Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Training with Lynda.com

Some months ago I took out a subscription to Lynda.com, a site which offers literally hundreds of training courses, primarily based around design tools from Adobe.

Traditionally the site has centred on training the 'luvvies' with their Apple Macs, which I guess is why so few Microsoft .NET developers I know seem to be aware of it.

I stumbled across the site, which has apparently been going for years, only when a forum discussion highlighted the fact that it was offering the first (and, at the time, the only) training material for Microsoft's Expression Blend. This product (formerly code-named 'Sparkle') is Microsoft's designer-oriented tool for generating XAML files that can then be exported for use in WPF applications written by a developer using Visual Studio 2008. Expression Blend, which is now included in Microsoft's MSDN developer subscription package, offers a particularly neat way of training yourself up in understanding the underlying XAML without having to go the painful way of coding it all from scratch.

Rather cleverly Lynda.com actually offered the Expression Blend training for free, using it as an opportunity to advertise the fact that they had (literally) hundreds of other courses too - all included for a relatively low monthly price that works out at not much more than a tenner a month! At that price it's a complete steal!

With a plethora of excellent in-depth training material for Adobe Photoshop, taking out a premium subscription (which gives you access to download code used in the training material, as well as the streamed video training itself) wasn't too difficult a choice to make, particularly since the video streaming is flawless, fast and just works every time. If only all sites were like this!

Unfortunately, work commitments mean I've had little opportunity to use the site since I first took out my subscription, but I'm using it with a vengeance now, not least because it has some really excellent new material that is more focussed on the .NET developer working with AJAX.

Thanks to a timely Skype conversation tip-off from my friend Mat Guthrie I'm aware that there's some excellent 'best practices' training available for FREE from Yahoo, which should certainly be a necessary pre-req before rushing to code with libraries like Prototype and Script.aculo.us or Silverlight, but they are very much of the 'listen and learn' variety, whereas I'm definitely from the school of thought that says it's far better to 'learn by doing'.

What I'd nearly missed, in the deluge of Adobe and Dreamweaver-oriented material at Lynda.com, is the fact they have XHMTL, CSS, JavaScript, AJAX, and even some Microsoft-specific training in there too, all included in the one low, subscription price.

The site's CSS for Designers course (7.5 hours) from Andy Clarke and Molly E. Holzschlag has given me lots of ideas for the upcoming redesign of my new company web site. For a more formal approach to the technical aspects of CSS the site's course on CSS Web Site Design by Eric Meyer is the best material I've seen on the subject (and that includes way-too-many books I've purchased written by the same presenter).

The company also have training courses on all the Office 2007 products (including Visio), such that the only problem I have, even with taking a significant period of 'time out' from taking on new client work, is finding the hours in the day to use all the material they make available for frankly what is not so much a bargain price as a complete steal!

With the need for .NET developers to be much more proficient and up-to-speed on AJAX and Silverlight it's time for many of us to take a JavaScript refresher, and the site's JavaScript Essentials (2007) (7 hours) by Dori Smith is an excellent 'Back to basics' course if, like me, it's several years since you really did some JavaScript programming.

So, if you haven't checked Lynda.com out yet, now would be a good time to do so. All that's missing is the Silverlight training, and I suspect even that's probably on its way as I get emails detailing two or three new courses each and ever week!

Yesterday's Useful Links

I have so many links that I don't want to lose to post (information overload) so I'm going to have to dedicate a single post to them tomorrow - I don't have the time right now to post them because lunch is nearly over. Check back tomorrow for the usual daily link listing!

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