Corporate Training spotlight: Instructor Curtis Schlak

Recently we brought you the story of how we are helping business like Blackbaud and Spoonflower teach their employees coding skills needed in the workplace through our Corporate Training program.

Technology advancements are providing solutions for companies of all sizes. Employers want to be sure their current workforce is trained to leverage these tools to grow their business.

Today we talk with one of our Corporate Training instructors, Curtis Schlak, about his experience working with companies, the benefit of equipping employees and retro games of tic-tac-toe.

Tell us about your professional background.

After getting out of the U.S. Army nearly 20 years ago, I became a business process engineer. Early in that career, I discovered that I couldn’t find any software to help me collect, collate, and develop business process analyses. I had a small amount of computer science training and decided to create some software to help me solve my own problems. I became fascinated with web programming and over the next couple of years worked at companies to help them define and develop their online presence.

After relocating to Houston, TX for graduate school, I joined a software company and became the VP of Engineering with a team of nearly 80 software development professionals located in Houston, Dallas and Pune. I really wanted to get a deep knowledge of the economy of Houston and spent the next couple of years in various architect and leadership roles in the oil & gas and commodities trading industries. I signed on to be a consultant for a five year project in Houston building a custom software application and the team to run it. In the next two years, the team grew to over 140 people.

As a developer and manager, I realized that the ongoing professional development of my team members helped to increase their job satisfaction and morale while giving them the skills to make their daily lives more engaging. As an avid and active mentor, I set aside training time at all of these companies to ensure that developers continued to learn, either from me or from others invited to present.

What is your strategy for working with students with mixed levels of experience in a Corporate Training program environment?

Software developers have a sincere desire to help other people become better software developers. In my career I found that pair programming helped to foster an environment in which programmers could write better code while actively sharing experience and knowledge within the pair.

The classroom situation presents another opportunity for students to participate in helping one another become better. I encourage the students to work in groups since this reflects the environment in which most programmers work, a highly collaborative and communication-filled workplace.

How do you manage the differing expectations of students, training managers and company executives?

In the business world, I have found that most people like to measure their activities against some idea about the return on the investment of their time or money. Students, managers and executives have different perspectives on these, but a good training session meets each of the varying demands.

For technically-oriented students, they walk away with new-found skills or a deeper understanding in a set of technologies with an immediate understanding of how to apply those skills in their daily software development undertakings. For non-technical students, they leave the class with a richer understanding of the software development world and the confidence to communicate clearly and effectively with their technically-oriented peers.

Training managers receive on-going measures of the students’ performances which they can use as evidence for the success of the program. Finally, for company executives, the skills brought to bear by their employees can help realize their strategic goals to remain competitive in the marketplace as well as reduce attrition of valuable resources within their organization.

How do you work with all of those groups to set achievable goals?

From the customization of the curriculum to the types of online and printed materials provided for the class to the modification of in-class surveys, the amount of visibility that The Iron Yard brings with its engagement process allows everyone involved in the training to gain the comfort and insight into with what the participants will gain over the course of their training.

Having spent over two decades of estimating tasks in fast-paced and demanding environments, I understand the amount of information and number of skills that students can acquire in our intensive training environments, which helps me gauge how to set achievable goals and manage expectations of all of the groups of people involved.

Do you have a favorite moment so far from the corporate training programs you’ve run?

After spending a couple of days developing back-end services in a JavaScript training class, the class and I moved to browser-based development. Our first exercise was about creating a fully-playable tic-tac-toe game without the help of prepackaged libraries or frameworks.

Early in the exercise, I accidentally typed something wrong which resulted in a tic-tac-toe board that looked like it came from a mid-1990s web site, retro and ugly. We all laughed. When I went to change it back, one of the students said I should try to make it uglier and more mid-90s authentic. That became the theme for the rest of the day, creating highly-functional and purposefully retro web applications. Students would constantly interrupt in laughter as they pushed one another in friendly competition.

Think your company might be a good fit for our Corporate Training Program? Email us.

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