the TTs
as a whole

I’m not going to go into specifics of the individual courses here, I’m going to try to concentrate on the big picture.

What’s it all about?

Well it’s about building web application’s. And you should note that—this isn’t a course on web design, databases, programming theory or anything other than building a web application. I feel that a lot of the complaints that I’ve heard about the certificate arise through a misunderstanding about just this:

Why don’t we use a PHP framework/learn ASP.Net/cover Java applets/work with JavaScript libraries?

To which the answer is that the certificate is about the ideas, techniques and theories behind building a web application. It covers the basics, the details are up to you. Don’t expect to learn how to write good PHP [although you will get some great pointers]. Do expect to learn about the many considerations that go into building a bulletin board.

Coders versus reporters

This argument ran throughout the courses, should there be a higher coding component in the ECA? At first I was in favour, but as time went on I came to believe that the balance was exactly right. These courses are not here for you to learn how to programme. So, for instance it didn’t matter that [in tt282] we learnt ASP which is, in web terms, a dead language—we were learning about security, architecture and planning not a language.

You can complete the certificate without writing any code but I wouldn’t suggest that you try. I suppose that it is possible to build a web application without knowing anything about the coding, but some knowledge is going to be a massive help. And I doubt that anyone is going to hire you if you can’t write line one! At least make an attempt.

Is it any good?

Yes, it’s very good indeed. Even if you are already familiar with building web applications [I’d already built several before I started] there will be lots here for you.

From being an amateur hacker who produced ramshackle applications that ‘kind of’ worked but were hard to maintain, difficult for anyone but me to use and hard to maintain [we’ll leave out scaling!], I’ve matured[!] into someone who feels up to doing this as a real job. That has got to be a successful course.

Who is it for?

Anyone who wants to work with websites. Even if you end up specializing in, say, front end development or writing Java applets, having an over site of the whole process will make you a much better developer. Things like security, or scalability, have to thought of at all levels of an application, you can’t just hand this over to “the security guy” at the end.

What can you do with it?

This is closely related to who is it for. And I guess that the answer is either you can get a job with it or you can build that site you were thinking of.

The certificate is a solid grounding from which you can build your web career in whatever direction you decide to take it.

Are there any weaknesses?

Yes, there are always going to be weaknesses. Some of the courses had problems, some important things were not covered in depth and the structure of the courses themselves caused problems. Here are my main gripes:

  • TT281 [that would be JavaScript] wasn’t as successful a course as it might have been [that said I’m unsure how it could be improved and they’ve changed it so that it may have improved].
  • There could have been a bit more about databases. They were used, but there wasn’t much about how to design them. And as these are usually at the heart of a web application I felt that a little more detail would have been a good idea.
  • The CMAs caused angst for a lot of people. I could see both sides: it’s got to be difficult to come up with sixty non-trivial questions every three months, but some of them were very loosely worded. But in the end you won’t pass/fail on these alone – try to treat them as a study aide.
  • The greatest weakness IMHO were the ECAs themselves. Despite the tireless efforts of the moderators it was often hard to know what, exactly, was required. And when you couple this with the lack of [much] feedback you get a situation where people did better/worse than the thought they were going to for no discernible reasons. Hard to improve if you don’t know what you did wrong.

In the end I think that you just have to accept that it’s going to be this way: some things won’t be perfect; some things won’t be covered; what you learn on the certificate is more important than the marks you get.

The experience

These courses were my first foray into academia for nearly thirty years and I found it quite a challenge: the reports were hard going; juggling work, life and coursework difficult; time management problematic - in short the usual student stuff [made worse by the fact that you’ve got a full time job].

I don’t know if it was only our cohort, but there was so much talk about chocolate that I found it necessary to swot up on my confectionery history, I’d advise you to do the same.

If you’re in the same position as I was then be prepared to work harder than you thought, to have your social life ruined, to have your family complaining that you don’t talk to them any more, to having horrible lows, strange highs and to developing an obsession about all things web.

But you will make a lot of great friends, have your ideas challenged, learn lots, enjoy yourself greatly and [when you finally get your certificate] feel that you have done something really worthwhile.

If I had to sum up the certificate in a sentence: “Do it!”