It's been four years since the last time that TestOut Corporation invited information technology (IT) educators from across the United States to gather in Utah to discuss IT certification and education. Company executives felt the timing was right to revive a popular tradition, pumping up the volume on what has already been a highly active TestOut calendar for 2019.
Two completely new training and certification courses are being added to TestOut's lineup this year, with the "tech for beginners" IT Fundamentals Pro set to debut at the end of July, while the cybersecurity-minded Ethical Hacker Pro will roll out shortly thereafter in mid-August. That's on top of two major course refreshes: the newest version of PC Pro came out of the blocks in January, and April brought a revamped Linux Pro.
So why not go ahead and add four days of deep-dive discussion, professional networking, adventure, and celebration under the midsummer sun in Salt Lake City, Utah, and environs? The good times kicked off with a special welcome reception on Tuesday night at the Marriott City Center hotel adjoining Salt Lake's popular Gallivan Center downtown arts and entertainment complex.
TestOut conferences (famously, for those who have attended in the past) tend to be more like a working vacation at a favorite resort than a conclave of anonymous badge-wearers stalking booths and sweating through stuffy workshops in the concrete and steel bowels of a gleaming convention center adjacent to a major airport.
The newly-branded "Experience Conference" is unique among gatherings of its kind for inviting family members to attend and participate alongside registered conference participants. And the agenda includes time for everyone to get outside and enjoy the sights and activities in Salt Lake Valley and a few surrounding areas.
On Tuesday night, guests at the conference enjoyed an evening meal, then strolled past a mural-in-progress art installation featuring the faces of everyone in attendance, and entered a large room where both attendees and their family members got to pick out their own day packs. The colorful (and literal) gift bags were manufactured from remnant materials by Utah-based outdoor retailer Cotopaxi.
The serious business of sharing ideas about technology education and certification kicked in on Wednesday morning, with multiple discussions packed into a busy schedule that offered three separate presentations every hour (following a special group welcome session) from 9 a.m. until noon.
In one session, tech teacher Ken Toth of Careerline Tech Center in Holland, Mich., outlined methods of encouraging 11th- and 12th-grade high school students (Careerline works with several area school districts) to follow through on their IT learning by taking and passing certification exams. Over the just-completed 2018-19 school year, Toth's student earned more than 250 professional IT credentials.
In another session, instructor Linda Brown of Desert Hills High School in St. George, Utah, discussed a unique approach to testing her students' technical skills. Each student must complete a role-played phone support conversation, with the student taking on the part of knowledgeable support professional, while Brown plays the role of befuddled caller. As the students become proficient, Brown moves them on to fielding actual tech support calls from around the school district.
TestOut courses and certifications are popular with both K-12 public school districts and colleges and universities, with conferences attendees representing both backgrounds. There was even a corporate training perspective, as Thursday morning presenter Johnny Carrera compared his years of public school teaching with his current role as a trainer at the Open Cloud Academy of Texas-based Rackspace.
While the morning sessions were on, family members of conference attendees explored Salt Lake City and nearby points of interest on guided excursions with TestOut employees. Everyone joined in the fun for the afternoons and evenings, however, with conference attendees joining their spouses and children to explore Park City's Utah Olympic Park (on Wednesday) and This Is The Place Heritage Park (on Tuesday) at the mouth Emigration Canyon .
If you're passionate about IT education and certification, then you have something in common with TestOut and its employees. And you definitely won't want to miss the next TestOut conference — even if it's another four years before it comes around again.