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 up...as 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"...to 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 busy...so 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 that...it 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 understatement...it 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 back...it 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 connections...next 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.