Alfresco DevCon 2011: advanced training

These are my notes from the amazing EMEA Alfresco Developer Conference held this week in foggy London. I’ll write separate postings about the actual conference, as the advanced training was held the day before the conference – at the same time as the Alfresco jumpstart training.

Last year – though I was already really competent and familiar with Alfresco – I participated with a colleague to the jumpstart training to see how Alfresco runs training courses on these subjects, so this year it was natural to see the advanced training. Compared to the jumpstart training I had expectations on learning also new things, especially as the training was marketed with following descriptions.

Only change to the text below is in formatting and ordering of the sessions to reflect the order they were delivered in London.

1. Alfresco Workflow

This new session is taken from the Alfresco Workflow course and provides a high-level introduction to creating and deploying workflows in Alfresco using the Activiti BPM engine.

– introducing Activiti and BPMN

– process and task definition

– deployment and execution

2. Share Dashlet Development

This new content is borrowed from the upcoming Share Development course and focuses on how to develop new dashlets for Share:

– dashlets overview and components

– developing dashlets

-browser dependencies and internationalization (i18n)

– storing and registering new dashlets

3. OpenCMIS Development

This session is taken from the upcoming OpenCMIS development course and takes an in-depth looks at development methods and APIs in Alfresco, before going on to look at CMIS and using OpenCMIS to develop client applications.

4. Managing Storage and Content

This new session is taken from the upcoming Advanced System Administration course, looks at how to manage storage areas, content and indices using the new index implementation based on Solr:

– how is content is stored and indexed?

-how do you set up different content stores?

– how does indexing works (Solr)?

– how do you configure and monitor the indexes?

As you get four sessions with descriptions like that crammed into one day – you either get superb sessions where people take huge leaps and perform a deep dive into complex technical subjects, or just scratch the surface on those topics and leave rest for people to figure out on their own. London’s advanced training was unfortunately more the latter, though at the same time excellently organized and still providing enough value to say that it was well worth the money and time. However I would not have said it to be advanced training, but rather hands-on introduction/training to more advanced subjects.

Let’s review each session.

1. Alfresco Workflow

This session was run by Joerg Sauer, who did a great job walking us through new workflow engine, Activiti, as well as the workflow architecture and configuration in Share. I absolutely loved this session as it showed me quickly how well bit and pieces of Activiti-suite were integrated to Alfresco and what the real life workflow would be – while developing, deploying and using Activiti-based workflows in Alfresco 4.

Though not all bits and pieces were discussed and trained, the session gave a really good overview in the short time and showed me how well Activiti now works in Alfresco and what new features it offers. Ability to see in graphics the state of the workflow instance in Share nearly blew my mind. That was just what I had earlier wanted!

All and all a superb session, which was exactly as advertised.

2. Share Dashlet Development

I didn’t make a strong enough mental note about the presenter of this session, even though we discussed briefly about best practices on packaging and deploying Share customizations – as well as how to do it with maven. He did a solid job too, presenting the content – but unfortunately everything in this session was so familiar that most of the session was just time to check on work emails and collaborate with colleagues. Tempo on the session could have been tighter and I would have wished that we would have been able to go much further in training – in hands on practices, to the stuff that was actually discussed in DevCon sessions during the conference.

This session was definitely in the wrong place and/or should not be called advanced, but then again it might be just that my expectation level was so much higher – though the session provided what was promised. Similarly the session handout-materials are a good reference material for dashlet development – so they will be in use for sure.

3. OpenCMIS Development

Joost Horward did also a superb job presenting this session. As I discussed with him during the day, I learned that he had had to change some parts of the training from hand on practices into more ’follow the lead’ training as there were so much people participating in the training, but you couldn’t guess that.

If you had used OpenCMIS and worked with CMIS – then this session gave you time to check emails and do some work, but for me it gave a great run through of CMIS and gave good examples on how to use OpenCMIS with Alfresco. Before the session I wasn’t that familiar or keen on using CMIS, but after the session I saw already use for it – and thought about not necessarily creating my own webscript API for every single Alfresco project.

Joos also showed his CMIS navigator, which can be used as a tool / helper – when working with CMIS repositories:

https://github.com/joosth/cmisnavigator

4. Managing Storage and Content

Last session was presented by Joerg. I once again liked the session as it quickly went into the detailed technical hands on work – and showed how a new feature could be used. The thing that I must complain a bit, is that the session was only about one of the points advertised:

-how do you set up different content stores?

I thought that we would have got hands on training about the Solr integration – but instead the session almost completely focused on content store related issues. Now I do have to emphasize that the ability to use multiple content stores and control how file is stored with an aspect is really cool and this session was extremely helpful in driving the point home, as going through a lab where you configure it into use shows that it is not rocket science. It is just that my expectation – based on advertised course description – was different.

Conclusions

Even though my employer, Affecto Finland, paid the course – I kept a close eye on making sure that I do get value out of the training session. Possibly it had something to do with the fact that I paid the course with my own credit card – and still feel like I paid it myself with my own money, as I haven’t yet had time to write expenses report for the conference.😀

I’ve expressed some critique in this posting, but also tried to express that on overall I was really satisfied. It was clear that the day could have been even better and in the ideal situation we should have been able to go much more deeper in technical issues, but this feedback will be delivered to Alfresco training people multiple times – as — based on discussions during the day — numerous people shared the same view.

Organizing training for such a large group of people, making sure that everyone are on the same page and that everyone is happy with the end result is extremely hard – so the ’Advanced training’ was a rather good compromise, though like I said it was more like introduction to advanced topics. Everything was organized well and things worked superbly well compared to last year: for example how virtual machines were delivered before hand, Alfresco-people helping before the training if you had problems with the VM, coffee and tee were available all the time throughout the day and so on. Just perfect!

So the million dollar question is: will I buy training sessions from Alfresco in the future? Either during the conference or otherwise?

Definitely!

Even though the advanced training was not perfect, it had enough value to make it worthwhile and all the materials given by Alfresco trainers have been of excellent quality and showed real professionalism. There is no doubt in my mind that Alfresco can produce good quality training – and so far these training sessions held before the conferences have been of good value for money.

Looking forward seeing next year’s hands on full day advanced training.

For example it could be fun to participate in a session, where a complete large website solution would be built with Crafter Rivet – or a complex document management solution workshop, where everything from Activiti workflows and share configurations / customizations would be practiced – and best practices / ideas shared among participants.

That would be fun!

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