A Review of the O'Reilly School of Technology Perl Course (OST)

2 stars for O'Reilly School of Technology

Why I Chose O'Reilly

I enrolled in the O'Reilly School of Technology with the idea in mind that I would work toward their Open Source Programming Certificate.

A certificate from O'Reilly was particularly appealing to me because, at the time, they we awarded through the University of Illinois Office of Online & Continuing Education (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the best computer science schools.)

O'Reilly also publishes and sells great programming books, so I figured that taking their online courses was the perfect option.

A small piece of Perl code I wrote while taking the course.
A small piece of Perl code I wrote while taking the course. | Source

Signing Up for My Class

I decided to start out with the Perl 1: Introduction to Perl course. The O'Reilly School of Technology gives pretty good deals when you enroll in entire certificate series, but I decided to just start out with one class to test it out.

Signing up was simple and, with a coupon, I only paid $288.55 for the course. Included in the purchase price was a copy of "Learning Perl" by Randal L. Schwartz, Tom Phoenix, and brian d foy (he prefers his name to be lowercase.)

O'Reilly immediately sent me a message with details on accessing the course. I was on my way!

Learning Perl, 5th Edition
Learning Perl, 5th Edition

The author of this book is incredibly helpful.


Learning Perl

Initially, I was really excited about learning Perl. I'd written code before, in Ruby, and I was really interested in learning another language.

During the first part of the course, I learned the usual stuff you'd expect in programming:

  • Printing strings
  • Basic math
  • Variables
  • Conditionals
  • Looping
  • Built-in functions

While these things were easy concepts for me, I found numerous bugs with information presented in the text (the course text, not "Learning Perl") and would submit bug reports to O'Reilly.

Along with the bugs, I had a really hard time with a concept I was learning. I posted my issue in my programming blog. The blog's feed was part of IronMan, a blog aggregator for Perl. A number of Perl programmers commented on my blog about the content I was learning, particularly related to the order in which concepts were taught.

"Context" was a major issue for me. I did not get it. When I finally did grasp it, they threw in subroutines, I didn't get it at all.

I felt like throwing in the towel, but I decided I would plug through it when one of the authors of the book, "Learning Perl" sent me an email asking me not to quit Perl, (despite his fairly lengthy argument that the course was doing a nightmare job of presenting information.)

I was very close to the end of the course, a chapter or two, when I ran into more bugs in the material. I just couldn't learn with the thought in mind that, "This isn't how I should be learning," so I quit.

I felt like I couldn't learn Perl if I was this frustrated and confused before I even tried to code anything myself! Furthermore, with a text that showed buggy code as an example of "good Perl code", I felt like I really didn't stand a chance of learning it.

Quick Poll

Would you take a course through OST?

  • Yes, I would.
  • No, I wouldn't.
  • I'm not sure.
See results without voting

O'Reilly After Quitting

My instructor for the class was very helpful in going over the code and giving hints on how to solve problems. I didn't talk to him about grammatical errors in the text, because I felt that would have been petty. In fact, when I quit, my instructor asked why and I simply said I no longer had time for it.

A good while after quitting, I decided that despite the fact that I had a horrible time with the text, I should go back and finish it. O'Reilly boasted that if you put down what you're learning, you can always pick up in the future. I logged into my account to pay the monthly lab fee to get started again and saw that I would also have to pay a reinstatement fee ranging from $59.70 to $149.40. That was when I decided I was done with the program.


  • The example code often had errors.
  • Grammatical errors in the learning material.
  • The material was taught in a weird order.
  • I was often frustrated and confused.
  • Members of the Perl community urged me to quit the program.
  • Re-instatement fee if you want to continue using the program after pausing for a while.


  • The staff was very friendly.
  • After blogging about having trouble with the material, the author of one of the books contacted me and offered to help (huge pro for the Perl community.)
  • The "free" book, "Learning Perl" actually helped a lot.
  • The publisher prints phenomenal books (the animal books.)

