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My coworkers and I were recently told by our manager to submit proposals for training this year for consideration.

I've heard it said before "training is available if something worthwhile can be identified." I just don't know where to anything worthwhile, especially in the few fliers I receive on courses available in my area (with Calgary being the nearest place anything is offered).

As a competent Mac administrator (who is not afraid of the command-line or to automate procedures) who oversees half a dozen schools and a few miscellaneous servers, what sort of training would be useful?

I can only think of a few topics I'd like to study and areas where my knowledge is weak -- which surely means that there are things I need to know that I don't even know I need to know. Some of the things I'd like to better understand include system monitoring, running highly available systems, disaster recovery, finding and fixing infrastructural problems (like bottlenecks in filesharing), DNS, RAID, failover, and things I can do to avoid problems before they happen. (I'm also interested in Cocoa development, in web development, and in understanding how to design effective database schema, but I think these will be a harder sell).

What sort of training would be useful for a Mac (and, by extension, Unix) admin? Should I be looking at conferences and seminars, at books, at self-directed study (ie. give me time to play with potential solutions to the sorts of problems we face)?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Have you considered getting Apple IT Pro Certifications? Check and see if there are any Apple Certified Training Centers in your area (there's one at 2333 - 18th Avenue NE Calgary AB).

From a *NIX perspective, you may want to take LPIC courses and get some of those certifications. I've heard that they're not pushovers by any means.

Knowing more about networks in general is never a bad thing. Pick up some good books like Network Warrior or some Cisco Press stuff. Maybe study for a CCNA.

I don't want to sound like I'm heavily pushing certifications, but if you're going to learn a thing, you might as well get a pretty piece of wall decoration to "prove" it so that you can have greater potential opportunities for job hunting. Furthermore, sometimes the structured approach to studying for a certification can open your eyes to areas that you didn't know that you didn't know. After that it's as simple as following your fancy to illuminate the dark spots.

Individual software products like Nagios or Groundwork will have vendors that offer training for how to use those products. I wish I could take some of these courses. Pick a monitoring solution and then search for someone... anyone... who is offering training.

As for learning about DNS, failover, RAID, and etc, here are some tips:

  1. Find a learning center in your area and peruse the class schedule. New Horizons is just one example of a technical learning center. However, there will also be localized technical learning centers that you should seek out and ask about available classes. Sometimes technical consulting firms also run classes. Talk to them about what they offer; tell them what you're interested in and they might be able to make suggestions even if they themselves don't offer anything quite like what you want.
  2. Search out and attend user groups in your area for technologies that you are interested in. If for no other reason than asking how those people learned what they did. For instance, find a storage-networking user group, or high performance computing group or whatever else might be interesting to you. Show up to meetings and ask questions about further learning.
  3. Be resourceful. Network with anyone in the area that has more knowledge than you and ask how they did it and where they got trained. Maybe they "bootstrapped" themselves... or maybe they didn't. Can't hurt to try. Sometimes the best training is received over coffee and Biscotti.
  4. Don't rule out Cocoa and web development. Hopefully your boss is interested in keeping you happy to some degree and might spring for it. It can't hurt to try... right?

The type of study that you should be looking at can only really be determined by you. It all depends on how you learn. Do you respond better to classroom instruction? Self paced kits? Practice exams? Practical projects? A blending of them all? As an example, I tend to prefer actually working on a project and reading books, articles and forums. However, once in a while taking a full 5 day course can kick me in the rear and knock off some complacency. Keep in mind that it does look better, from a careerist's perspective, to say that you've taken real structured courses on a topic rather than simply stating "Yeah, I've bought and read some books from Amazon on that," (even though the latter is oftentimes better than the former).

Finally, stick around and let us know how it all goes. =)

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Thank you for that excellent answer. I am in a fairly rural area; the nearest city is an hour away and Calgary is 3 hours away -- which makes user groups difficult (although I suppose I could always form my own). I hadn't really thought much of certification, but you are right -- if I'm going to learn something, I may as well get credit for doing it. –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 25 '09 at 20:19
    
In that case, consider online classes. For instance, the link to Groundwork training that is in my post has online classes. Red Hat does online training as well (and, incidentally, it is not insignificantly priced =) ). Search out online training companies. They don't have to be big name companies to do it well. For instance, a local technology trainer in my area has only two office in the world ( both in the Cincinnati area) and yet they offer some of their classes online. You VPN into their network and can share a screen with a classroom presenter while the classroom training is going on... –  Wesley Nov 25 '09 at 22:20
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...there are plenty of opportunities for personal training with a real live human instructor online from the comfort of your own desk chair. Or you could buy video sets from places like TrainSignal.com (one of my favorites!), CBTNuggets.com, TotalTraining.com (also one of my favorites) or get subscriptions to services like Safari Books online (hands down the best learning investment for an IT person EVER!!) or Lynda.com. O'Reilly has some online courses at their School of Technology ( oreillyschool.com ) that may be of some interest to you. Heck, you could even go for a degree... –  Wesley Nov 25 '09 at 22:26
    
...if that's what you interest is in. So you can see, there is no shortage of opportunities out there. You just need to figure out what you desired next step is and take it. Whew! Maybe I should have added all of this as an edit to my comment. =) –  Wesley Nov 25 '09 at 22:27
    
Wow. Thank you very much. I will have to take some time to look at the different sources you've recommended. I had no idea Safari Books was such a useful investment. –  Clinton Blackmore Nov 30 '09 at 17:03
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