There is an old saw about teaching and teachers: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” This seems to be a widely believed thought in the engineering world (though perhaps less in the network engineering world than many other parts of engineering) — but is it true? In fact, to go farther, does this type of thinking actually discourage individual engineers teaching, or training, in a more formal way in the networking world? Let me give you my experience.
What I’ve discovered across the years is something slightly different: if you can’t explain it to someone else in a way they can understand it, then you don’t really know it. There are few ways to put this into practice in the real world better than intentionally taking on the task of teaching others what you know. In fact, I’ve probably learned much more in the process of preparing to teach than I ever have in “just doing.” There is something about spending the time in thinking through how to explain something in a number of different ways that encourages understanding. To put it in other terms, teaching makes you really think about how something works.
Don’t get me wrong here — engineers shouldn’t lose their focus on doing. But we need to learn to blend doing with understanding in a way that we’ve not done well with up until now. We’ve often been so focused on the what that we forget about the why.
Given that one excellent way to develop the thinking skills, to exercise our why skills as well as our what skills, is to tech, why aren’t you teaching?
Is it that you don’t think you have the skills to teach? Is it that you don’t think you have the opportunity? Is it that you don’t think you have the knowledge?
All of these are excuses, rather than real reasons. You can always take the time to put together a basic course in networking for the people in your company. In fact, maybe the reason they don’t really understand your job is because you never explain the technology you work on. You can always take the time to teach your peers, or even the junior engineers on your team, or another team. There are local high schools that could use your time in the classroom teaching networking technology. Where else are new network engineers coming from, after all?
I’m also not saying you shouldn’t rely on professional education — after all, I still want you to buy my books. 🙂 But there’s something about building and giving a class that teaches things you just can’t learn many other places.
So — let me ask again — why aren’t you teaching?