Final Thoughts

Despite the ease of signing up to O'Reilly and the amazingly nice people who work for them (my instructor and Georgia), I found the course text to be extremely difficult to follow. It introduced concepts in a strange order and its sample code was full of bugs, making it very difficult for me to solve problems in my own code.

While I couldn't recommend O'Reilly School of Technology, I want to note that I only took this one course through O'Reilly. I highly doubt that this is a wholly accurate reflection of their entire course series. However, I was both very disappointed in the course and the renewal fee (which I didn't pay.)

I give them two stars. Their staff is very friendly and their Sandbox software is really easy-to-use.

I do still have my copy of "Learning Perl" which is what I'll refer to in the future if I do choose to give Perl another try.

More by this Author

Comments 13 comments

KBeck 21 months ago

Our courses are often more expensive expensive than other options because of the one-on-one coaching and the lab environment we offer. A free video is often useful, but not everyone can learn complex coding languages without a mentor.

Please do take a look at our enrollment policies and fees before signing up for any of our courses: www. oreillyschool.com

We want our students to be as informed as possible!

Thanks again for all of your informative comments here, everybody. We re continually striving to improve our content and our students' experience.

Kerry Beck

Editor, OST

melbel profile image

melbel 21 months ago from New Buffalo, Michigan Author

I was really disappointed about being withdrawn. I thought it was kind of crappy. I wouldn't mind renewing my lab fees but having to pay for the course over again is unacceptable.

Zac 21 months ago

I have had a miserable experience with the O'Reilly School since Day 1. The courses are comparable to every course you see on Udemy or Lynda, only 20 times the price. They have a lot of hidden things in their "Enrollment Agreement" that you will need to watch out for. You will also be liable for outrageous "lab fees", which you cannot take the course without. I believe they are around $60 and you have a limited time frame to complete the course or you are withdrawn and you have to re-pay the $498. All around awful experience.

Kerry Beck 2 years ago

Hi Paul,

We made updates to mysqli from mysql for the course to which you refer in the third quarter of 2013. If you're still engaged with one of our courses (Java?) and continue to experience difficulty, please bring your concerns to your instructor directly. They are best able to help you with a specific problem or particular "bugs" you mentioned (we necessarily differentiate between bugs, typos, updates, and course revisions).

Our courses are indeed built in such a way that we can apply edits and improvements right away, however a complete course overhaul is more labor intensive than a typo fix, and thus takes more time to execute.

We appreciate your comments and will continue our work toward making our student experience better.

Thank you,

Kerry Beck

Style & Pedagogy Editor

O'Reilly School of Technology

Ari 2 years ago

With respect to all previous commenters, I just wanted to mention that, as of several months back, OST has updated all our PHP courses to use the mysqli extension.

Paul 2 years ago

Melanie, thanks for sharing your experience. I wanted to share a bit of my experience with two of the O'Reilly School of Technology certificate programs to the world, namely Java and PHP. I enrolled in the programs for some fun and hands-on practice. I program for fun in PHP/Java/Python/C++. I took PHP first (mid-to-end of 2013). To summarize the PHP course material, it was way outdated and buggy.

I notified instructors when I found each error. The response I got contradicts what Kerry Beck said about "our courses are built in such a way that we can apply edits and improvements right away.". None of the bugs I reported were fixed after 4 months so I simply stopped reporting more bugs. Here is an example of outdated for PHP course. OST PHP courses only teach PHP's MySQL Extension which is intended for use only with MySQL versions older than 4.1.3. To just understand how old MySQL 4.1.3 would be MySQL 4.1 production release was October 2004. MySQL 5.0 was October 2005. PHP mysqli extension, or as it is sometimes known, the MySQL improved extension, was developed to take advantage of new features found in MySQL versions 4.1.3+. The mysqli extension is included with PHP versions 5 and later. PHP 5.0.0 was released July 2004. php.net says, "If you are using MySQL versions 4.1.3 or later it is strongly recommended that you use this extension.". OST four PHP courses NEVER mention mysqli extension! That is over 9 years old! Their was other outdated material. I ended up writing all my PHP code with mysqli extensions only re-using their code if I had too, which was more fun for me. Not even all the mysqli extensions worked. I asked OST support a question and their response was a let down. Here is screen cap of the question and response: http://gotopinion.info/screenCaps/ost/mysqli.png

I am over 50% of the way done with the 3rd course within the Java certificate program. The course has some bugs and is written in 1.6. For example, OST teach only the File Class for file I/O (Noooo!!!). They should have used much improved and safer Files Class introduced in 1.7. Java 1.7 was released July 2011.

