This is a repost/rewrite of a piece I published back in September of 2013. You can check out the original at the following link if you are interested, but the majority of the “meat” of it is the same: Some Thoughts on Education. That was a long time ago now. I thought it would make sense to refresh the post with some new thoughts. While I’m at it I’m updating it to make it more search engine friendly. The things you learn when you are trying to get a new blog off the ground 🙂
The Value of Education – From Both Sides of the Fence
This is mostly a brain dump of some of my thoughts on the value of education. In this context education covers both formal (e.g. classrooms) and informal (e.g. knowledge transfer and mentoring). That’s what I mean by “Both Sides of the fence”. In re writing this I’ve got a bit better idea of how it will flow than I did on the original. This time I’ll be incorporating some new thoughts as well as follow up discussions from the old post.
“Those who can, do…”
There is an old saying, oft touted by those who don’t see the incredible value in the teaching profession as a whole:
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
What a load of bull!!! If you don’t agree with my perspective on this then you probably want to skip the rest of this post. It is written from the perspective of someone who greatly values teachers and the act of teaching. I’m sure we can all remember experiences where we had a teacher who was less than stellar. Maybe it was a substitute teacher in Grade Nine science class covering a chapter on electronics who drew a diagram of a transformer on the chalkboard and proceeded to use it to “explain” how a rectifier works (Yes I still remember that moment fondly). Or maybe it was the university prof whose notes on the chalkboard were so illegible as to be absolutely useless. Or that guy who sits a few cubicles over from you who knows everything about everything and feels the need to educate you on any topic you bring up.
I’m not going to pretend these things don’t happen. But they shouldn’t impact our overall perspective on the value of education. After all you shouldn’t stop eating apples just because of that one you bit into when you were 8 years old that had half a worm in!
Let’s start with a clear statement: Not all teachers are good and not all courses are worthwhile.
Here’s an other one: Wikipedia is often useful but shouldn’t be trusted beyond the proof provided that the source is reliable.
So how do we tell the good from the bad and know who and/or what to trust? Well that’s something we learn over time and it helps if you have a good teacher at the beginning.
Back to the point of teachers being those who couldn’t be successful in their chosen field. I’ve always preferred the teachings of someone who has actually done what they are teaching. Yes, a really good educator with a great curriculum can effectively teach a topic they don’t fundamentally understand. Maybe they can even teach beginner to intermediate level courses better than some of the folks who have experience. But when it comes to answering the questions that can come up in more advanced courses nothing really beats experience for getting the knowledge into the heads of the people who need it.
This can sometimes be challenging when dealing with courses offered by large organizations with departments devoted to training. The people with the experience aren’t always considered “qualified educators” and may not want to leave the area they work for (or may not be available to be loaned out even if they are wanted). Professional trainers (including contractors) handle the majority of the workload. With the right training staff this can still work out as long as the trainers are offered (and encouraged to use) a channel between the education department and the engineers and implementation specialists who design and use the company’s products. A great instructor will take the questions they can’t answer and use these channels to have the right answers available for the students the next day.
Sadly that seems to be the exception with “professional trainers”… at least in my experience. I’m not sure how I usually end up with the ones that are afraid admitting they don’t have the answer at the tip of their tongue. Surely it can’t be karma… I’m not THAT evil!!! But I’ve had more than one instructor make up an answer on the spot that was so ridiculous even the other students didn’t buy it. All you can do is fill out your eval forms accurately at the end of the course.
An Open and Shut case
While I’m on the topic of formal education I think I’ll touch a bit on the concept of an “open curriculum”. I’ve always liked this concept and I like the name for it because it reminds me of the phrase “open mind”. It’s not unusual for third party companies specializing in a specific industry, but not selling a product in that industry to offer courses that are more about the concepts inherent in that field and less about specific products offered. In the computer technology field one of the more commonly recognized certification tracks based on an open curriculum is A+. In the Storage field there is SNIA, although they seem to deal more with “open certification” than the open curriculum to support that certification. Other companies offer curriculum to support it as well.
I can’t speak directly to other vendors because I’m not as familiar with their course lineups. But if other major storage vendors are offering open curriculum courses they aren’t making a big fuss about it. Dell EMC on the other hand has a few tracks that are open enough to allow them to partner directly with major educational institutions around the world to offer a combination of open and product specific training. I don’t want to turn this into anything resembling a sales pitch, because I don’t work for Dell EMC and I don’t promote their products and services. I just call it like it is (in my opinion). In this case if you look at something like Dell EMC’s Information and Storage Management curriculum you begin to see what I mean when I talk about “open”. They hit all the major topics relevant to the storage industry without pitching their product lines beyond holding up occasional examples to demonstrate a point. Someone could use this course (or the excellent book that was published on the topic) as an entry point to Storage foundations and turn around and build a working knowledge of IBM products based on that… or Dell EMC products. I haven’t dug in deep, but there is promise of a similar open concept in some of the higher level Cloud and Data Center Architecture tracks as well. Personally I applaud a vendor doing something that benefits the entire industry and potential candidates to enter that industry without limiting the benefit (or even skewing it significantly) to their products.
