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Monday, June 8, 2015

Teaching isnt just for the classrom

Lately if I'm being honest I've been burning the candle at both ends. Well more like 5-6 ends. Whether its been preparing a talk that I had to give, working on projects or estimating others. More than a few things going on. But that being said I thought it a good idea to take a step back and look at some soft skills.

Specifically looking at grooming new developers. Now this is a topic I've had quite a bit of experience with. I grew up with a family of educators. Mom a high school math teacher, dad a college professor. My grandmother even taught first grade for 35 years. So it shouldn't be surprising that the idea of teaching is something that has always been in the background. A few years ago I started as an adjunct professor, and taught an intro to web development course. Additionally I've over the past few years been working in a mentor capacity for our interns and Jr developers and building a curriculum for both.

Not trying to toot my own horn, just trying to frame the conversation. I argue the act of teaching is something every developer should embrace in some capacity. And is absolutely essential to growth in your career. As we grow through our career our developers, its only a matter of time before we are a technical lead or in a situation where we are being given Jr developers to delegate work to. Now in those cases, our ability to teach those young devs is the cornerstone of our ability to succeed in what we do.

So the trick is how do we get to teach developers effectively:
1.). Get to know the student: Not to go all kung fu master but each person you work with is different. They all have different passions, and drives. Our education background and interests are different. Get to know your Jr devs. Where did they go to school? What type of work do they like to do? Web? Database? Mobile? What do they hope to do in this career? Are they married? All of these things provide key points to how people learn. Not only that, getting to know your devs builds trust. A trust that is essential to their confidence that you are there to help them and not just some tyrannical boss.

2.). Learn their strengths: Everyone in this field has something they are good at. They either like client side script or database, or C#. All that being said this is important to establish a foundation. When assigning work to a junior dev, its important to make sure at least some of it stays within their wheel house. This is important because it prevents frustration. It allows them to grow skills they already have and fall back on when the new challenges become frustrating.

3.). Push their weaknesses: Just as its important to give your Jr devs work they are comfortable with, it is also important to push them in new directions too. If you have a guy who's fantastic with JavaScript, assign him a SSRS report. People grow through adversity and being tested. So its important to make sure that your Jr devs are working on things that are new and different.

4.) Explain yourself: Remember when your parents used to tell you "because I said so.". And man did that become infuriating. Well its just a frustrating in the corporate world. If you don't take the time to make teaching a part of your job it will never pay the dividends you want.

Just some quick thoughts on teaching and importance to this job. This is something I intend to continue to talk about in the coming weeks, but consider this the opening salvo.