MCAD (VB .NET/Visual C#)
08 Dec to 22 Dec 2004
Koenig is a very professional outfit that seems to pride itself on getting students through! The tutors seem to know their areas well and, certainly with one-to-one students, appear genuinely concerned to get their students doing well...
Koenig asked me if I would like to be a featured student on their website. So I agreed and wrote this feature about my experience here. I am Mathieu Walker, a Test Automation consultant with 18 years of hardware and software test automation behind me. I live with my partner Pamela, in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Just off England's south coast.Back in October, I decided that the only way I would be able to get an MCAD certificate would be to attend a bootcamp away from home.
As a Test Automation consultant working away from home a lot, I simply didn't have enough time to study properly. With a Unix/VMS/PC background, I had a lot of experience generating C/C++ applications and had done some C# .NET & Microsoft SQL-Server work. I needed to get some good solid C#/.NET training so, after browsing the Internet looking for training courses, I came across Koenig-Solutions in India. December was going to be a month between contracts, so I investigated more. I didn't have much time to do the course, so the Super Fast Track MCAD bootcamp seemed ideal. After a number of e-mail exchanges between myself and Koenig, a lot of investigation of the Company and reading of independent reviews, I went for it.
It really started with a small test Koenig sent to see what level I was; I scored 50% - not bad, but not brilliant. Sandeep, the Manager at Koenig, said that I would be accepted for the Super Fast Track, but that I should not be under any illusion about how much work there was going to be. After more thought I finally decided to do it. I asked Sandeep to send me a quote for a 16-day Super-Fast Track 1-to-1 MCAD course in Shimla, Northern India, staying at the Hotel Combermere. Although the standard hotel (Hotel Eve) in Shimla looked ok, I wanted to stay somewhere a little better as I knew there was going to be a lot of hard work and I needed to concentrate a lot while there. Sandeep replied with a quote, about £1900 (I cant remember exactly). I looked into flights and found it would be about £550 return from Heathrow; total for the course would be about £2500. The first big moment was hovering my finger over the mouse-button to confirm pay-pal payment of the US$500 deposit. I clicked, there was no turning back now.
In the weeks running up to the flight out I did some study, but nowhere near as much as I should. If you are considering a super fast-track course, consider getting some study material beforehand as it will make your time at Koenig a lot easier.
I flew from Heathrow, and arrived at 11PM on the 6th of December. As a well traveled person and ex-backpacker with African and other Asian countries under my belt, I felt quite prepared for India and Delhi. I was wrong. I can only describe Delhi as an assault on the senses. The Smells, sounds, sights; everything was full-on and in your face from the start. I was met at the airport with a taxi driver holding up my name on a placard. I was given a large Koenig envelope and the driver took my luggage. We drove for about half an hour from the airport to the hotel I was going to stay in overnight before the journey to Shimla. The envelope contained details about what would be happening and 1000 rupees - not that I needed to spend anything as Koenig had done everything already. The taxi was a slightly beaten-up looking car with rattles and the odd clank; as we drove there were cows wandering in the road aimlessly, lorries without lights, small cooking fires at the roadside, the constant din of horns blaring, old-looking men carrying incredibly heavy packs on their backs. Nothing had prepared me for this! I chatted to the driver as he skillfully maneuvered round busses, potholes, pedestrians, goats and cows. He was friendly, pleasant and spoke a little, broken, English; I even learnt a few Hindi basics - please, thank you, hello etc....
The overnight hotel in Delhi, Rangoli Park Hotel, was typically Asian. Basic on-suite amenities (including sit-down loo!!) and friendly staff. When ready to go in the morning, I asked at reception for a taxi to Koenig. As the hotel is one of Koenig's main student-hotels, there was no problem getting transport and as the taxi is on contract to Koenig it is also free, which is great as my haggling skills are pathetic.
