Last week I started training a new employee. I’ve been working solo for the past few years and hadn’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’ve 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 left some presentations with a firm grasp of the concepts because of the speaker’s performance.
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. 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 building something they can then showcase to demonstrate proficiency to potential employers. I still feel this is sound advice, particularly for job seekers who may need a bit of extra material to get their credentials to the level of 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 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 gives an added incentive with the desire to appear knowledgeable and professional during the presentation and Q&A that typically follows.
Next time you are looking to learn a new skill, consider lining yourself up to present to a local user group or even offer a company lunch and learn event. You may find the additional pressure may be the extra incentive you need to dive in.