Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What are you learning?

The prof from my "Romancing the Booze" (yes, that really was a class that, as an English major and a 21 year old punk filled with angst, I was qualified to enroll in) asked a provocative question twice a semester. He'd devote the entire class to asking and answering a simple question: what are you learning?

Normally, the class fell silent for a moment after hearing the question. The prof was a clever man, so we all waited for the catch, or waited for a classmate to fall for the trap so we could pretend like we all saw it coming. Finally, a student offered, "I'm learning that alcoholism is a common theme in modern literature." A safe, resigned answer. Honestly, if you weren't learning that, you were missing the entire point of the class. A few other students offered similar responses, but the prof looked disappointed with each comment.

He asked us what assumptions we had made with the question. Yes, we were all learning something. But why did we limit our answers to the context of the class? We answered the question we inferred, not the question we were asked.

I think about my experience in that class (and its follow-up called "Gambling and the Gambler") as I spend time on a new project lately. I spend a lot of time trying to catalog what I'm learning. Not just technical knowledge, but learning in general. So here's a list of what I'm learning these days:

I made a mistake when I started the #eager0
I started blogging in January 2013 for two reasons: I had some downtime at work, and I wanted to pursue the VMware vExpert 2013 title (I wrote a post about that experience). There was my mistake: I was doing this primarily for the recognition. Sometimes, even exclusively. And I gave it such a narrow focus: Data Center Virtualization with VMware. In my defense, that was my role at the time. And that's what I cared most about.

Of course, I submitted an application for vExpert 2014, like any self-respecting VMware blogger would. But this time around, I'm markedly less excited about it. Virtualization with vSphere is not my primary role any longer. In 2013 I was disappointed to be rejected from the program. In 2014, I had almost forgotten about it.

Bad things happen to good people
Without going into detail, let me just say that the last two months have been catastrophically difficult for my family. It's the kind of bad that you don't realize is even possible until you're right in the middle of it. We're consumed with worry and anger, and speak in rueful sentence fragments. We will live through this. We have to. That's our mantra. Sometimes, we even believe it.

I like writing more than I like writing about VMware
I studied English in college because I loved literature. And although I've been into technology ever since my dad brought home a Tandy from the local Radio Shack, I've always dreamed of writing for a living. But I had such naive notions of what that meant when I was about to graduate. I expected to find a posting in the Jobs section that read, "Novelist wanted, no experience required." Instead I took a job as a technical writer, and one day when the network administrator ragequit to spend more time surfing, I moved into his office and became an IT guy. It's one of my favorite stories to tell. But maybe it's the worst story I have. It's a story of leaving a job that was at least tangentially related to my dream, for a job that was more aligned with my abilities. Some would say this is a first world problem; they'd be correct... to a degree. But drop the categorical imperative for a moment. On a personal level, it may have been a first order mistake.

What's Next?
I'm not going to focus on VMware any longer. I'll write about VMware as I see fit, but I'm not going to ignore the vast majority of my experience and knowledge just to keep filing posts that are in a vain attempt to achieve vendor recognition.

I'll spend more time with my other blogs, including BIMBY | Bugs In My Back Yard. It's a creative outlet that I'm not fully taking advantage of, and I will change that.

And I'll keep reminding myself to stop telling people what you're going to do, and only tell people what you've done.