Product: IT Pro Challenges All Access Pass
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As someone who has worked in IT for decades, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that one of the most important keys to success is keeping your education current. The problem with this is that there are so many resources available for IT training, that it can be tough to figure out which are legitimate, and which will best meet your needs.
Recently, someone asked me to look at a website that contained IT Pro Challenges. Although I have created video-based training courses for several of the larger training providers, I wasn’t familiar with IT Pro Challenges. Needless to say, I just had to check it out.
When I first heard about IT Pro Challenges, I couldn’t help wondering what, if anything, made it different from some of the other training content providers. I quickly realized however, that one of the most important differences is the company’s target demographic.
Most of the IT training content providers that I have worked with over the years gear their services toward companies with large IT departments. These providers sell commonly subscriptions for a hefty price. IT Pro Challenges, on the other hand, is geared toward individuals, not large companies. As such, an on-demand subscription costs $49.95 USD per year (not per month, per year). That works out to roughly about 14 cents per day.
An on-demand subscription gets subscribers full access to the course library for a full year. This includes any new courses that are released during the subscription period, as well as any new updates to existing courses. The company releases new content on a weekly basis. You can see a small sampling of the available content in the screenshot below.
How it works
As you look at the screenshot above, you will notice that some of the content offerings are flagged as Guided, while others are flagged as Advanced. These attributes are more than just an indication of a course’s skill level. In order for me to convey the full significance of these attributes, however, I need to take a moment and explain something else that makes IT Pro Challenges different from other training content providers.
Most of the training content providers that I am familiar with do video-based training. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as it can be very effective. However, some people have an easier time learning the material by actually completing various tasks themselves rather than by watching someone else do it. This is where IT Pro Challenges differentiates itself from some of the other content providers. Rather than providing the standard video-based training, IT Pro Challenges leverages the power of the cloud to build interactivity into their courses.
The courses consist of what the company refers to as challenges. A challenge is essentially a task that is analogous to what an IT pro might encounter in the real world. Some examples might include using the Bash shell to configure a Linux VM, or creating a Linux backup script.
This is where the skill levels that I mentioned earlier come into play. A guided challenge is designed to give you hints along the way as you work through the challenge, whereas an advanced challenge provides a lot less hand holding. There are also expert level challenges that are designed to really put your skills to the test.
In an effort to evaluate the content, I decided to try a guided challenge pertaining to a subject that I know almost nothing about. As you can see in the figure below, clicking on the course brought up a brief description of the challenge as well as an indication of how long it should take to complete the challenge.
Once you click Start, the interface loads a lab environment that you can use when completing the challenge. The load time likely varies from challenge to challenge, but in my case it took about 20 seconds to prepare the lab environment. You can see what the environment looks like in the next figure.
As you can see in the screenshot, the browser displays a live interface as well as a tab that provides access to instructions and resources. One of the things that I especially like about the way that the challenge works is that step by step instructions are not provided. Notice in the previous figure, that the second step was to create a directory called SalesData. The instructions do not tell you which command to use. Initially, I used a DOS command (MD) before remembering that Linux uses a different command (mkdir). The point is that the challenge’s design forces you to think about what you are doing. You can’t just mindlessly follow step-by-step instructions.
As I said earlier, this particular challenge covers a topic that I know almost nothing about. This raises the question of how it is possible to learn if you don’t even know enough to complete the challenge. One option is of course to look up commands online, but a better option is to click the Hint link, which you can see in the previous screenshot. Clicking Hint causes the interface to show you the commands that you should be using, as well as what should happen when you use the commands. While the case could be made that this is like giving step-by-step instructions, you will notice in the next figure that you can’t see the hint and the command shell at the same time. I actually like this design, because it forces you to try to remember the command and try it for yourself.
Once you complete a course, you will see a message that is similar to the one shown in the next screenshot. I have been told that the company is working on providing badges that you can use as a way of showing which challenges you have completed.
Another thing that I liked about IT Pro Challenges is that they provide several different options for searching for challenges to take on. As you would expect, the site includes a standard search engine, but you can also filter the available challenges by learning path, challenge level, platform, and technology focus. You can see some examples of this in the next figure.
If you look at the lower left corner of the figure, you can see that the interface also gives you the ability to filter challenges by related Microsoft course, related certification, or related exam. In other words, if you are preparing to take a specific exam you can easily find challenges that are specifically related to the exam.
Whenever I write a review for TechGenix, I usually conclude it by giving the product a star rating, ranging from zero to five stars. I decided to give IT Pro Challenges a score of 4.5, which is a gold star award.
I absolutely love the IT Pro Challenges concept. The website provides a great way for IT pros to be able to go into a live environment and hone their skills, without the hassles of setting up their own virtual machines. I also found the site to have a good-sized library of challenges, and I like that new challenges are introduced so frequently. And you certainly can’t argue with the price.
I also found that the challenges worked exactly the way that they were supposed to. I accessed the challenges from a Windows 10 PC using the Edge browser and experienced zero issues.
The only thing that I didn’t like about the challenges is that you are only allowed to complete each challenge once. I can see why the company only allows a single attempt at completing expert-level challenges, but I would have greatly preferred to have unlimited access to the guided challenges, especially since you have a limited amount of time to complete each challenge (an hour per challenge seems to be typical). The good news is that starting in late May, they are increasing the number of launches per challenge from one to two at no additional cost.
If you would like to learn a little bit more about IT Pro Challenges, check out this fun YouTube video.