Please stop asking for “advanced” learning content

I’ve been teaching technologists various topics since… oh, 1997 or so, when I taught my first Windows NT 4.0 MCSE courses. God, I’m old. Anyway… the very best way to frustrate an experienced tech teacher is to bemoan the world’s lack of “advanced” content. So please stop doing it, and here’s why:

Read More

Failing Doesn’t Mean Failure

A lot of us — probably MOST of us — are afraid to fail. Failure hurts, either physically or mentally, and our brains obviously try to guide us away from pain and unpleasantness. But that also means, in an awful lot of cases, that we also don’t TRY. We anticipate the failure, even though it’s never happened to us, and doing so impedes our ability to grow and succeed.

Despite the popular belief, kids’ minds aren’t really like sponges. That all starts to fade at about age 5, when the prefrontal cortex starts to really develop. What kids lack, and gain only with time, is a fear of failing.

Failing is the very essence of learning. If you do something over and over and over and never fail at it, you’re not actually learning. That is, you’re not necessarily changing the structure of your brain. You’re perhaps reinforcing existing structures (specifically, synaptic connections between neurons), but you’re not creating new ones or changing existing ones. By definition, then, you’re not learning or changing or growing.

Failing does not make YOU a “failure.” That’s a hugely important concept, and this week I’d love it if you did nothing else but think about that a LOT and really embrace it. You can fail all the freakin’ time, and still not be a failure. You’re only a failure if you repeat the exact same failures over and over and over. If you’re not repeating, then you’re learning. You’re growing.

Yes, sometimes failure can hurt. Fail to fill the car with gas and it’s an inconvenience; fail to pick the right stocks and you could go broke. But most of our day-to-day failures aren’t all that bad. They’re not epic decisions that will change your life. So whatever new thing you’ve been thinking about — perhaps something that’s on the road to your success definition — give it a shot. Fail at it. Examine why you failed. Learn from that, and try again.

YOU aren’t a failure. Well, unless you never TRY. Not trying is a big failure.

At What Age Should Adulthood Commence?

Every culture on Earth takes a stab at what age someone is an “adult.” Many do it in graduations: in the US, most states permit kids to start driving unaccompanied at age 16, often with a “learning permit” being issued somewhere up to a year prior. 16 is the minimum working age for most jobs, while 18 is the age where you get to vote or enlist in the military. You wait until 21 to drink alcohol. But do any of those numbers make sense?

Read More

It’s Never Too Early to Teach

Back in… oh, 1996 or so, I was working for Bell Atlantic Network Integration near Philly as their LAN Manager. I was 25, according to my calculator. Boeing, which at the time had a big facility in the Philadelphia area, was going through some major layoffs and looking to re-skill aircraft mechanics. That’s irony, by the way, because I had been an aircraft mechanic who was laid off, before I got into IT.

Anyway, Penn State University wound up with the contract to do night classes, and they were basically just going to run these guys through Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) for Windows NT 4.0. Penn State didn’t have enough instructors, so they reached out to Micro Endeavors, a Microsoft training partner who was incidentally supplying contract developers to Bell Atlantic. One thing led to another, and I wound up teaching some of those classes under a moonlighting agreement. Micro Endeavors helped be get my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) credential, which led to me teaching my first formal classes.

Now look, it wasn’t super-easy. I put in a full 8-10 hour day at BANI, drove over to the local Penn State campus, and taught for 2-3 hours. I didn’t feel at all prepared, despite the 2-day “train the trainer” course I’d had to take as part of the MCT requirements at the time. I mean, I knew Windows, and I knew I knew Windows, but teach it? I didn’t know it that much. I mean, I wasn’t an expert.

And I didn’t need to be. I knew more than my students did, and what’s more I knew it from the same real-world perspective they’d eventually experience themselves. We went through the MOC, and along the way I shared some relevant stored from BANI and the previous job I’d had at a consulting company. We did the labs, and I pointed out some alternate situations I’d run into a couple of times to sort of juice things up. This went on for about 6 weeks. 6 weeks of long days 3 days a week, 6 weeks of nervousness (which did get better as time went on), 6 weeks of feeling unprepared. 6 weeks of doing just fine, after all.

10 of my 12 students got jobs in IT; the other 2 were a bit older and opted for an early retirement program. I was hooked.

Less than a month later, I’d tendered my resignation to BANI to start a full-time job as a trainer at Micro Endeavors. A few months later I was developing custom courseware under their tutelage. A few months later I was in charge of their Training & Courseware Group.

See, Micro Endeavors took a chance on me. They funded some of my growth, but I had to do plenty of heavy lifting and give plenty of sacrifice on my own. And it immediately paid off for us all — they kept the Penn State contract, I got a job doing something I loved, and 10 guys got new careers to support their families. My second-in-command at BANI got promoted into my job role. All of that happened, in large part, because I swallowed my nervousness and my feeling of “not being good enough” and just got on with the mission. I could have chickened out at any time and just stayed put in my comfortable corporate position. I’m really glad I didn’t.

I tell this story only in part because I learned that feeling inadequate or nervous is no excuse for not doing something, especially when the potential outcome is helping someone else with something important. I tell it also because after a few months at Micro Endeavors is when I decided I’d been incredibly lucky with what life had handed me to that point, but I needed to start acting a bit more proactively. Luck runs out. It was that summer, in 1997, that I started developing what would eventually become “The Grind,” and it’s where I started understanding that my own success would come primarily through helping others be successful, even if all I could do was help in small ways.

And you can do the same.