Geeks in Shorts Train the Night Away

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-04-21

Geeks in Shorts Train the Night Away

Michelle was hanging out by the hot tub.

Claire was digging the big wet mammals.

And oh, those penetration specialists. What do they do for fun? "Capture the flag," they say, turning eWEEK editorial ears pink.

Yes, were talking about the rapture of geeks, learning things, on cruises. In a radical redefinition of the term "working vacation," specialized IT training excursions are cropping up everywhere, offering tech workers the opportunity to simultaneously hone their skills and suntans. And as the testimonials on the site of one such outfit, Geek Cruises, show, business and pleasure are making a perfect match.

"Its just too cool to be able to sit on your private veranda with your PowerBook, overlooking the cities of St. Petersburg [Russia], Stockholm [Sweden], and Helsinki [Finland], just to name a few. Cruising beats every other form of vacation, and Geek Cruising certainly beats them all," said Clayton Lewis, an Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist.

Click here to read about Carnival Cruise Lines wooing business travelers with on-board Wi-Fi.

There has never been any shortage of technology training courses and conferences offered in far-flung locations. A generous boss might send his IT guy on a .Net security boot camp in the Swiss Alps or a wireless conference in Hawaii. But a host of companies are intentionally blurring the lines between business and pleasure, offering high-tech vacations that combine both.

One of these companies, Geek Cruises, was founded in 1999 by Neil Bauman, who had previously co-founded a health care technology trade magazine. Drawing his inspiration from a Star Trek fan cruise hed attended the year before, Baumans company has booked more than 30 cruises; its first was a voyage for Perl programmers to Alaska over Memorial Day weekend in 2000 with 192 passengers.

Click here to see a slide show of a Geek Cruise.

"Most Perl people were in their mid-20s so they didnt have families. The Perl people were major partiers," Bauman, CEO of International Technology Conferences, told eWEEK.

Since then, Geek Cruises has organized about six trips each year. Cruises take advantage of the two- to two-and-a-half-day sail time standard on most seven-day cruises by offering classes ranging from 90 minutes to a full day. The average class runs for a half day. All cruises are multitrack so at any one time there are multiple classes in session.

Meanwhile, spouses and family members can take part in the typical activities expected on cruises, from indoor and outdoor pools and spas to game rooms, libraries, movies, conga lines, and of course, playing in the ocean.

Click here to read Baselines story on how first-class IT services are part of the package on Cunards new Queen Mary 2 liner.

"My family and I had a great time. Addie loved the towel animals, Claire thought the whales and dolphins were terrific, and I couldnt have had a better time hanging out with attendees and instructors alike. This really is one of the greatest things I get to do," said Christopher Breen, another satisfied customer.

Todays most popular cruise is Mac Mania, with 200 to 275 attendees on each voyage.

"The Mac Mania cruise is primarily middle-aged folks, from 50 to 75, and generally all couples. Sometimes they bring their children and even grandkids," said Bauman.

Next Page: Escaping the phone messages.


-Tech Escapism"> All seven-night cruises, Mac Mania has been to Alaska, the Caribbean and Mexico, with trips starting at $1,600 for an inside cabin. The conference fee is waived for family members, accounting for $600 to $800 of the price.

None of the classes offers certification.

"We once offered certification in Microsoft and Cisco, but they were not well-attended," Bauman said.

Some cruises have been phased out, such as the Java Jam, Oracle Odyssey and Perl Whirl, as demand for those subjects declined. But others have been added, like the Linux Lunacy, which incorporates some Perl content.

The next cruise, which will launch from Rome on July 20, will focus on the Mac and digital photography. Running over 10 nights, the ship will dock in Monaco, Spain, and Tunisia.

Mile2, another company that offers vacation-education packages, is a training and consulting organization specializing in IT security. Most classes have about 10 attendees, with the size capped at 16.

"The reason were doing the vacation classes is that were finding that when people attend our classes in their own town, they are constantly getting pages, called, and missing parts of their classes. We offer them [classes] far away so they can get through uninterrupted," Michael Roberts, president of Mile2, told eWEEK.

Roberts says that students in Mile2 classes are from a wide range of industries and backgrounds, from IT technicians with U.S. government agencies to small banks and even a radio ministry that booked an employee who had received threats.

Instructor-led classes are offered in digital forensics, disaster recovery, intrusion detection, counter-hacking and wireless training. Students have the option at the end to take CPTS (Certified Penetration Testing Specialist), CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), CWNA (Certified Wireless Network Administrator), or CWSP (Certified Wireless Security Professional) certification exams, as well as dozens of other certification tests.

Attendees can also submit their certificates to obtain CPE (continuing professional education) credits.

Families are welcome on the trip, with Mile2 providing a staff member that works with the local tourism board to help families plan their free time. Package deals, with day trips and tours included, are also available.

"We offer many fun evening activities. In one, after classes students can play Capture the Flag, using the hacking skills we teach them to work their way through files and servers real-time battles against the bad guys," said Roberts.

A CPTS training trip to St. Lucia costing $2600 is planned for July, and another is planned for Indonesia in the fall.

"The counter-hacking instructor is also a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) member," Roberts explained. "Students can stay a second week and become a diver."

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