Thursday, October 30, 2014

DevLearn 2014 - The Recap and Lessons From an Amazing Experience

Another Year, Another Step Up

Once again, it's come and once again, it's gone.  Every year it feels like DevLearn goes that much more quickly...or is it that I'm having a better time?  Either way, this year was, as it so often is, nothing short of exceptional...near perfect, really.  The hard working folks at eLearning Guild put forth another event that leaves little (if anything) to want for, and their efforts, year after year, are amazing - HUGE thanks are in order.

Then there was the crowd...again, maybe it's because the event went off without a hitch and was chock more full than years past.  But, then again, I think there's more to it - The crowd was constantly on...I felt like there were more questions, more interaction, and just more overall "Us" vibe to it all.  I'd venture to say that going into its 10th year, people aren't just going to DevLearn to learn about elearning this or that...they're going for the experience.  All of it.

I really can't say enough good about the event...or about those who attended the event.  It was awesome and, if you're reading this and you were there, YOU were awesome.  YOU helped make it awesome.  And while the event taught me plenty from a subject/content perspective, the community of minds, hearts, and souls in attendance taught me just as much...if not more.  Sitting in the DemoFest hall after it had cleared folks were packing up the very tables I was sitting at, I sat and thought about what I had gained.  Enjoying but being slightly unsettled by the sudden silence that so often comes when it's "time to go", I came up with five lessons I've taken away from this amazing event.  Here they are:

1.) I was busier than ever before...more involved with the conference.  And I can't wait to be even busier...
Given that my session I presented was on membership in professional organizations having far more benefits than what it appears to up front, this should really come as no surprise.  I started as an attendee, what seems like a long time ago, and now I'm presenting and hosting a stage all at the same conference.  And I was busy...make NO mistake...I was BUSY.  But it was a good busy.  It was  a GREAT busy, really.  As Sean Putman and I were discussing, there's just something to being "on" being in front of people, active, and engaged.  And between presenting and hosting, being "on" like that made what could have been a long day seem like it flew by.

To make matters more...interesting, let's say...I realized that it made me feel professionally "good" to be this much more, that I want to do more.  Whether it's the Docent Program, Breakfast Bytes, Panels...whatever.  I'm in.  I'm in for it all.  10 years into my 'career', I'm realizing that while I'm good at PMing CBT, I don't love it like I love presenting...teaching...guiding.  I'm in.  All of it.

2.) I asked more people questions about what they do/how they do it, as opposed to telling them what I do.

Maybe it's that I'm a full year more seasoned as a conference goer, maybe it's because I was hosting a stage and was about the audience...I can't say for sure.  But this year, I found myself talking far less about myself and my body of work and far more asking others about what it is they do, how they do it, and in some cases what their 5 year plans were.  I don't want people to think that I'm some selfish maniac or anything like that...most of the time, not true at all.  But, in the past, I know I've gotten carried away talking about my gig, what I do, and so on.  That just really, REALLY didn't happen this year.

I listened to myself asking people things about their gigs, not just out of interest, but out of a want to learn what these other people do and, in some cases, see if they had questions.  Were they travelling down a road I'd been down before?  Tackling some issues I'd dealt with?  It was THEN, after learning about what they do, that I'd offer up the "been there/done that" advisement.  But even that wasn't about what I could necessarily do for an ego stroke or something like was to help someone with a problem based on something I'd done, to talk about the issue and learn things about their gig I didn't know previously, and, really, through conversation to (a) let them know it'd all be fine, (b) let them know they're not alone, and (c) ask them questions about details of their situations I didn't understand...and I asked a lot of questions...which made them feel like they were helping me, too.

And through all of this, the experience outlined above taught me something even further about what being at DevLearn helped me to do.

3.) I became more comfortable with being insecure in my knowledge, and was reassured that even legends (in my eyes) still feel this way.

One of the central tenets in my presentation I had was about being okay with not knowing something and needing to reach out to others for help.  This is something I've struggled with all my career...even longer.  The whole needing to know everything to feel good...pretty sad, really.  But, as people do, they grow, they evolve, and they improve...and once again, it was DevLearn that gave this a huge push forward.

