Self-Learning: As a Teacher or a Doer?
We're often taught to learn by building something, but would your learning process be different if your goal was to teach the technology instead?
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Last week I started training a new employee. I've been working solo for the past few years and haven't trained anyone recently, so having to thoroughly explain the fundamentals of my industry has helped reintroduce me to some concepts that I hadn't thought about lately.
The training process got me thinking about the best speakers I had in 15 years managing the Philadelphia Java Users Group, and how well some presenters were able to explain concepts that were entirely new to audiences. Even as someone who doesn't write code at a high level, I occasionally left presentations with a firm grasp of the concepts because of the speaker.
There were a handful of instances over the years where speakers volunteered to present a topic unfamiliar to them, adding that the task of creating a slide deck and preparing to answer audience questions was a good excuse for learning something new. In other words, these were situations where a speaker decided to learn a technology just so they could immediately teach it to others.
When I give advice on public forums like Reddit's /r/cscareerquestions, in blog posts, or in private conversations, I typically encourage people to learn new technologies by using them to build something you can then showcase to demonstrate your proficiency to potential employers. I still think this is sound advice, particularly for job seekers who may need a bit of extra material to get their credentials above their peers.
I've never suggested that someone learn a technology with the end goal of then teaching it to someone else. Those who learn by building may have a safety net in that they can "release" their demo when it's ready. Studying a technology in order to teach it in a group setting usually provides a strict deadline, and also provides the teacher the added incentive of wanting to appear knowledgeable and professional during the presentation and any Q&A that follows.
Next time you are looking for a skill to pick up, consider lining yourself up to present to a local user group or even a company lunch and learn event. You may find the additional pressure may be the extra incentive you need to dive in.
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