O’Reilly School of Technology review, seven day risk free trial is not risk free.

Back around y2k, I almost went to college. I had ditched high school a year prior and worked for a bit at the Univeristy of Maine where I expected to go, obviously planning on a EE/CE degree. I had tried to enroll when I dropped out, but you couldn’t enroll without a diploma, and the state wouldn’t let me take the GED until I was 18, unless I was enrolled in college. Despite letters from school officials pleading exceptions, there was a definite lack of a loop hole. By the time I was old enough to take the GED, I finished my diploma with night courses (prior to my previous graduation date no less).

I approached the UMO dean of the EE/CE department and assorted staff looking for guidance on where to begin. I already had five years of Linux experience, not to mention electrical and other computer experience. What I lacked was the college maths and sciences. Where to start? “At the beginning, like everyone else.” I certainly wasn’t going to pay to sit through a course that I already knew the bulk of, or worse could pick up in a fraction of the time with a text book, so it didn’t work out.

That’s been the story ever since. I’ve decided the only way I’m going to get a college education is if I get one in Agriculture or something that’s completely foreign to me. Okay, maybe Political science would be more appropriate, but you get the point.

I’ve gotten into a couple open source projects lately that need some web work (wnmap and pyramid). I ran across the O’Reilly School of Technology somewhere along the way. They have a number of certificate programs and are partnered with University of Illinois for a bit of credibility (and CEUs). That didn’t matter so much, I’m a long time supporter of ORA books, they’re the number one publisher on my bookshelf, first for the heavy technical aspects written in such a way that doesn’t feel 100% reference. Since my web programming hasn’t evolved since php/mysql days, with a bit of CSS because I had to teach it to some students back at Strategy, I figured Javascript would be a great place to pick that back up.

Enter the OST / University of Illinois

So with O’Reillys website claiming “Enroll Now: Try it risk free” for seven days, I figured $400 wouldn’t be a huge waste. I signed up for the Javascript course, part of the Client Side Web Programming Certificate, which is listed as a ‘beginner/intermediate’ course.

I logged in, figured out the built in interface (it’s not vi, lets put it that way up front) for writing code while reading the lessons. I went through ten or so pages and started to wonder when I’d finish the first lesson, as it was getting late. Then I realized I had actually gone through 75% of the course. I went back and did all the quiz’s and objectives (write code and turn it in to an instructor), then finished the rest of the course. All in all I think it was 8-10 hours.

I spent some extra time making code work in Firefox. That was frustrating, as the course never signaled when code was IE only, I think they assumed you used IE up until the very end when they made some menu code and said right out it was IE only. The biggest hurdle was the DOM differences, eventually I just started writing the code in notepad and testing in IE, then pasting it into their interface to save it to the server and upload it to the instructor.

A lot of lessons referenced the w3school and I found that a number of the exercises where exactly the same as the example code on that website. I realize that something like the second lesson was about “recycling javascript from the internet” but it was getting a little absurd.

From my own teaching standpoint, the lesson plan seemed reasonable, but the content was horrid, especially for the price. It’s worth noting that I bought the ORA “Learning Javascript” the same day for $30, and I’ll mention now that this is the correct route to take. Do not take the class, buy the book. That is unless you NEED the certificate, or you’re a noob / non-geek and need the help. In such case, I’d highly recommend a small classroom type environment where you can get face to face tutoring.

Besides the browser incompatibility bit bugging me, the interface worked okay. I’m a poweruser, so it really sucked on one hand being drug out of the command line, but I had some patience. Keeping in mind that I’m not a web programmer, but I am a programmer, it’s not a lot of surprise I picked this up quickly. Object oriented stuff is fairly new to me. I’ve done a lot (standard sysadmin description of a lot) of shell scripting, perl, php and now python. I didn’t notice a lot of inconsistencies, but not knowing javascript, it would be hard to tell. I’d be willing to reckon that the course is pretty old. Whereas the book talks about using CDATA to comment out JS in XHTML, and that HTML commenting JS is a really old technique, the web course didn’t mention CDATA or XHTML, and said that HTML commenting while old was still a good practice. And while there was little discussion of the DOM issues I was working around, there was no discussion of libraries such as prototype or jquery to solve such problems. As well as no discussion about separating the javascript from the html code with src attributes in script elements. I’m sure there’s more that was left out that I’ll realize as I start reading the ORA book.

