Saturday, 24 January 2009

Know it all?

There is an expectation on the part of delegates that the trainer they are listening to knows a good deal more about the subject than they do. And quite right too ! However, the fact is that no trainer or anyone else for that matter can know EVERYTHING about a subject.
In fact, it is because this is the case that I enjoy my job so much. I start every event with the thought foremost in my mind, "I do NOT know it all". As a result, I welcome questions that stretch me. If I encounter a question that I haven't heard before or don't know the answer to, I will give my best guess and present it as such. However, at the very next opportunity I will do some research or experimenting in order to come back with the correct answer. I aim to have no questions unanswered by the end of each course.
The alternative is not a good place. i.e. flatly refusing to acknowledge that you don't know something in case it diminishes any 'power' or credibility you might have with the group.
I clearly remember an incident with a colleague many years ago (late 80s). Credibility (and masculinity) was a big thing with this guy. Early on in the course (one of the 10 week government sponsored training type courses where unemployed people learn something like C++ and hopefully find a job at the end) he was asked a question that he plainly didn't know the answer to (not having actually been a programmer).
Rather than saying that he didn't know but he would look into it, he came out with a long winded, nonsensical answer which had "I'M BLUFFING!" in six foot neon written all over it. The questioner challenged his answer at which point the trainer launched into a tirade which included phrases such as "How dare you question me!", "You must be joking!", "How would YOU know?".
That day he lost all respect with that particular group. A group who had to sit through a further five or more weeks of a course they were pretty sure their trainer didn't know.
Another memory illustrates the point in another way perhaps. I had to deliver the same five day course, four times back to back. A MOC 2310 ASP.NET course I think. By the fourth event I was just on auto pilot. Skipping most analogies, examples and jokes because I was pretty sure I had already used them.
I didn't miss out on any content because there was/is a structure to the course. However, because I "wasn't on the edge", I must have come across as a robot.
What brought this on ?
Two things.
I have been busy prepping demos and labs for the forthcoming Windows Presentation Foundation WPF readiness training for Microsoft as part of their METRO program.
These demos and labs involve the use of snippets in Visual Studio 2008. Not only are they of use to developers, they are also perfect for demos so that delegates don't have to sit and watch you type hundreds of lines of code.
So there I was trying out the demos and memorising the names of the snippets when I was cast back to this time last year. I was in Oslo to deliver one of the first Visual Studio 2008 and .Net 3.5 readiness courses for Microsoft.
The event was held at ProgramUtvikling AS that is run by a team of wonderful people (hello Kjersti and Arne !).

Whilst reminiscing about my week in Oslo, I thought of snippets. The Visual Studio 2008 course covered a vast area including Visual Studio 2008, Language enhancements, LINQ, ASP.NET AJAX, Windows Presentation Foundation - WPF, Windows Communication Foundation - WCF, Windows Workflow Foundation - WF.

As you can imagine, with that much to show off and demo, there were up to 100 snippets to memorise and use. I managed pretty well (I thought) for my second teach. I got through every demo without a hitch except the one where I tried to use the VideoBrush instead of VisualBrush when doing a WPF demo.

Like a bunny in the headlights I just looked at the code whilst 32 delegates looked at me and couldn't for the life of me see what I had done wrong. I finally remembered that VideoBrush was for Silverlight and not WPF ! Phew !

So I wrap up and delegates are heading off for trains and planes when one of the delegates walks over and quietly (bless you Arjan Einbu!) asks [at this point I should mention that the vast majority of the demos were written as Console applications] why I hadn't used the CW snippet?


Come clean time. I hadn't forgotten it. I didn't even know it existed!

So I am sitting here reminiscing about Oslo and snippets and have just remembered (fondly) my last night. I had to stay an extra night which happened to be the day before my birthday.

A number of us went for a fantastic meal (thank you Kjersti) and afterward went to a 'typical' British pub/bar called Churchill's.

Here is a description that I have just pulled off the net: "Churchill's, undoubtedly the finest 'English style' pub in Oslo, and the meeting place for many ex-pats. The cluttered decor reminds one of a typical English country pub and is highly recommended."
Now I have been into pubs up and down the land (England) but I cannot think of a single "typical English country pub" that had 1/16th scale models of Spitfires and Messerschmitt 109's mid dog fight hung from the ceiling. Nor for that matter, one that has upwards of 36 (I counted) artistic pictures of nude or topless women.

I had a great night. Particularly when it turned midnight and became my impromptu birthday party. Strangers from all around the bar came over to wish me a happy birthday. The landlord even stuck a candle in a cream cake for me. Not a party cake candle mind you but a bloody big red one that would look more at home shoved in the top of an old bottle of Chianti.

Two and a half hours later I remembered that I had to catch a train to the airport in less than two hours and I was in a bar and hadn't packed!. It was then that I noticed that the clientele had dwindled to myself and Dr Nic Williams (Mr Ruby on Rails himself) (What a very very very nice man!).

Good night!
See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


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