Archive for September, 2007

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Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

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Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

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Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

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The Age of Expertise

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

After reading Andy Oram’s post on O’Reilly Radar What comes after the information age, I was struck by the fact that because I’m a tutor, I might be in the right industry!

Andy makes a case that because we have ubiquitous free documentation, in the form of text-files, wikis, videos, how-to websites, screencasts and readily available specialist books (from O’Reilly no doubt), information is no longer the problem any more. Expertise is the new scarcity. Mentors and tutors and guides and people who know how to do things is the problem now.

I have a lot of industry contact in my tertiary level tutor role at Natcoll, and I keep an eye out on the jobs available in the web development industry in Wellington that my students can go into. That’s all well and good, but we’ve had organisations like mine are having a hard time finding highly skilled staff to relieve classes and even take on full time roles, and I understand it is the same at our different campuses around New Zealand — there are just not enough people who want to get into upskilling people up. There’s no shortage of people wanting to learn the ins and outs of design and development though, with no sign of slowing.

Teach NZ is always advertising on TV and on the Wellington buses for graduates who might want to take up Secondary School teaching (high school age for you non-kiwis). Now teaching in a secondary school is not for the faint-hearted, guaranteed. But what about universities? You’d probably need to have a Masters before you could get a good job teaching at a university.

There are other ways we learn other than attending institutes too: one-on-one mentoring, attending short courses, night classes, special interest groups (SIGs) including software user groups. And then there’s the communities on line too!

So why is teaching not a popular choice?

Why aren’t many people taking up the challenge of teaching? Do the people who think they want to be a teacher end up going to teacher’s college and having the life force sucked out of them? One friend of mine has a science degree and went to a teacher’s training college here in Wellington to become a teacher, went into a high school to teach physics and science and then after doing that for a year or so, switched careers! The challenges of high school teaching aside, he said he didn’t like it. Why? I don’t know, but I’ve got some ideas.

Teaching is a selfless job. You’re there as a servant. You serve the students concepts and information, challenging their pre-conceptions and assumptions, with the goal of them ‘getting it’; seeing the cogs in their heads suddenly mesh, and switch into gear and take off!

At least, that’s why I do it. And I’m not even formally trained as a teacher. All I have is a few years industry experience and a passion for being the best I can be at what I do. And I teach so that I can change the world I live in.

The internet is sometimes called the largest and most successful collaboration between individuals and organisations in the history of the human race. The internet was created so people could communicate over long distances. So they could share ideas and discuss the implications of what they were working on or what they themselves had discovered.

Specifically, I teach web development so that it can make the internet a better place. If that previous paragraph doesn’t sound like something to spend time understanding and improving, then let me know why you think so.

I could get a career as a web developer out in the industry tomorrow; there are plenty of jobs for the people who can do things out there.

But there aren’t enough people shaping those ‘do’ers.

There aren’t enough ‘teach’ers.

There aren’t enough specialised teachers. Well at least in the web industry there’s not. Not enough people teaching the hard stuff that requires masses of prerequisite knowledge. Even though the Web is just under 15 years old, the amount you need to know to make a successful website, or even a successful online community is tantamount to experience.

If you want to create a website these days, you have to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, a server side language such as PHP, Ruby, Perl or *shudder* ASP or similar. You need to understand the design and implementation of databases and how to use SQL. You need to have an eye for design, usability. You need to have a mind for communication and writing. You need to understand the human-computer interface and it’s strengths and weaknesses and how to wield these things.

Being a web guy is hard work. Still, web developers, even ones who are good at what they do, don’t get the industry recognition they deserve: a web developer or web designer (but not a ‘web decorator‘) will get paid less than a traditional ‘software developer’ who is making applications for Windows or services for the back office. But a web developer or web designer might have to a lot more than a traditional ‘programmer’.

And that prerequisite knowledge stack is only getting larger by the day! The most published thing online (other than cat pictures and pornography) is in my opinion information about the internet itself. There are tons of sites out there detailing the technologies I allude to above.

There’s lots of information online about what we web developers do. Freely available, just waiting for you to read it, if you so desired. But I believe there’s not enough people who are making it their life’s mission to mentoring and teaching and guiding individuals through this jungle of things out there waiting to be discovered.

You can go to Te Papa by yourself and see the Britten motorcycle. But that doesn’t mean you can go to Te Papa by yourself and learn about the fascinating story behind it.

But if you have a guide, they might be able to point you in the right direction.

My del.icio.us bookmarks this week

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

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