I like to teach. I have for years, and I use that skill in nearly every position I’ve had for the past decade. Most of those positions have been in software development, often managing teams or organizations.
A weakness I consistently see in engineering organizations is around communications; sharing knowledge. I offset that by communicating (and teaching) a lot. Teaching in this context isn’t just “learn how to program …” kinds of things, it’s learning in general. How an existing system or tool works, what the value proposition is, what customers are looking for, even a simple retrospective: what went well, what didn’t, what do we want to change.
In teaching and learning, there are two sides: proactively sharing information, and taking information in and understanding it. The folks who have done the absolute best at taking in information and understanding it have a common trait:
They learn fearlessly.
Its so easy to fall into the mindset of “I don’t want to look stupid, so I won’t ask”. That’s the fear I’m speaking about. It’s something I had to struggle with for quite a while, so I know it’s not easy. Many people have an innate desire to belong and to be respected. Its hard to put yourself out there, asking what others may perceive as “a stupid question”. And for the requisite Herbert quote:
That fear isn’t always misplaced. I have seen (and been the recipient) of mockery for asking a question. DO NOT LET THAT STOP YOU. Here’s the secret: the person doing the mocking is just betraying their own insecurities.
Yeah, it’s going sting when this happens. Maybe more than sting. If you’re looking for a piece of advice (and this whole blog post sort of is one), then ignore it. Don’t react it, don’t acknowledge it – treat it as if that person didn’t say anything or doesn’t even exist. The number one method for dealing with this kind of person is to not give them any attention. In short, Don’t feed the energy monster.
When I’m on the teaching side of this experience, I redirect those people quickly – stamping out that behavior immediately. If they report up to me, you can bet there’s a long, private conversation about to happen after that occurs.
When I’m on the learning side, I view it as a responsibility to ask questions. There is an aphorism:
If you hear one person ask a question, probably more are thinking it, but aren’t stepping up to ask.
When you ask questions that aren’t clear to you – you’re not just helping yourself, you’re helping others. You’re also helping the person teaching. When I’m teaching I appreciate questions because it gives me a chance to try another path to convey the concepts I want to get across. If you don’t ask, I won’t know to try.
Two questions I use most commonly when I’m learning anything are “Where can I learn more about this?” and “What would you recommend as good resources to dig deeper?”. I also find it useful to walk up to a relevant person and start out with “Could you help me understand…”.
Pick your tactics, and keep at it.
Just don’t stop learning.