The Impact of Teaching and Mentoring on my own Pursuit of Learning (and screencasting!)
I previously shared some experiences and thoughts relating to Investing in Yourself as a Software Developer (and why your employer should too). I talked a lot about the huge value that self-driven, online resources have provided me over the years. These have played a major role in my journey into entering the technology industry and professional growth.
I left out one huge piece of that story. I may have over-emphasized specifics, money, and employer responsibility. The core of what my experiences have taught me is more related to a general hunger for learning and growth.
More recently I have discovered tremendous value from teaching. Maybe teaching is too formal of a word. More like sharing and discussing knowledge with others. This can take many forms. A few forms of “teaching” that have impacted me:
- Answering questions on StackOverflow
- Opening myself up as a mentor for those looking to learn (both formally and informally)
- Sharing and discussing techniques and challenges in the workplace
- Starting my own technical blog
- Creating miniature screencasts for fun and in the workplace
- Most recently, becoming an Egghead.io instructor
I consistently find that when tasked with helping someone else understand something better, I always come out with a much better grasp of the topic.
How did I end up here? I’m sure the long version of that story will follow in posts to come. For now, I’ll rewind to just several months ago…
Maybe I Should Start Giving Some Back…
It was only a few months ago that I decided to take my first stab at recording a screencast. My only real goal with doing so was forcing myself out of my comfort zone and hoping that I could learn some things along the way. Considering how much I’ve taken away from others’ blog posts, screencasts, and tech talks, I felt like it was time to start putting a little bit back into the coffers. I secretly hoped that it could be of use to others.
It turns out recording a screencast is much harder than I had imagined. First you have to select, and stick to, a cohesive set of topics. Then juggling figuring out how to record, edit, and publish a screencast. It was a bit overwhelming at first.
As with most things I set out to learn, I dove in and figured it out as I went. I started recording more screencasts. Some just for practice that never saw the light of day. Some made it onto Vimeo. Then I started publishing a few to YouTube. Needless to say, in retrospect my first several screencasts were low quality, lengthy, and overall just pretty terrible :). No matter the end result of these, I did find I was learning a lot through the process.
One surprisingly useful area I found myself recording screencasts in was the workplace. I work 100% remotely and our development team is primarily remote/distributed. I started recording short walk-throughs and/or tutorials of either new features completed or new technologies/techniques being introduced. How to write tests for new API endpoints with Behat, Setting up and Using Gulp, TDD w/ PHPUnit/PHPSpec, etc….
I quickly found that putting ~30 minutes into a fairly raw ~5 to ~10 minute video forced me to learn these topics on a much deeper level. These short videos helped to communicate concepts that were difficult to convey via textual chat or reproduce during a ScreenHero session. They also forced me to start distilling concepts down to ~5:00 videos, which is a lot more work than it might sound.
Fast forward 6 months or so and here I am as an instructor on Egghead.io.
It has been an exciting opportunity and I have already learned a ton throughout the process. There are a lot of super smart developers involved as instructors who are a lot smarter than me. If I’m being 100% honest, it can be hard not to fall into imposter syndrome knowing that I am putting material up side-by-side with some of these guys. Which is not a bad thing at all.
I’m not sure where or when the first time I heard this quote was, but it has stuck with me since. Here are some thoughts on “Are You the Smartest Person in the Room?”. I feel like settling into your comfort zone and no longer feeling the need to improve is what leads to stagnation. This is especially important to succeed in the technology industry.
I have several videos/topics in the works and I look forward to continually learning by teaching (which I’m growing to appreciate more and more). And of course, I hope I can help others pick a thing or two up along the way.
Let me know if you enjoyed or hated this post, have any feedback, or even topic requests at @erikthedev_ or in the responses below!