First impressions of Koenig, looking from the main road, are that it is rundown and dilapidated. The Delhi offices are on the third floor of what looks like, by UK building standards, an unfinished vacant office shell. The narrow stairs up to Koenig were reminiscent of the stairs in a rundown Spanish package-holiday hotel. However, I was surprised when I got to the Koenig floor; offices, classrooms, tutors, students, office staff - all a hive of activity. While the rooms looked slightly tatty as first (cables not hidden behind plastic conduit, concrete spatters, unfinished looking masonry etc.) they were actually very comfortable; everything was clean, air-conditioned and worked. Each classroom was well kitted with comfortable swivel-chairs, PC's, decent keyboards and optical mice. A Koenig kitchen porter kept everyone refreshed with bottled-water, tea, coffee and lunch orders. It was actually a great environment for study! The lunch list, brought by the porter, consisted of a number of menu's from different outlets; from Sub-Way sandwiches and Dominoes pizza, to authentic Thai and local Indian dishes. Koenig ensure there is a good selection of lunch items as they have students from all over the world and need to make sure they cater for all tastes.
At the Delhi office I paid, using travelers cheques, and after lunch met my tutor who was to be my MCAD tutor in Shimla. Although his English was good, initially understanding his Indian accent was not easy. However, after a couple of days this was not a problem at all and I didn't even notice the accent. As well as giving me my first study module, he gave me a good grilling. What did I know? How much Web Services had I done? Did I know any .NET Remoting? Had I used SQL Server before? He was really giving me a good going over! As I've self-learnt most of my software development skills and therefore wasn’t too hot on Microsoft terminologies I found it difficult to convey how much I really knew - full marks to my tutors for being able to judge my level at that point!
The train to Shimla was due to leave at 10.45PM that night. After a couple of hours rest back at the hotel, and a typical Delhi taxi ride (as always, well organized and paid for by Koenig) - cows, cooking fires, goats, noise - I arrived at the rail station. The taxi driver stayed with me on the platform until I was safely on the train, which was great as the train was a few hours late and while I didn't feel threatened in any way it was nice having a local with me for comfort. Being an overnight train, I was in sleeper-class. Indian trains are not comfy; bed was a pull-down hard bunk in a group of four with a curtain between the bunks and the aisle. Luckily I had only one companion for the trip (rather than 3 others!), a metal-coatings specialist who spoke great English and was a good source of local knowledge. When time for sleep, I put in ear-plugs (a must if you want to get some sleep, the trains are quite noisy!), and slept until the guard woke me to say we had arrived in Kalka to change trains.
I had a quick wash and boarded the Shimla 'toy' train, which always meets the main Delhi train and takes passengers up into the mountains. An ancient narrow-gauge train pulled by a diesel engine, it wound its way up into the hills of the Himalayas, full of Delhi honeymooners - Shimla is a popular destination for Delhi newly-weds - taking pictures of the fantastic views. Halfway up, the train stopped for 10 minutes to load the breakfasts. Breakfast was bottled water, tea served in small plastic beakers, and heated homemade Indian food wrapped in tin-foil - unlike UK trains, it was delicious - and free!
I arrived in Shimla at 3PM, six hours late! I was met by Neeraj who traveled up before in not-so-'luxury'-class who told me I could check in to the hotel and freshen up, but that I must be at the school at 4.30PM. The koenig taxi would meet me outside the hotel at 4PM. Between the rush to get freshened up and changed I looked out the hotel window; Shimla is amazing! It is a sprawling town of houses, shacks, hotels, restaurants, shops, temples, all seemingly stuck precariously round the sides of the mountain. Dense forests line the sides of distant with just the occasional house or wisp of smoke to break the green. Far in the distant, snow-capped peaks can be seen spilling mist into deep valleys below. The Combermere hotel was slap bang in the middle, like everywhere in Shimla it was on the side of a hill, with the Mall (a Shimla shopping area) at the top and the main taxi area below. The taxi ride to the Koenig site (again, free and arranged) was up and down steep hills and round sharp bends dodging other traffic, pedestrians, monkeys and cows. All the time the thought that one one side of the road there was rock and on the other was a 1000ft drop! Koenig's Shimla office is above a small set of shops on the other side of the mountain where the Eve and Combermere hotels are. It is a fantastic location, with clean air, mountain views in the distance and the throng of village life/horns-blaring outside. The offices have double glazing so inside it is quiet and calm. Apart from the odd power cut (not a problem, as Koenig have their own generator on the roof!), you wouldn't know you were in the middle of nowhere on the edge of the Himalayas!