So, sure - I can reach out and ask now when I don't know something or need help with something, but there are still times that I feel like someone's going to call me out for not being everything (at least in eLearning) that some people take me for...all for not knowing something I should, or needing a hand.  That they'll peg me as a fraud.  IMAGINE MY RELIEF when, as I was hosting the Emerging Tech stage, I overhear Cammy Bean quip, on the panel next to us, "Even though I just wrote a book, I'm still waiting for someone to call me out for being a fraud".  Cammy Bean knows her stuff, inside and out...and SHE feels this way?  Honestly, I had to collect myself for a moment it was that powerful to hear.  And, at DemoFest, I was catching up with Clark Quinn and told him about the quote.  He laughed, shook his head, and said "Yeah, me too...I think we all feel that way."  To say hearing that was therapeutic is a gross was life changing.

(...and did I mention Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson threatened to slap me for feeling that way, too?  It happened.)

4.) I realized that being uncomfortable is one of the best ways to start learning about something or change your perspective on something you already know.
Hosting a stage called Emerging Tech probably sounds like a dream come true if you like new technology...and I do.  The problem was that when I started reviewing the sessions, I quickly realized that, for a lot of the items, I wasn't really familiar with them (and in some cases, not at all).  But sometimes, being put in that situation is like learning a foreign language by immersion.  The more sessions I saw, the more I liked this feeling of not knowing...but being in the right place to at least start down the path of knowing. 

The same held true with discussions over drinks.  Take Tuesday, for example - I finally get in, get settled, and find out where a crew of my colleagues/friends is at.  So I go, and I'm quickly seated between two ends of a spirited chat (between Sean Putman and Neil Lasher) on API.  Let me be clear: I have NO clue what API is.  But learning about it?  Soaking in this high end discussion?  Exhilarating...almost exciting...I don't know that I know a lot more than I did, but I know some.  And that's more than I had before.

In the middle of this conversation, Neil turns to me (the way that only he can, I quickly learned) and asked, "So, just what is it you do?" when the topic shifted to rapid development.  I rattled off what it is we do and how we do it (rapid Captivate based development).  And he asked me "Why?"...feeling like he was peering into my soul, I rambled off something about needing to. 

"Bullshit.  Tell them (management) no.  Make it better."

I had nothing.  And if you know me, you know that's rare.  But silence was all I could offer besides a nod.  He quickly transitioned back to API, and I sat there reeling.  I had received critique on my work before, and I always quickly deflected it.  Why?  Because I thought I knew it all.  But when Neil Lasher tells you something, you listen.  And I did...and it stuck.  Maybe not this week, this month or even this year...but I'll be taking that input back to the drawing board, ego aside and improvement in my sights.

5.) I felt sadder than ever before when I realized that our time together was over...that DevLearn and the people in it continue to mean more and more to me with each passing year.
I'm not sure, really, how much further I even need to expound upon this one, so I'll keep it brief.  As I sat in the silence of the DemoFest hall with no one there but staffers packing up the tables and chairs, I definitely felt a sense of loss.  That it was over, it was time to go was time to leave these people who I have so much in common with and can learn so much from...and it hurt a little.  And that little pang...if ever a testament there was to the connections you have the opportunity to make at conferences like DevLearn, that was it.  As bittersweet a realization as they come...

Until Next Year...But Not Really

All the lessons, all the goodness, all the year, I'll be there and it will all happen again.  I hope to see you all there and, as honestly and sincerely as I can express it:  Thank you all so much for making this conference so meaningful to me.  We'll catch each other on Facebook...on Twitter (#LrnChat)...via text in some cases, so it's not really 'until next year'.  But, despite these connections, I'll miss you all and will look forward to seeing you all again next year.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keynote Day One - Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson


"How do you get kids interested in science?  Kids are already interested in science...they're already probing the very world around them.  These activities could lead to their death...and we want to prevent that...but there's a whole suite of things that they could do that are the very expression of scientific inquiry.  Children are born scientists, and then we beat it out of them.  We teach them to walk and talk, then we teach them to sit down and shut up."

This is a guy that gets it.  I know that's understatement of the century, but to hear such an elevated mind break it down to such beautiful simplicity is nothing short of amazing.

Kids and Casual Science

Dr Tyson relates a story of his toddler daughter spilling her milk sippy cup...and how she spilled it on accident.  She watched it drip, and Neil picked it up.  She spilled it again...possibly on accident.  Same pick up.  But THEN, she picked up the cup and spilled it on purpose...not for any negativity, but to watch fluid dynamics at work...before they realize that that even is.

