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8/5/2013
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Pluralsight Buys TrainSignal, Broadens IT Training Lineup

Pluralsight, which provides online training for software developers, acquires TrainSignal, which offers online IT training. One payoff: better DevOps training for merged developer and operations teams.

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Pluralsight, which advertises itself as the site for "hardcore developer training," is acquiring TrainSignal, which offers training in IT operations skills, for $23.6 million in cash. The two companies, which already had similar monthly subscription pricing, will merge their libraries under the Pluralsight brand.

"In general, our markets are very complementary -- I don't think historically [we] competed with each other at all," said Aaron Skonnard, Pluralsight's founder and CEO. However, Pluralsight customers often asked if the website could also make IT training available to them. Similarly, Scott Skinger, founder and CEO of TrainSignal, said he was getting "tons of people asking for developer training," in addition to training on administration of databases, networking and virtualization servers. He and Skonnard had compared notes many times over the years and had a common commitment to making "the practical nature of the training," Skinger said. "Making sure people are able to do their jobs, first and foremost, is hugely important to me."

Skonnard and Skinger said their combined library will be particularly attractive for use by teams in which members are expected to understand both programming and IT operations. "Developers are now moving more into operations roles, which is this whole DevOps trend, and that means developers are dealing with a lot of IT needs," Skonnard said. "This combination will be powerful for the CTO, the CIO, and the whole organization." Cross-disciplinary requirements are becoming more common, given the dominance of Web and cloud applications where software, server and network performance are intertwined.

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Over the next few months, TrainSignal's videos and interactive instruction will be migrated into the Pluralsight course catalog, which existing TrainSignal customers will get access to for no additional cost. Both sites offer premium training to individuals for $49 per month, with discounted pricing for companies that provide access to multiple employees. For that price, users get access to all of each site's full catalog of courses. Pluralsight also offers a $29-per-month deal that includes access to the videos but not the assessments or course certifications.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Pluralsight also acquired PeepCode, an online training site focused on open-source programming languages and frameworks. PeepCode's courses also will be absorbed into the Pluralsight catalog. All told, Pluralsight will wind up with more than 1,000 online courses, up from about 500 prior to the acquisitions.

Pluralsight plans to continue to expand the developer and IT course libraries "at about the same rate," Skonnard said. Skinger and TrainSignal product development director Gary Eimerman will join Pluralsight in executive roles, overseeing the newly created IT division out of the TrainSignal offices in Schaumburg, Ill. Pluralsight is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

TrainSignal originally built its business on video courses distributed on DVD before moving to its current online subscription model. In addition to courses, it offers practice exams for popular IT certifications, including CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, Cisco CCNA, Microsoft MCSE and the VMware VCP exam.

Earlier this year, InformationWeek covered TrainSignal in a feature on professional education companies responding to MOOCs, the massive open online courses making waves in higher education.

InformationWeek also interviewed two TrainSignal students who achieved significant professional advancement based on what they learned.

Courtney Wallace advanced from help desk employee to IT manager, her current role at the Public Health Institute in Washington, D.C. "The actual training I went to school for was Oriental medicine and acupuncture, but I just wasn't feeling that was what I wanted to do or loved to do," she said. "But I was technically inclined, technically savvy and the family go-to person whenever anything went wrong with technology."

While working on the help desk at an engineering firm, she began studying for the A+ certifications through TrainSignal, originally on DVD. She has tried other sorts of training, such as technical bootcamps, but particularly in the beginning found they tended to assume knowledge she hadn't yet acquired. "I like the computer-based, self-paced training, with the ability to re-watch things," she said. Now she is responsible for IT in an office of about 150 people, plus another 15 remote users in a California office, along with servers, networks and virtualization.

Josh Atwell, who works as a datacenter virtualization engineer in Raleigh, N.C., said he has been taking TrainSignal courses for years, either on his own dime or as part of a professional education program through his employer. "The nice thing about it is it's self-paced, self-initiated," he said. "You don't have to take a week away from your life, a week away from work, to do a training course."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.

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