13 June 2008

Otherwise Occupied

Spending my time preparing for a course -- "Introduction to Java Programming" -- for a Major Corp in CT next week. It's a course I must have presented dozens of time. Perhaps hundreds. But its been about 5 or 6 years. Actually, I did teach it once a year or two ago... I'm sure the company I did the work for were satisfied. I'm pretty sure my students were mostly happy. I wasn't. The break from teaching had left me rusty. God knows how many tiny but important details I left out by mistake. Did I talk about volatile variables?

In a 5-day "intro" course, there's not much time to fuck about. There's a certain set of Java's features that you simply have to talk about, at least in a simplified and superficial way, simply because your students are guaranteed to trip across them almost immediately they walk out of the classroom.

On the other hand -- let's be honest -- there's a limit to what the human brain can absorb in 5 days!

This time around its a little different. I'm teaching for a single company. The Program Manager's focus seems to be quite squarely on getting her people up-to-speed, and not on any other corporate ass-covering or thinly-veiled-reward-holiday-for-week sort of bullshit. Believe me, I've seen that crap all too often!

I was able to stretch the course schedule to 6 days instead of 5 -- a huge relief and I can take things at a slightly less frantic pace. I frankly don't quite know how I would fit the basics into a 5-day course anymore, given that one has to cover (at least at a shallow level) enums, annotations and generics. I guess that maybe the modules on threading and concurrency would have to fall away, but how the hell do you justify doing that when you absolutely know that your students are -- willingly or un- -- going to confronted with those as soon as you can say "Boo"?

Well, I've been working hard at getting my teach up to scratch, updating the (Day 2) OO module to include enums, and the (Day 4) module on the Collections API to teach generics, etc., etc. Of course my (development) contract customer is a little miffed that I'm not putting in 18 hour days for them... Tough Tittie -- their time is worth about 1/4 what I'll earn from teaching, and they've hardly made any effort to improve the disgusting working conditions!

I think it will be a killer course. I'm certainly aiming to make it so!

Along the way, Jason and I have been having some very entertaining discussion about the deeper, occult details of Java concurrency and system design. Something clicked last night; we both reached the conclusion that it would be fun (and probably educational for all concerned) to get more people in on that conversation, so we've revived my idea-of-many-years-standing -- a workshop/seminar format gathering, aimed at top-level, ten-years-plus-experience OO designers, architects and senior developers: A general framework to guide and channel discussion, aiming for an honest sharing experiences and learning. No fluff!

I facilitated (I would hardly dare claim "taught") one such many years ago, and, in my own humble opinion, it was the best course I ever led! I think that quite a few of the participants would agree with me. Certainly a majority of them kept in touch with me for an otherwise inexcusable number of years afterwards! After all this time, there still exists a huge gap in the professional-education space... beyond a certain level, expert practitioners (and I think it is true of any field, not just software design) have nobody to talk to -- nobody around them who is at a level where they can meaningfully push back on ideas -- nobody to brainstorm with. Or at least, far too few. The Advanced Practitioner Workshops would aim to try and (partially) fill that vacuum.

So maybe its back to teaching again for a while! It could be fun to focus on actually delivering actual deep learning for a change instead of just aiming to be Brilliant Clown For A Week!

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