Geeks in Shorts Train the Night Away

They're tanning, they're coding-they're partying fools with an appetite for learning at sea or in other exotic locations. Far-flung tech training programs blur the lines between business and pleasure.

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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick 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.