Summer of Learning and Teaching

A grad school friend who I respect a lot once told me ‘If you’re good, it is your job to help others be good; if you’re not good, your job is to learn and get better.’ That stuck with me and shaped my worldview—I now expect that others feel the same.

I have plenty to learn, but I have been blessed to learn a lot of things about a lot of things so I felt it was my duty to help. As such, this summer I initiated the Summer of Learning and Teaching at work. Originally, I wanted to help bring new hires and interns up to speed; however, I’m hoping that with each session every audience member will learn something new and the presenter will learn (improve) presentation skills.

Thankfully, I have received fantastic support from management and my peers! We have had six sessions so far, and it’s been great! I presented the four topics below and will now hand presenting off to peers so that others will have a chance to share something they are passionate about like databases, QA, Maven, and version control (Git).

Sessions I have led:

  • HTML. Who knew such a simple markup language could be so hard to teach? I tried to provide a quick overview and some helpful links so that people were empowered to keep learning.
  • CSS. I’ve been making websites since 1999… how do you condense that into an hour? I think style is very hard for the average engineer. Rather than try to teach design, I took the tact of trying to show some common scenarios like how to center text or a block.
  • JavaScript. As I’ve learned more JavaScript I’ve become increasingly comfortable with functional aspects and general trickery (type coercion, self-invoking functions, default values with || assignment, etc), but I had to set those concepts aside. I had to remember that this was not the time to talk about JavaScript’s dark corners, although I had to fit some of that in ;–)
  • Clean Code. I worked with my friend and co-worker Nick Dollarhide on this presentation. Nick did a phenomenal job! I thought his passion and intellect came through in the course of the talk. I’d say this presentation was my favorite.

I have learned a lot as I create the course materials and present for as long as 75 minutes. A few lessons I would share:

  • everyone likes cookies!
  • pre-test so you know what to cover
  • practice, practice, practice
  • go through setting up ahead of time
  • show up ~15 minutes early to set up
  • bring water for yourself, then drink every time there is an opening or anytime you need to slow down

This round of presentations feels different than others I’ve given, and I’ve presented quite a bit. In 2006 I presented to over 250 IBM executives to conclude the Extreme Blue internship. For me, that presentation was a well-rehearsed blur carried by our fantastic MBA, Carl Timm. I proposed and defended to 5+ professors and a dozen or so peers. Presenting an idea that you are an expert at (simply put, you should be the expert in your PhD topic) is very different; in some ways it is incredibly nerve-wracking, but you also have the assurance that you know your stuff. I’ve presented at a few conferences, which felt similar to my proposal/defense except there was less pressure because the audience could not prevent me from graduating (at least not as easily ;–)). Throughout grad school I taught classes here and there, but they were mostly book reports or following a professor’s curriculum. Setting your own curriculum and creating the materials in one week is really hard! Being “on” for an hour is tiring, yet strangely energizing too.

All in all, I’m proud of the Summer of Learning and Teaching and I look forward to learning and teaching a bit more.