Skillsoft Blog

Hands-On Experience Helps Developers Break The Code

October 28, 2020 | by Skillsoft Blog


If you've never broken any software program, Web browser, user interface, search engine, AI routine, network, database, or mobile app, then you probably don't have the survival skills needed to be a successful software developer in 2020 and beyond. The overused cliche, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," simply doesn't apply to learning a technical skill at a high level of proficiency. You can call it trial by error, failing fast, agility, experimentation, or stretching yourself. Regardless, today's complex technology requires building confidence from practicing and failing again and again until you build resilience. You have to figure it out yourself to break the code for new skills.

Real-world experience with the tools of the trade cannot be gained by self-study or classroom instruction alone. Theory without practical application is insufficient. Nothing replaces learning by doing, according to Sir Richard Branson.

Experience is a useful travel guide on the road to mastering your craft and breaking with tradition. Software developers, network architects, data scientists, database administrators, security mavens, systems engineers, and Web designers agree that developing state-of-the-art technical skills is a fundamentally different proposition.

The severe downturn in global economic growth is accelerating the adoption of new technologies to drive productivity. "In their "Software, 2020" report, Forbes declared that this year businesses are embracing technology solutions for just about every business challenge. This declaration was before the pandemic. Forbes also asserts, efforts to disrupt with technology will be limited by the availability of experienced developers.

Experienced software developers rejuvenate aging systems and reimagine new competitive processes. Scaling up to meet demand means rethinking the supply side of the equation. Building the required skills may be the best and only real alternative.

Michael Yoo, Skillsoft executive leader for technology and development customer requirements, believes the answer to mitigating a resource-constrained market is a commitment to growing current employees' skills.

"We need to meet technical professionals where they are, support learning and retention with all we know about the science of learning," said Yoo. "We can prove that hands-on experiences greatly reinforce classroom instruction."

Advantages of practice labs

Standing up your practice environment requires licensing hardware and software and a non-trivial level of expertise. Few businesses can afford this luxury. Alternatively, using production systems for learning new tools or testing new apps is an unacceptable risk.

Certification programs are a good supplement for assessing competence but don't measure confidence, resilience, or out-of-the-box thinking. These skills are gained through experience, backed by loads of practice. Hands-on practice experiences have many advantages over do-it-yourself environments or certification programs.

Benefits of practice labs:

  1. Simulate real workplace scenarios.
  2. Provide penalty free learning where self-inflicted wounds don't hurt.
  3. Improve proficiency and increase retention.
  4. Reward persistence as a problem-solving technique.
  5. Respect busy schedules, offering 24x7 access.
  6. Build lateral thinking and problem-solving skills.

These advantages make instruction supported by hands-on practice labs an obvious choice for learning a new skill.

"Just a few years ago, we didn't have the technology available to us to create practice labs the way we do today," said Chris Keenan, a Skillsoft content development specialist. "Practice labs are a valuable learning modality for building skills in the essential tools of the trade."

Skillsoft integrates hands-on practice labs into instruction at all levels of ability from the novice to the expert and everything in between. Skillsoft leverages strategic partnerships to provide the technology platform that best matches a course's learning objectives.

Partnerships that learners experience hands-on

Never has a company been more precisely named than Practice Labs Systems. Practice Labs provides a competency hub for learners to practice technical skills in a safe and risk-free sandbox environment. Practice labs are deployed using virtual infrastructure, giving learners hands-on access to actual hardware and software from their Web browser. Practice Labs has a global reach and a track record of scaling up to meet 'users' requirements for programming and other critical digital capabilities.


Career growth often hinges on passing certification exams and demonstrating proficiency to employers. The Practice Labs solution is seamlessly embedded into Skillsoft software development offerings at each level of mastery. The combined solution delivers instructional content from Skillsoft with live-lab exercises and exam prep resources from Practice Labs. The outcome is a learning experience where skills are extended, retention is increased, and learners meet their growth objectives.

“We help users gain familiarity with real-world work situations by ensuring limitless practice is available," says Ricky Doyle, Practice Labs' co-founder. "Building confidence and competence comes from knowing you've seen a similar situation before, and you have the experience and determination to figure it out. Confidence is a survival skill that can be learned and reinforced through a commitment to practice. Practice Lab experience emulates real work experience. "

Next.Tech CEO, Saul Costa, believes his dedicated team is pushing boundaries. A life-long programmer himself, Saul did a lot of tutoring in college. He watched students struggle to set up computing environments with the right functionality and knew there must be a better way. Saul founded Next.Tech six years ago to address this very pain point.

Next.Tech's north star is to remove barriers for software developers. The Next.Tech platform practically eliminates setup time. A student can stand up a fully-operational pre-built practice sandbox in just a few minutes using a Web browser. The solution works at scale, too, with one million students worldwide currently exploring computer science techniques in a popular MOOC (massive online open course).

Next.Tech is a new Skillsoft partner. As an integrated feature of Skillsoft instruction, the Next Tech platform will help technical professionals focus on mastering new skills and reinforcing them with practice experiences. Skillsoft learners will be able to rapidly change languages and toolboxes without messing with settings, waiting for downloads, or being concerned with prerequisite programs. Since the platform is Web-based, students with disabilities will be able to use the same accessibility tools familiar to them.

Under the covers, the Next.Tech solution leverages AI and machine learning (ML) to scale computing environments, ensuring a new sandbox will spin up in seconds. Saul Costa credits his supportive team for collaborating with partners to provide exciting outcomes.

Hands-on practice labs build confident and experienced software developers. More than 85% of Skillsoft users report being able to apply what they’ve learned within six weeks on the job. This best practice addresses a growing market need that traditional employment practices or conventional skills development methods cannot resolve.

For more information about practice labs and Skillsoft instructional offerings for technologists and developers, please visit Skillsoft’s Hands-On Practice page.

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