The course itself was intense. There was a lot of material to complete for the three exams involved in the MCAD. I had opted for C# Web applications, so the three exams were SQL-Server, C#/ADO.NET and WebServices/Remoting/COM+. Each day started at 6am (to the sound of the bells from the local Hindu temple), with two hours of in-room study. Then it was a morning shower, breakfast (in room) and taxi at 9AM. Class started at 9.30AM, my trainer was strict on this, with intense teaching until 12:30. Although Koenig offered the pizza/burger/Chinese options for lunch, I opted for lunch with the tutors (along with the other two students, Andy and Stewart) at a local vegetarian place that did excellent local North-India food. It wasn’t much more than a family's back-room, but the food was superb! The afternoon was then crammed with more teaching, usually finishing at between 4 and 5pm. However, the learning didn’t stop there - as the time was so short (Super fast-track don't forget!), the evenings were spent doing the practical's and labs on my Laptop (if doing the super fast-track, make sure you have ALL the software installed you will need before you come - in my case VS.NET Enterprise, SQL Server and all the extensions etc..). I usually stopped at 9 or 10PM to meet the other two students and drink beer, wander around Shimla and try different restaurants. If you can only eat western fare, Shimla may not be your best option as western dishes are not common there - that said, the Indian food in Shimla is both cheap and excellent (And I found a superb cake shop!!). I drank the local water, ate salads and generally lived like a local; hoping to get 'Delhi Belly' to help lose a few pounds; no such luck, I put on weight! The evenings before exams tended to be very late finishes, studying and reading through the material I had been taught, shown and practiced with.
Although quite pessimistic at the start of the course, I passed the MCAD exams with flying colours! Although I had put in a massive amount of work, the good passes were in no small measure a result of my trainer's teaching skills, strictness (I was told off a number of times for partying late when I should have been working!) and infinite patience with some of my dafter questions. But most of all, even in my lowest 'I'll never pass this' moments, my tutor never lost faith that I could do it. When I scraped through the first (SQL Server) exam only 8% above the 70% pass mark he jokingly refused to shake my hand, saying that I should have done a lot better! He was right, the other two exams I passed at 95% each - thanks Koenig!!!
In summary. Don't under-estimate the amount of work you will be doing if on a Fast (or super-fast) Track course, it is a hell of a lot! If you can afford to do so, stay in a better hotel like Combermere as it allows slightly more relaxation, with a gym, its own bar etc... Don't expect the Koenig tutor to teach you everything, on the Super-fast-track 70% of the actual learning has to be on the student's side.
On the super fast-track, you will have very little spare time, which can be frustrating in Shimla as there is so much to see and do; I had one sunday morning off in the whole trip. Try to live 'Indian' when here and learn some Hindi, a well placed 'How are you' (Kah say ho!) or 'Good Morning' (Na Ma Ska) will always result in a friendly smile and sometimes a reply, even if you have said it wrong. Koenig is an established business and has a lot of experience with students from around the world; they look after you from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave. Even if wandering around alone (which is safe - as long as you keep an eye on traffic -, enjoyable and a sensory feast!), they will make sure you have their direct mobile number/s for any problems. If possible, try to give yourself some free time. I found it very frustrating not to have enough free time to see the sights and be a tourist - maybe next tim e....
The bottom line is; make sure you are prepared to work hard, unless in Delhi dont expect KFC or burgers everywhere, prepare yourself for a sensory barrage on arrival, Delhi is like nowhere you will have been before and lastly, chill-out and get with the flow... Lastly, don't let first impressions cloud your view, Koenig is a very professional outfit that seems to pride itself on getting students through! The tutors seem to know their areas well and, certainly with one-to-one students, appear genuinely concerned to get their students doing well. Don’t come if you expect Holiday Inn type accommodation, don’t know how to get your own luggage from the arrivals carrousel, expect cars to stop at a zebra crossing or have a T-bone steak addiction!