Any web-based course not kept up-to-date with production releases of code should be banned from teaching or explicitly state they are teaching legacy code identifying the code version.

I would strongly recommend anyone considering OST to skip them until the course material is updated to at latest release and promote a better bug/fix process. For the cost of the material and O'Reilly brand it should be kept up-to-date and accurate. Until then grab some highly rated programming books from your favorite book site and use them.

If the courses were up-to-date and had little to no bugs I would strongly recommend the courses as the core exercises were mostly interesting and good hands-on programming.

Sean 3 years ago

I'm almost finished with the Perl Certificate program at O'reilly School of Tech. I'm halfway through the last course Perl 4: Applied Perl. I did not have the same experience the author here had when I completed Perl1 a few years ago. I remember one code typo in Perl2 that the instructor fixed right away and thanked me for. I didn't mind this because, guess what, when you write code you are going to have your own typos and mistakes and you need to learn how to pinpoint those. This helps you become a better programmer. So one typo did not bother me at all.

Overall, I think the reviewer was a bit unfair here. I will say that this certificate program is very challenging. It makes sure you know the material. If I didn't already have experience with programming Perl I would have struggled more with Perl 3 advanced and Perl 4 applied I think. That being said this certificate program covers everything imaginable with Perl and gives you real world examples that you can use at your job and as a hobbyist (i.e. - parsing html pages). I thought I already had a good grasp of Perl going in, but this course taught me a lot of new tricks that I was able to quickly put to use at home and on the job!

My only complaint or suggestion for the course would be less command line Perl. I don't see much of a need for it, and there is way too much coverage in that area in my opinion.

Man 3 years ago

I like Perl course very much and day by day improving after reading and working on assignments.

I give four stars to them .

KBeck 3 years ago

Hi Melanie,

I'm an editor at the O'Reilly School of Technology. Your review of the OST Perl course just came to my attention and I wanted to address your concerns and disappointment. We are continually working to improve all of our courses, so we appreciate any feedback we get from our students.

Since it sounds like you shared your specific concerns about language and bugs with your instructor, it's likely they've already been fixed. (I'll check in with your instructor and make sure!) Fortunately, our courses are built in such a way that we can apply edits and improvements right away.

I'm sorry we didn't provide you with an excellent experience. I do thank you for your input; it helps us to improve our courses and to serve our current and future students better.

All the best,

Kerry Beck

Style & Pedagogy Editor

O'Reilly School of Technology

stuff4kids profile image

stuff4kids 3 years ago

I found that very interesting even if for me it was a bit like reading a foreign language. It really is amazing what you can learn these days. I consider myself only barely computer literate really so this was a fascinating insight into what is available and what you can do if you want to take that kind of education up to the next level.

nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 3 years ago from Leipzig, Germany

I did the free Stanford introductory database course last year - it was super tough, but the materials were great (although with little instructor support). It sounds like the expensive O'Reilly course skimped on material development -- I'm surprised and disappointed.

I'd actually recommend the Perl Cookbook or Programming Perl over Learning Perl, especially if you know another procedural language like C or Ruby. I took Perl at uni, and later taught it - it's a great, flexible language, albeit occasionally frustrating to hunt bugs in - just like any other language!

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I applaud your taking this course on, but I don't believe I could have survived it at all. Good review on this program and interesting read.

ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 3 years ago from Illinois

What an incredibly useful review for anyone considering that particular O'Reilly online course. It's nice that you've thrown up the caution flags so that anyone else considering taking the course can at least investigate further if they so choose.

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