When is “Risk Free”, not?

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a waste of time, but it was definitely a waste of $400. Now that I’ve looked deeper into getting that 7 day risk free refund, I see that their FAQ says:

You may withdraw from a course online, at any time.
However, the deadline for withdrawing a course with a refund is 7 days from the day of enrollment. If you paid by check/money order, the “day of enrollment” refers to the day that your enrollment account becomes active.

Additionally, if half or more of the assignments within your course have been handed in by you and graded by your Instructor, a full refund is no longer possible, even within the 7 days.

There can be NO EXCEPTIONS to this policy.

Nice. Now that you fully realize this shit was crap, we’re going to keep your $400 because we know you’re not going to ever be coming back. This is a big disappointment in O’Reilly for me. I’ve written anyways asking for a refund. We’ll see what they say. “NO EXCEPTIONS”, sure, but at what point do you admit it’s the same old college scam wrapped up with some e-learning and a popular companies name? Hopefully I can still get a refund, since technically although all of my assignments are handed in, they are NOT graded yet.

Update: 8/23, Javascript 2: AJAX
OST offered me Javascript 2: AJAX for free to make up for the content. I’ll offer additional opinions about this course when I’m done, but I’ll note now that the AJAX as a pizza delivery man analogy totally didn’t work for me. On the upside of this, for $300 the ‘beginner’ level HTML/CSS course I could acquire a certificate, so the whole escapade will end with something for the resume. Although if anyone asks about it in an interview I’ll still be forced to bring the quality to the table.

16 thoughts on “O’Reilly School of Technology review, seven day risk free trial is not risk free.

  1. kdoggett

    Thanks for the review. I am considering OST to learn some more about web development and open source. I have self studied web development technologies, perl and linux stuff, but I have no formal college studies. I got a history undergrad degree and I am having the same issue with not having any formal college credits in programming. So, first glance at my history education on a resume doesn’t get me too many interviews for web development jobs.

    Only reason I would go with OST at this point is to get the University of Illinois certificate so I can list it on resumes and such.

  2. Teresa

    Thanks for this review. I have been going back and forth deciding if the O’Reilly courses were worth it for awhile now, and now I’ve decided it’s probably not. It’s so difficult to find good courses for open source programming (online or otherwise) and I never have the motivation to stick with a book. But I’m glad I didn’t try this and run into the same situation you described here.

  3. Mitch

    Let me see if I understand your issue. You paid $400 for a course that said it was for beginners in Javascript, then did the entire course and wanted your money back when you were through?

    Do you read books and then return them and ask for your money back?

    It’s clear that taking a beginning javascript course wasn’t a good idea, given your obvious expertise.

    Then they actually gave you another course, for free? Interesting.

  4. btm


    It’s a cost/return issue. I do have programming experience but lacked any javascript experience. As such, I expected more challenge for $400 than the 1 day of work it took me to complete the course.

    My other complaints are more minor, such as the material seeming out of date compared to the books ORA publishes, let alone what’s on the net such as the videos at Yahoo’s UI theater. AS well as heavily referencing other web sites rather than original material.

    As per your book analogy. I would have been happy paying the book price equivalent for the course, such as $60-75. Books have other obvious benefits such as having them around for reference, and I don’t often read them straight through. It’s a different way of learning with different expectations from the material.

    But as I’m a big ORA fan, I had certain quality expectations when it came to OST. After all, when you use a name to sell something, it better be representative of that name. OST wasn’t.

  5. Donna

    I was ready to pull out my credit card. I’m glad I read this first.

    I actually wrote them and asked if I still had to take their HTML/CSS when I have two full college semesters of each. They said, yep, I’d have to pay the $300.00 for a class I’ve already taken in order to receive their certificate.

  6. George Barr


    I have over 25 years in the computer software/aaplications industry with a Higher Diploma in Computer Studies (1980). I was alos looking for a degree of sorts and ended up with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology. Believe it or not I use the psychology now in web design.

  7. Pat Dixon

    It’s appropriate that O’Reilly offered bt Javascript 2 AJAX for free, because most of the course is available on line. I found it searching for the examples. The book “Headrush AJAX” was discontinued by O’Reilly shortly after it was published. The course gets really interesting after pizza – you’re directed to the user section of googlemaps. Subsequent assignments are taken from google’s documentation.