Same thing with jumping in puddles...we, as parents, stop them from doing what they're compelled to do - Jumping in it.  Fluid dynamics and crater physics.  An egg on the counter and they reach for it?  Let it happen...they grab the egg, it breaks?  They learn what brittle is.  And brittle is scientifically complex - Egg shells are both hard and fragile...very rare.  Then, the yolk?  It's yellow, gooey, transparent...and you tell the kid it becomes a chicken one day?  Total freak out!!!

What'd the egg cost you?  25 cents?  A lesson in embryonic science and physics is worth far more...

Cherish that science.  What an adult scientist is is a kid scientist who never grew up.  And that's awesome.

The System

Dr Tyson shares one of his progress reports from school that cites that he should "cultivate a more serious attitude toward his school work".  Success was supposedly based on the grades you made, doing well on tests...but not on the love of the subject itself.  The System that we bring our children up on is very (negatively) formulaic.  He shows a career selection sheet from his school days that goes so far as to segregate career options by gender.  Dr Tyson cites that he's over 40, and that his generation is running "things" in this country now...which is why it's so messed up!

Suppose you were a brilliant woman in the of your in some subject that you majored in, you would have been a school teacher.  And if you ask people where schools started losing their touch, they would cite the 70' coincidence, that's when the Women's Lib movement happened.  Surprise - That's when women had so many other career options in front of them...and the school system's talent pools became vacuous.

Today's Job Market

When we don't see a gender or type of person from the millions around us, that's when we need to start asking questions as to "why".  Generally, we think of people who are smart as people who "know stuff".  But ask - what's more valuable in the workplace?  knowing stuff or knowing how to think about stuff?  At the end of the day, you want to know "Who are the problem solvers?".  One teaches you what to know, one teaches you how to think.

"What is the value of someone who knows how to think?"

Dr Tyson uses the example of math knowledge...trig identities.  Out of the entire audience, 6 still use them (volunteer from the audience being a car racing instructor).  But when we say "well, I'll never use this again", that's the wrong way to think about it.  When you learned that, your brain was rewired to think a different way...that's the important thing.

Job Description Workers vs Problem Solving Workers

How do you react to a task never before handed to you?  The Problem Solvers embrace's exciting.  They don't view any knowledge as useless...they use everything at their disposal to come up with solutions...running head first into problems.  Job Description workers will identify difficulty as something to something that's "not their job".  How do you promote a job Description worker other than by seniority/chronology?  You don't.  The Problem Solver has endless reasons...

Another classification, the Multiple Choice Worker, will ask what their choices are.  For example, you tell someone you want to take them to lunch, and their answer is "What are my choices?".  This is a product of school systems that pre-formulate answers...that don't allow answers to come out of the blue.  Maybe a student's answer is BETTER than one that was simply listed.  Your brain is being wired to pick from choices, rather than allowing  students to come up with their own.

You want someone who can figure out HOW to figure out the answer...not just memorize it or pick from a list.  Brain Wiring leads to Problem Solving...Problem Solving leads to success.

(Neil DeGrasse Tyson just told me he was going to slap me for saying "I should know this" about a topic that I did well at in school.  This makes me INSANELY proud.)

The Relativity of Wrong

Kids are spelling "cat".  First one spells it "C-A-T"...well done!  Second spells "K-A-T"!  Third spells it "X-Q-W"...wrong, as well.  But ask yourself, is K-A-T as bad as X-Q-W?  You could argue that phonetically, K-A-T is the way it's presented in the very body of truth we reference all the time...the DICTIONARY.  The point - Identify the varying levels of wrong and the varying levels of potential rightness.


I have to run and host the Emerging Tech stage, so I have to cut this short.  But, I'm sure, as you can see this was nothing short of brilliant.  BRILLIANT.  I could listen to the good Dr for hours on end, but will reflect on this keynote for a very long time as the best I've ever heard. 

DevLearn 2014 Opening - Dave Kelly

Dev Learn is 10 years old...and that's HUGE.

Dave kicks things off with an incredible intro to Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson, complete with incredible stories on how his son was out of his mind that his daddy was going to meet one of the greatest science minds of our time.  From working from home, to interviewing the good doctor, Dave's introduction was nothing short of entertaining and heartwarming.  His greatest advice: Don't get in an argument with a 5 year old.

More to come...stay tuned!