 05 July 2006 in WebDev & Code

i-169b0a422e9f46fb60b306cafe8d75ee-zend_logo.gifMy return to education begins in just 2 hours. I say return but of course I've never stopped learning. However, I've signed up to a formal training course and paid a fair amount of money for the privilege.

The course is "Zend PHP Essentials". PHP is a programming language commonly used on web servers. It's core functionality is about generating web pages. It allows a programmer to generate those pages from a database, as well as many other things like create PDF files. As with many languages, you can use it to start other programs that aren't really related to PHP or web pages. It's one of the most popular programming languages for web site because
a) It's free (well, it 'open source' which means you can use the software for free but there are other obligations - like you can't alter it and then sell it)
b) It's now very popular (which means its on almost every server set up going and if you get stuck the chances are someone you know can help you fix it).

I have dabbled in PHP from time to time but I am a self taught programmer. I had a problem, I knew a computer could help me solve it, so I learnt what I needed to solve it and moved on. I have a big project coming up at work as I continue to improve our business systems to meet our growing needs. One of those is to move our MS Access based system that runs our invoicing onto a web based system. MS Access is fine in small groups, but we are pushing it's capacity to it's limit. I had considered Adobe/Macromedia Coldfusion but in order to use that in our office I would have to buy another licence (we already have one for our web server, the www.rootskitchens.co.uk site uses coldfusion). The licence isn't too expensive at around 900 but if ever I want to have a second server running (second site for Roots perhaps, or I create a website for another interest and need to host it on another server) then I would have to spend another 900. Instead, I chose to spend that money on a proper Instructor led course on PHP.

What did I mean by "...in a distant sort of way"? Well, I really wanted an instructor led course. I tried the local colleges and universities. I emailed some people mentioned on their web sites too, but there are no PHP specific courses they are running or plan to run. To be taught by an instructor I would have to go to London for a week. I thought fine, I'll find someone and pay them directly to teach me. Alas, I still didn't find anyone. Then I found the Zend course. It's instructor led but the instructor is California. Now that's what I call distant learning!

They have a web based (of course!) interface which I will be logging into to talk with the instructor and other students. I can see what he writes, the slides he shows, hear what he says, put my virtual hand up to ask a question, type a message and even interrupt him (using a microphone he can hear me too).

The downside? Well, I can't throw pen lids at my friends in class (sorry Fiona!).

The time zones worked well for me too. The lessons start at 6pm BST so it's just like Adult Education would have been. This type of online instructor led training could be a good thing - I'll let you know how it goes.