    My experience with O’Reilly has been that the books they send are terribly out of date, the course technology is extremely out of date, and the instructors are poorly prepared. My advice would be to skip it, regardless of subject. It’s a waste of money.

  8. jae

    Thanks for posting this. I was considering the O’Reilly courses, but now I’ll still with books, W3schools, Lynda.com, VTC.com, msdn.microsoft.com/beginner and other resources – possibly including some community college courses.

  9. Nastia

    Thanks for this blog. I was ready to pay for a DBA certificate, have been struggling for a while which courses to take, as the curriculum seemed a little weak. I am glad I have not paid. I have to keep looking for a good program.

  10. Matt

    I am actually quite happy with the Unix/Linux admin course. Has covered some material I already knew and some I did not. The online format has worked out quite well for me too. I hope to go on to the PHP/mySQL course after I have completed the unix course. Of course my options are much more limited then most. The nearest metro area to take regular classes is a 2 hour drive. So these online classes work out quite well for me. I already have an AAS degree in electronics from years back and am just looking to further myself somewhat. I would recommend OST to anyone unable to attend conventional classes or looking to add to there resume. Just my 2 cents. Also, you can print out the course content for off line study and future reference.

  11. Jason Swinbourne

    You guys have to be nuts paying good money for ridiculous online courses. Any of this stuff you can learn from free tutorials, or actually practicing examples from relatively inexpensive books.

    The same thing goes for the waste-of-space W3 certifications. Really, what a scam. Not an employer in the universe gives such certifications any credence; they’re just a money-making scam from companies that should know better. They are meaningless.

  12. Moze

    Hm. There are some very valid points here. I think that it all comes down to your expectations for the courses.

    I started the UNIX courses three years ago when I was still in college, bored out of my mind, had a pocket full of financial aid cash and was looking for a way to better myself. The first lesson is typically a BEGINNER course. For me, it covered basic Unix commands. I knew these extremely well and as a result, I finished the course in a single day.

    A couple months down the road, I decided to take the second course. I feel that I actually learned from this one. It covered many concepts I heard previously learned and forgotten as well as new ones.

    Fast forward three years to 2010 — I finished college and am working as a unix systems admin for an extremely large company. Did my CEUs get me the job? Nope. Though it did show my interest in pursuing my education. I was able to explain that my university only offered a single unix/linux course and that I took the O’reilly courses to learn more and better myself.

    Now that I’m working, my employer paid for my final two courses. I still completed each of them in a single day (6-8is hours each); however, they did get increasingly challenging. A lot of the content forced me to be creative and use my brain. I can definitely say that I’ll use some of the things I learned through the courses in my career. For me, it was worth it.

    And as an added bonus, I’ll be getting a nice certificate to help fill out my resume. 🙂 It really is what you make it.

  13. Ryan

    Has anyone else taken the OST courses/certificate series programs? It looks like many of them are updated and several of the books they use are less than 2 years old, which isn’t bad.

  14. Heather

    I come from a design/arts background getting into the technical world. I have multiple college degrees and though adult learning in my own time would work well for what I was looking for. I just finished the Javascript course, and although it is slightly better then you mentioned, the teacher is horrid with answering questions. Made me feel like a 3rd grader when she did. I work with several full time developers, most who wont touch Javascript, but even they could answer my questions without needing to give me riddles or respond with a question. It was only after finishing the Java I course that I began to understand the attempt at what they call the Javascript course. The course is not written well at all nor supported by someone that seems to have any decent teaching experience.

    The Java I course is a waste of time and they use archaic method, anyone considering it should start with Java 2. Although they use the awt package instead of string, its a lot more what a first introduction should be. My complaint is that the teacher takes several days to grade anything, and so if a problem arrises, I have to wait until I move on.

    On a positive note, the Database courses I took, or anything with the lecturer Terry is worth every penny. He is wonderful and so far the only member of staff that I have dealt with that is professional and an A quality teacher. If he taught all of the courses, I don’t think there would be a single complaint from this program. (So Nastia, you wont be disappointed).

    Also w3schools is a great aide, but I have not found it as a decent replacement for a step by step course, and I am certified by them in many areas. There is a lot of depth that they don’t cover.

  15. Heather

    thats swing not string in my comments before. Which brings me to another point, the Java classes have a huge amount of grammatical mistakes. To the point that I am surprised it was released to the public.

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