Coaching & Mentoring
On to the root of what triggered this brain dump on education in general. It ties back to that annoying quote from the beginning of this post as well. In my opinion those who can, do. If they really know their stuff they can (and should) teach others what they know too! This doesn’t mean they need to stand up in a classroom and drone on in a monotone until everyone in the class is learning through osmosis (I hear just a little drool can actually help you absorb the contents of the handouts through your cheek while you snore).
What I really mean is that the people who have the knowledge and experience should make an effort to pass that knowledge on at every opportunity. There are times when that might not be completely appropriate. When something major is hard down in the environment you might be better off fixing it ASAP and explaining what you did and how you knew you needed to at a later date. But in your day to day work there are endless opportunities to add just a little bit of extra knowledge with each interaction.
This knowledge transfer does not need to be a massive dump of info at one time. In fact that is sometimes less effective if it isn’t done right. It’s just a slow build up of little bits and pieces over time. That allows those around you to grow in knowledge and experience without having to suffer everything that you did to get where you are.
One day the coaching might be as simple as explaining why you follow a certain process to double-check your info before each storage allocation. Another day it could be spending 10 minutes discussing differences of terminology with the new woman on the team so that follow up discussions within the team will flow more smoothly. Occasionally it might mean taking some time in a room with a whiteboard to share some info on a new product you have been delving into that the rest of your team hasn’t been exposed to yet. Do it enough and it becomes second nature to want to share what you know and why it is important.
Share? But what’s in it for me?
True, this may sound extreme. Most people don’t say this out loud. But that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally think it quietly in the back of their heads. Sometimes they may think that sharing is a waste of time. They had to learn the hard way so why shouldn’t everyone else? Sometimes people think that if they share what they know they will not be as valuable any more and may be replaced. These aren’t trivial concerns and they do have some basis in historic reality. But current reality (at least in my experience and especially in the high tech field) is just the opposite.
If you are especially worried about change in your current environment you might want to check out my post on The Joy and Pain of Organizational Transformation (If you haven’t already).
Now I’ll qualify this by saying that if you are incredibly happy doing EXACTLY what you are doing every day and you don’t want to learn new things and deal with new environments (Oh, and you don’t mind losing your job when that environment is decommitted) then maybe knowledge hoarding IS for you. If that’s how you truly feel you probably gave up on this a long time ago and aren’t reading this part of my post. Of course you could be curious about something so foreign to your own thought processes that you felt the need to get a better understanding of where this nutjob thought he was coming from. Good luck with that
The advantages of sharing (for the more rational readers):
- It’s the nice thing to do, the right thing to do! Sharing your knowledge and experience with your co-workers shows that you have respect for them and for your employer.
- It looks good on your annual Performance Appraisal. Really it does. It’s good for your career in the long run if you are clearly willing to openly communicate with others.
- It raises your visibility with others – peers and management alike. If you really do know your stuff this is a good thing.
- It demonstrates your knowledge in small but concrete ways. if you are sharing your thought processes that help you reach conclusions it can even help people understand and trust you better over time since they realize that those conclusions they THOUGHT you were jumping to were actually the result of careful consideration of facts they didn’t realize you knew.
- If you are the only expert in something important you will never get the opportunities to learn and grow in new areas as long as you are spending all your time on the old stuff. If you don’t share, that old knowledge can stagnate you and your career opportunities. Sharing shows that you really do have deep skills and an ability to learn. You can be trusted with newer more critical projects that will help you advance.
- If none of that appeals to you then here is the clincher. Sharing your knowledge openly helps you consolidate that knowledge in your own head and actually helps you retain it and understand it better yourself. Sometimes it even leads you to find flaws that you didn’t realize were there when someone asks a question you didn’t think of. That gives you the opportunity to refine the knowledge and validate it further. Teaching others may actually teach you more in the long run than it does those you are helping along the way!
Hmmm… I rarely use numbered lists and that was a bit of a surprise to me. Well, it was a surprise the first time around… not so much on the rewrite *lol* Welcome to my thought processes!
That’s pretty much all I have to say on this topic. I’ll be curious to hear what others have to say on the topic. As always this is open to discussion and comment below. And yes, I’m stepping down off my soapbox (for at least a few minutes) now.
Bonus – Have you read my post on Blogging for Beginners yet? This is a great time to learn about a very effective way of sharing your thoughts and knowledge (and at least potentially educating others).