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Book Review User Training For Busy Programmers

Rated 3.16 (Ratings: 4)

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Stephane Deschamps

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User since: 19 Mar 2002

Articles written: 4

What's in it?

This short but very useful book is for all of us who have to face the occasional challenge of putting on training: where do you begin? What should you know beforehand? Who are the people who can really make it a success or a failure (i.e., who decide about the content and audience)? How do you find out what the requirements and expectations are? What should you deliver?

The book has a progressive curriculum that helps us define the audience for the training and decide whether the learning objectives can be met by a class at all. You'll then learn to put up a training scenario (a simplified real-life situation, so to speak), to develop training software exercises, lectures, demos, to package the course (student manuals, printouts). And finally you'll test-run the class —and of course deliver it for real.

Book design: less than average

The book has a serious drawback when you first hold it: although the cover is colourful, you'd never want to read it according to its internal layout. It really looks like the design was based on a word processor default template.

Sometimes (more than a few times), I lost track of the book's structure just because of that, which is sad considering how well-structured the content itself is. More on that in a moment.

Look, let's open any New Riders publication, for instance: there's room to breathe, the paper is luxurious, titles stand out, margins leave room for notes and your flat-tipped computer geek keyboard-worn fingers, right? You know where you are when you pick up the book again after a pause, in which section and subsection. Margins are used for side notes (surprise!), and so on and so forth.

Here you can't make heads or tails of the content's structure: Oh, you mean this is a subsection of that? Oh, you're right, if I go look into the table of contents it's what I find out.

I know this must sound harsh. Someone is credited for the book's design, and I'm really sorry if I hurt any feelings. But a book review should be honest, at the least.

Content: good!

All right, let's not judge a book by its cover — or, in our case, by its inside design. We're here for the content, after all.

Here the level is substantially better. William Rice has done his best to be practical. He gives us just the necessary background to understand where he's going for each point, and it's clever: the process of understanding and building a training course is greatly simplified.

Tuition without theory is a good thing, in the particular case when you want to be efficient quickly. After all, it's what we're after according to the book's title, right?

The content has a clear structure, although the design does not do it justice. For each segment we are presented with:

  • a title
  • a brief description of what we're trying to accomplish in the section
  • an occasional example if need be
  • a checkpoint ("here we're supposed to be able to...")
  • an action ("here we're going to...")

And of course this is A Good Thing.

What the book lacks is a full reference page, with some thicker bibliographical notes. Some points are just brushed and could be expanded through some further reading, so that was a bit of a disappointment.

Summary: an efficient book

This is a very good hands-on book that can be read quickly and whose tips are valuable. The week after I read the book, I used some of them in a course devoted to web design and client-side coding, and they do work in our professional context too.

Very practical and down-to-earth, although lacking in references in the case when one would want to do further research. The subject matter is treated thouroughly, step-by-step, and efficiently through a two- to three-hour read.

User Training For Busy Programmers, by William Rice, Packt Publishing - $12.99 at

Stéphane was a member of's content working group for several years. He also belongs to, a French initiative dedicated to translating prominent web-related articles to French, and founded, a non-profit organising seminars about web accessibility and quality.

He has worked on the web since 1999 and is working for one of the largest phone companies in France as a client-side web expert, evangelising for accessibility and standards.

His notion of being cool involves red wine, sunglasses and <head> baseball caps. These days he's busy raising kids and pretending he manages the little devils.

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