Learning: If it’s Not Fun, You’re Doing It Wrong
Like many people, I’m an active learner. I learn by doing something– writing something down helps me remember it, discussing it with someone helps more, and applying the information to solve a problem really cements it. If I’m learning something by reading or hearing which is related to something I’ve been able to use actively, then it’s easier for me.
Essentially, I think learning is a lot like playing a game. It can be frustrating when you’re first getting down the basic rules to play at first, but once you know what you’re doing you can much more easily learn variations on the game, learn similar games, teach others to play, and even make up your own rules.
After the initial struggle of grappling with something, learning should be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re either doing it wrong, or you’re working in the wrong subject.
In college I read Ludvig Wittgenstein‘s Philosophical Investigations after a few years of intense, deep study. It was like jumping into a lake in a hot, hot summer and splashing around– of all the things I’ve read, I have some of my happiest memories of the Investigations.
Wittgenstein basically talks about language games. The Investigations are written as a series of aphorisms and drawings, and many of them relate back and forth to each other. They’re fun.
And they’re more than fun: they’re meaningful. Maybe the most important thing I learned from the Investigations is that you can discuss a serious subject very deeply, and very thoroughly, in a playful way. You can draw pictures of duck-bunnies. You can make it so people read between the lines, because certain things are hard, or impossible, to explain directly.
Teaching: For Me, It’s Often About Asking Questions
For the most part I’ve found the best teachers have fun with their subject and have an open mind. They get excited to talk about their subject, like to describe the topic in a new way, and they’re even happy when they find they’re incorrect because they’ve learned something new.
I like teaching a lot. For a while I even thought it was what I’d do with my life. The style of teaching I personally prefer is extremely participatory. I like to know a lot about what I’m teaching, but I like even more to teach about something with people who challenge the subject, are interested in learning more themselves, are empowered to talk about it, and think about it differently than I do. I love discussions. Where I went to college, in most of the discussions the teachers didn’t necessarily talk very much— a lot about teaching is just asking the right questions, listening well, and having good timing.
Why I’ve Never Been Much for Presenting
I loved the dialogue style of learning I had in college so much that after I decided to go into technology, I never thought much about giving presentations unless I had an immediate need to train some co-workers. It’s not that I don’t like to talk, trust me, I talk plenty. It’s just that presentations are so one-way for most of the time that I didn’t really consider it my thing, or very interesting.
Over the past few years I’ve given some talks at work, mostly brownbags on getting started with SQL, how to start using query plans, how to do basic troubleshooting. How to get started with reporting services. In each case I just saw a need and set something up and didn’t think a lot about it. I had fun giving the talks, but they were more of a means to an end than anything else.
Maybe just all the lectures and competition in grad school burned me out on presenting for a while. I’m not really into arguing for my own theories, I’m really just interested in exploring fun things.
Oh Look, I Changed My Mind
I guess I started thinking differently about presenting around the time that calls for SQL PASS abstracts went out this year. I really like attending sessions at SQL PASS and I found that writing an abstract and thinking about a presentation challenged me in interesting ways. I had to think about what I had to say, and also about what I’d like to learn more about in a deep way. I liked writing the abstracts, but afterwards I did find that I wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of giving them at PASS. And honestly, that was kind of exciting in itself, because I was already thinking about ways I could come up with more interesting talk, and starting to think those through.
Somewhere around that time, Jeremiah Peschka gave a talk which we’ll just call “I CAN HAZ CAREER”. I don’t usually attend professional development talks, but I had some time and figured it’d be interesting. And it was— it not only made me think about long term ideas that I usually neglect, but I also thought the presentation was very interesting as it featured very little text.
I’m used to being heavily dosed with bullet points and demos during presentations, and yes, not really having to listen very hard. You know how it is, you read the slide and then you just let your mind wander ’cause you know what’s coming. But it turns out, it doesn’t have to be that way.
So lately, I’m starting to try to figure out how to give a talk that I really enjoy. And which hopefully is also interesting to listen to.
So We’ll See how This Goes
I’ll be doing a presentation on how to be a DBA working in a wacky, amazing Agile development environment on Thursday, August 12th at 6:30PM EST/ 3:30PM PST. You can view the presentation online- I’d particularly love questions, feedback and suggestions.