Leaving your comfort zone and standing in front of an audience

July 13, 2010

ITSQL2sDay150x150 keep seeming to dip back into the training space with LobsterPot Solutions, and I think this is a good thing. Training is both challenging and rewarding. It’s very different to consulting – the other part of what the company does – but the two disciplines compliment each other very well. LobsterPot doesn’t run public courses, but we do get asked for training from various places, including existing clients, prospective clients, and even other training companies.

I’m not writing this as an advert for the training that we do, but rather as a reflection on the discipline and why I value it so much.

When you train people in something, whether it be a technical discipline, ‘soft skills’, or something else, it helps refine your skills in a way that you don’t get just from consulting. And vice-versa – if you’re just teaching, there’s a lot that you’ll miss out on. There are lots of lessons that you simply won’t pick up without real projects in the real world.

I feel for full-time trainers, partly because a lot of people who “only teach” are criticised for not having real world knowledge – and the same applies to people who have studied but never used their knowledge in a real project. But I also know (including from personal experience) that it’s very easy to get into a rut of doing something in a bad way, and having to stand in front of a different crowd of students quite regularly can force you out of that comfort zone.

Students will ask questions that you haven’t considered. As you work out explanations for things, you will find aspects that you don’t really understand as well as you thought. And you will be forced to address those issues. Just this week I’m due to teach an MDX course for a client, and it’s forcing me to consider how to address a particular aspect that I feel I haven’t really explored enough. I resolved an issue for this same client using the LinkMember() function, but on Friday I’ll be showing them that LinkMember() is generally less-than-ideal, and that a more thorough solution would be better. The solution that we had put in place using LinkMember() was a quick solution, which got them over a hurdle some time back, so I don’t regret it – I just know that preparing to teach this course has given me an opportunity to consider the drawbacks of that particular aspect.

Writing courseware can be even more challenging. When you find yourself needing to explain something, you end up discovering those gaps in your knowledge quite easily. And while you may be able to put your head in the sand to a certain degree, it’s definitely very humbling and you generally find yourself doing the necessary research to discover the answers (whereas when consulting, a workaround – like LinkMember() – may often suffice).

Having said all this, life should be a continual learning process. I hope that everyone reading this would agree that they can think of plenty of things they did in the past, that they would like to go back and do another way. If you can’t think of those things, then perhaps you need to be volunteering to teach people.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Mike Walsh

    Great points, Rob. I, too, find that teaching is a great learning opportunity. Nothing pokes holes in your understanding quicker than thinking about the missing info in your outline/materials or contemplating potential questions.
    Nice post.

  2. Armando Prato

    This post makes me feel better about my work this Fall at a local university to be a teaching assistant for their Masters program.  I don’t know what to expect which frightens me to death.  Let’s face it, sometimes you just forget things and you have to pull a book out or go to BOL to refresh your memory.

  3. Rob Farley

    You’ll be fine. And if you’re not, then you’ll quickly learn the stuff you need to be fine!
    No-one ever minds the answer "I don’t know but I’ll get back to you…" (so long as you do!)

  4. Cameron Mergel

    Good read Rob.

  5. Robert L Davis

    I think that’s a very common uncorfortable zone!! Good post!!

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