Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I have recently been accepted as a volunteer for a local Dog rescue organization called Hopeful Hearts which Operates in the Ottawa Area. They take in abandoned, abused or mistreated dogs and help them to receive medical attention as well as seek out new and loving homes for them. Everyone in this organization is a volunteer, and adoption fees go to pay for vet bills, and food for the animals while in foster care.

I really love animals, and I think it's sad how much mistreatment dogs receive from us humans as a whole, so easily discarded and abused, or over-bred through puppy mills for sale in pet shops at exorbitant prices. I think that these types of organizations are fantastic and deserve as much support as we can give them.

My wife also has a great love for dogs and would like to foster them for Hopeful Hearts at some point in the future at our house. We don't have the space to house any more pets right now, so I thought that I would contribute in what way I can by providing website support and graphic design for their marketing materials.

I think that anyone who has a love for animals should contribute in some manner to this or similar organizations. Even if you don't have money to help, there are many ways in which to volunteer your time to them. Something to think about.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

They say you get what you pay for...

But is that always the case? The answer to that question is invariably, maybe. In the increasingly competitive world of Web Design this saying holds a great deal of weight because you do get what you pay for. However, when it comes to the education you need in order to make of yourself a skilled competitor in the market, this is definitely not the case.

I have decided to make my first blog post about education, and this is more of a warning for those that might consider receiving their education from one of these so-called technical institutes that offer too-good-to-be-true condensed educations with "learn at your own pace" splattered all over them. In particular I am referring to CDI College (AKA Everest College, which is a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges Inc.).

Here's a little background on my situation before I really get into the meat of the matter:
Back in 2005 I found myself in a situation where I needed to re-orient my career path due to the debilitation of a condition in my spine that causes me chronic pain and reduced strength and mobility in my lower body. Prior to this point I was working as a telecommunications technician and installer under the tutelage of my father for his consulting company "10 Consultech Inc". Because of the nature of my condition it became clear that I could no longer handle the regular physical work as well as the long distance travel and time spent in hard beds in the remote arctic communities where we conducted the majority of our installations. At this time I was enrolled in the Ontario Disability Support Program: Employment Supports (ODSP). and had selected a service provider to help me decide what the best career path was for me, given my professional skills, experience and interests.

During the process it was suggested that I might have an aptitude for Web Design since I had already had a small amount of exposure by doing some HTML work for my brother in Toronto, and some experience making graphics with photoshop in my spare time. Since I needed to come up with a solution quickly in order to help support my new family at that point, I thought that would be a great career path since it nurtured my creative side.

Now, at this point the main concern for me was getting an education as quickly as possible so that I could get out into the workforce and find some gainful employment.

Along comes CDI College. At the time, this seemed like the perfect solution for my problem. They promised up-to-date courses and a full tool-set to give me a competitive edge in the marketplace. They also had classes starting regularly so I could start pretty much immediately.

One thing I noticed while going through the studies was that none of the material was truly up-to-date. I will give them the benefit of the doubt for the photoshop course (they were teaching Photoshop CS, and at that time Photoshop was up to CS2).. not a huge discrepancy. However, the HTML course that we learned was by no means current. We learned HTML 1.0, even though the most recent version at that point was HTML version 4.0. When I spoke to administration about this all they said was "As far as we know these are supposed to be up-to-date, we just get sent these from the head office".. nice accountability. The next thing I noticed was that the courses only really brushed the surface of each subject, teaching you only the basics for each. You would think that for a full tool-set that they would go into advanced html editing, scripting and server-side technologies. They also taught proprietary Microsoft technologies (ASP, Access, and SQLServer) rather than the increasingly popular open source technologies of PHP, MySQL and Apache.

I managed to complete my studies with a 95% average, which was a great accomplishment for me. But here's where my true learning experience began. I immediately spent 6 months unemployed trying to get a job in a market that I was not even close to being prepared for. Every web design posting I found required Adobe Illustrator, Fireworks and PHP and mySQL experience. Just those alone are enough to create a huge gap between my skill-set and market requirements for my industry. If CDI is offering a full tool-set with up-to-date technologies, you would think they would provide these in their course load. That's a pretty glaring omission on their part.

Another huge bone I have to pick with CDI; what I really got for my money. Here's exactly what the school provides for the tuition:

  • A learning guide for each of the the courses which basically tells you to go through the text-books associated with each course.. (gee I could just buy the books on my own and do it myself!)
  • An outdated and slow computer system to work on (Designers and developers require a certain level of computing power in order to work in all the necessary programs to gain a decent work flow. I would also like to add that my laptop at the time was more than 5 years old and was still much faster than the Dell systems made available to us)
  • Multiple choice exams and/or project outlines for each course
  • "one on one" time with your instructor who is supposed to be available whenever you need them during your program hours
  • 1 week of professional skills training
That seems like a very limited amount of provision for the nearly $10k that I spent on my so-called education. And even at that, I had to pay for all my textbooks, and there was no actual software provided for anywhere (Many college or university programs include the cost of any necessary software), so unless I had $2500 to buy Adobe CS suite, I had to do all my work at school. When it really comes down to it in this industry, a solid skill-set and portfolio are really all you need in order to make yourself competitive, and unless you attend a proper college or university, you're better off to just spend $3k on the books and software you need to get started, and save yourself thousands on wasted tuition and empty promises.

Another barrier I found while trying to find gainful employment was the fact that having CDI College as my source of education in web design actually hindered my eligibility for positions. Even though it's legally an education establishment, they're reputation in the marketplace is so bad that employers with overlook candidates just because they went there.

So what did I do in order to make myself a competitor in this tough market? I opened up shop for myself. I had an opportunity to design and develop a website for K & B Concrete Lawn Ornaments near my parents house a few months after finishing my program (This was during my extended and most frustrating unemployment period). The success of this project and the satisfaction I received for helping my client prompted me to start Tundra Concepts.

I guess my story shows that you can make something good out of a bad situation if you have the drive and the capacity to learn on your own. I have always been able to learn new things quickly, and I managed to fill in a number of the blanks left by my education before starting my company. What worries me most though is; what's going to happen to all the people who had to struggle to get through their CDI courses only to find out that they were taken for a loop, lied to, and stolen from, all to get a more or less useless piece of paper and an outdated and incomplete skill-set?

If you hapen to have gone to CDI College, I invite you to check out this facebook group devoted to those who have had unsavory experiences at this institution. I would also like to point out that there have been many lawsuites filed against CDI and Corinthian College by people such as myself, and even some who have had more unsavory experiences than myself all over Canada and the US. This corporation is taking advantage of so many people and it must stop.

If you are thinking of getting into any IT industries, especially Web Design and Development, I strongly recommend that you go to an established college or university. Do your background research on each one you are looking into to ensure you get the most out of your education experience. You may not be able to get your diploma in 8 months or even a year, but it will be worth it in the end to get a full and succinct education.