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A Cloud Guru: disruptive learning for disruptive technology

In the recent process of becoming an Amazon Web Services Certified Solution Architect (CSA) I found a truly remarkable training provider in the shape of A Cloud Guru. What the founders – the Kroonenburg brothers – have done is highly disruptive and goes against the grain of traditional corporate learning.

Like most people, over the course of my career I’ve dipped in and out of training. Some of it has been instructor-led, some e-learning (mostly those mandatory compliance courses that big enterprises make you take), and self-study from books which I did when I took my last vendor certifications over 15 years ago. Also, for a time I was an instructor for Learning Tree teaching classroom-based Windows Server courses.

The courses from A Cloud Guru are self-paced e-learning comprising a few lectures and lots of screencasted hands-on labs. That, in itself, is nothing new and there are many other providers of similar training for AWS. But what the Kroonenburg’s have done is focused on what people really need to know to achieve the CSA certification and delivered an extensive training product totalling 18.5 hours at an incredible price point – less than $35 per course.

There’s no glitzy presentations here produced by instructional designers accompanied by professional voiceovers, it’s written and delivered by Ryan Kroonenburg – a London-based Australian and former techie who worked for Rackspace and Sunguard – who’s been recognised by Amazon as an AWS Community Champion and oozes credibility. For sure, the training is a bit rough around the edges but it works and it’s bang up to date.
And this is a key point: The challenge for training providers is AWS are constantly evolving their services with big changes coming through thick and fast, sometimes with little warning. Which is just not suited to traditional course development and maintenance cycles. But for Kroonenburg he can simply fire up his laptop, record a revised lecture and insert it into the course in a matter of hours.

And that comes to the second remarkable thing about A Cloud Guru. Whilst their courses are available via mainstream sites like Udemy, they also deliver the training from their own custom-built platform that costs them next to nothing. There’s no expensive Learning Management System, or even an open source LMS like Moodle. Instead Ryan’s software developer brother Sam (an Australian based in Australia) has built their own platform using Amazon’s serverless technologies Lambda and DynamoDB.

In a new twist on “dogfooding”, one of the biggest providers of AWS training has zero server infrastructure; they run completely on Amazon’s hottest new technology and it costs them pennies to deliver each course.

Of course this may sound like a great way for smaller businesses and contractors to get certified and not for the big enterprise but A Cloud Guru are breaking the mould here as well.

All large organisations operate preferred supplier lists for learning comprising traditional training companies offering things like ILT and e-learning. A Cloud Guru though have cut right through this and signed some big license deals with a number of well-known multi-nationals.

Scary stuff for the traditional training providers and uncannily rather similar to the existential threat facing traditional datacenter vendors from AWS.

For large enterprises who are now getting on board with cloud at a rapid pace, training up on this new technology is of paramount importance. As cloud expert Drew Firment, until recently Capital One’s Technology Director for Cloud Engineering, notes in his excellent article on accelerating cloud adoption “achieving critical mass of cloud fluency is the only way an organization can sustain a transition to the new operating model”.

“Instead of outsourcing your cloud training to Human Resources, tightly integrate cloud education as a core function on your program team. Leverage the AWS certifications as a benchmark for cloud fluency and set a minimum goal of 10% enterprise-wide.” – Drew Firment

Great advice and, of course, at the traditional cost of $400-1,800 per course would be impossible to achieve, hence at $35 a pop A Cloud Guru are making big in-roads into the enterprise space.

The Associate level AWS certifications aren’t too hard to achieve and – on the whole – people with some IT experience but new to AWS can attain this level of certification and be considered competent. Proficiency of course comes with time.

But a $400-1,800 investment to achieve a minimum level of competency makes little sense, far better to spend $35 to attain the certification and then invest time and precious training dollars into helping staff attain proficiency. And at this level of cost it’s easy to support ongoing learning where – in addition to building real-world experience through day-to-day use – staff can take additional courses every month, indeed A Cloud Guru offer a number of AWS speciality courses that neatly align to job roles.

Of course none of this should be a surprise. AWS has already ripped up the rulebook and turned the technology world on its on head, so it naturally makes sense that one of their training providers might well do the same.

A Cloud Guru are definitely one to watch and they truly are delivering disruptive learning for disruptive technology.

(I appreciate the approach I’m prescribing here might not work for everyone – one size certainly doesn’t fit all – but for individuals who work well with self-paced learning this is an excellent and cost effective way to achieve cloud fluency.)