U.K. company's elite training brings Gold Star treatment to certification
Posted on
February 8, 2017

This feature first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

What is a gold star certification experience?

When asked, most of us would admit to having at least some desire to experience the finer things in life. In the world of goods and services, this is commonly referred to as the Gold Star treatment.

Gold Star treatment is flying business class with free food and drinks while everyone else is sardined into the passenger cabin, nursing their one allotted can of soda and ponying up cash for vending machine sandwiches. Gold Star treatment is being chauffeured around in a climate-controlled luxury vehicle equipped with wi-fi, a hi-definition screen, and a mini fridge filled with chilled bottles of your favorite beverage.

The following will seem like a strange transition, but stay with me: All will become clear in due time.

The time I went to boot camp

I had the opportunity to attend an IT training and certification boot camp early on in my career. I flew from Alberta to Pennsylvania on a pair of aircraft which seemed at the time to have been designed to accommodate people no larger than toddler-sized. I was gifted a bonus unplanned overnight stay in the airport in Toronto courtesy of Air Canada, whose corporate slogan was (and is) "What the heck do YOU want?"

A driver picked me up at the airport in Pennsylvania. The midsize sedan was as comfortable as a limo to someone who had slept less than three hours on an airport floor the night before.

The boot camp facility was located in a quiet rural area of Pennsylvania. The accommodations were modest — reasonably equipped townhouse units, with two students to a unit. The school provided free beverages, snacks, and a daily pizza meal for supper; students were responsible for buying/preparing their own food to make up the rest of each day's fare.

We were warned early on that the grounds of the boot camp facility were regularly patrolled by a giant skunk the staff had dubbed Wilbur. Wilbur was reported to be fairly peaceful, but students were advised to avoid close contact lest there be a cross-species misunderstanding. I encountered Wilbur one afternoon at the top of an outdoor staircase. I immediately turned tail and went back down the stairs before a diplomatic incident could take place.

The facility wasn't fancy, and the long days of training and labs made the overall experience grueling at times. The instructor was excellent, however, the curriculum was well-packaged and expertly presented, and I and the majority of the students successfully met their training and certification goals for the boot camp.

If you thought that was acceptable

Now, let's return to the opening of this article in order to ask this question: What if someone could combine the intensely focused regimen of an IT training and certification boot camp, with the finest Gold Star treatment experience available?

You would definitely have something there. In the case of one training company that operates out of the United Kingdom, you have the Firebrand Max program.

Firebrand Training is based out of London, and has been offering IT training since 2001 when it was first established as Training Camp U.K. The company founders took their inspiration from the U.S.-based company Training Camp. The U.K. company was relaunched as Firebrand Training in 2007, and has established a presence in several European Union and Asia-Pacific countries.

So, what is Firebrand Max? Here is a description from the press release announcing the launch of the program.

Known as Firebrand Max, the new programmes combine a series of courses, specially selected to develop the skills and knowledge aligned to a top tier technology role. The premium service will cater to every requirement of the individual, removing all distractions so focus remains solely on a unique learning experience.

Well, Firebrand Max sounds pretty good so far. In what specific ways, however, does a Firebrand Max boot camp differ from the rest? Well, it all starts with the student's ride to the facility — and no, it's not in a midsize sedan ... or a limo for that matter.

You'll be flown by helicopter to the prestigious Aikwood Tower, delivering five-star luxury accommodation, situated in the heart of the Scottish countryside. The location provides complete seclusion, allowing you to train and sit exams in perfect isolation.

That's right, you won't be driven to a shared-accommodation townhouse complex guarded by a truculent giant skunk — you'll be flown on a freaking helicopter to a castle in Scotland.

Study like a king

Upon arrival at the castle, students will begin a premium training experience.

Through one-on-one expert instruction the individual will receive an accelerated training experience perfectly tailored to their unique learning requirements. State-of-the-art technology and super-fast broadband further accelerate the teaching experience. On-site testing, complete with a personal exam invigilator, ensure the individual can sit exams in perfect isolation as part of the programme.

I have to admit, I was somewhat taken aback by the thought of being given a personal invigilator — until I looked up the word and realized it was the U.K. version of an exam proctor. Thankfully, students won't have to worry about bringing or purchasing their own groceries during the Firebrand Max experience.

What is a gold star certification experience?

No need to think about food. To maintain energy levels and concentration throughout, an expertly crafted nutritional plan is provided by a personal chef.

While it's possible that an expertly crafted nutritional plan may be a fancy way of saying daily pizza suppers provided, the inclusion of a personal chef makes that scenario highly unlikely.

What training is available?

One of the Firebrand Max training packages is based on the Ethical Hacker job role. The Ethical Hacker 28-day package includes training, labs, practice exams, and exam vouchers for the following industry certifications:

  • GIAC Penetration Tester
  • EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator
  • ISACA Cybersecurity Nexus Practitioner
  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker

This is a pretty impressive list of credentials, and represents an ambitious goal for a 28-day boot camp. On the other hand, students do have the benefit of the Scottish countryside, as well as expertly crafted nutritional plans (and a personal chef!) to help them get through it.

Firebrand Max does sound like a pretty sweet deal. I would definitely recommend convincing your manager to cover the cost. For the Ethical Hacker boot camp, all he needs to do is get the finance department to cut a check for £200,000.

No, you read that right. Two hundred thousand pounds. Roughly $271,000 (U.S.) as of this writing.

Of castles and choppers

I was curious how one goes about securing castles, helicopters, chefs, and personal invigilators for such a program. I contacted Firebrand Training, and received a friendly response from one of their employees.

Lots of work went into lining up the resources, the Firebrand rep told me. Quotes on chartering helicopters from all over the country and Europe. Talking to personal chefs about availability seven days a week for four weeks — always fun.

I had a very surreal conversation with Roger Masterton 'the Castle Man.' We spent over an hour talking about what type of castle I was looking for, how to ensure it met the requirements. We settled on Aikwood Tower after talking with Vikki, the owner — it had everything we wanted.

What is a gold star certification experience?

The obvious question concerning the cost of the program came up. Here is what the Firebrand rep had to say:

There is a void of senior level talent in organizations, especially in security, a void that needs to be filled quickly by people with lots of resources and a lack of time. People may think the cost is high, but the ROI balances out. Consider the revenue generated by FTSE100/Blue Chip companies on a daily basis. £200,000 pales in comparison to systems being offline for a day resulting in losses that spiral into the £millions.

If you have an employer looking to fast-track some security professionals, there are Firebrand Max packages available for Chief Information Security Officer, Security Architect, and the aforementioned Ethical Hacker job roles.

Accelerated IT training and Gold Star service. All for the price of less than 300 iPhone 7s. Talk to your manager today!

About the Author

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.

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