I feel fortunate to do what I do — I built a career around forever learning and teaching the skills I learn along the way. One aspect of this currently takes shape through being a technical advisor in the Studio 20 NYU Graduate program.
This semester is my fourth semester helping out with the program. I help graduate students level up their existing skill sets by providing guided, tailored instruction around what they may not already know.
Leveling up talented individuals can be a difficulty in itself. I've been an educator at the undergraduate level before this, but there are unique challenges with graduate or professional students.
Graduate students are here on their time. We're all adults with our lives, careers, and families. Often this is something we're pursuing in addition to everything else. Busy work isn't going to fly here. Every skill I teach had to bring value yesterday.
That said: I care passionately about my role as a technical educator. I believe in bringing technical skillsets and education to those who may feel intimidated by tech skills or have never thought of themselves as logical-brained thinkers.
Teaching journalism students technical skills is essential for both their personal and professional development and the journalism industry because it creates the ability to understand processes, better troubleshoot existing workflows, and improve communication across different sectors of the newsroom or media-adjacent business.
Improve understanding of existing processes.
Today was the first day many students had opened up a code editor or even inspected a line of code. That's okay. The goal isn't to be an expert developer — I'm far from it! I'm constantly learning too.
Learning the basics of how websites are built, what an API is vs. a Webhook, and when to use each allows you to understand the scope of improving existing processes within your organization.
You'll be able to spot where your workflow is taking too much time, where processes can be improved, where they can't be improved, and even what is within the realm of possibility within your given tech stack.
Troubleshoot existing workflows
One of the highlights of class today was when a student stopped, caught themselves, and realized something they had done wrong without my help. After opening a file in Visual Studio Code (without prior coding experience), they realized they didn't have the duplicate files the rest of the class did when we walked through the different "parts" of a website.
They stopped, investigated the folders — and realized they didn't open ALL the folders in VS code. This step of stopping, slowing down, and troubleshooting the workflow is something I've noticed that comes more naturally after learning more technical skillsets.
Don't get me wrong, I love tools like Zapier and Make as much as the next person, but understanding how things work under the hood, as they say, allows me to use these tools more effectively and efficiently than I previously have before.
Enhance communication across the workplace.
Earlier on in my career, I drove some developers nuts. I never realized what a 10-minute fix was and what was a 10-hour fix and why it was the case. Fortunately, I had a developer sit me down and explain why and how to determine these things so I wouldn't ever overload his team again. (sorry 😅).
I'm not arguing that you should learn to be a super developer or be a tech whiz overnight, but knowing the basics can go a long way.
Even learning the terminology lets you know what to Google, so you can Google more effectively before jumping on a call with a developer or writing a product spec. These little steps can go a long way in building trust across your organization.
It doesn't need to be perfect — you need to get started.
The biggest thing I've noticed as an instructor teaching these skills is the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect on the first try. This is more noticeable among graduate or professional students than more novice or inexperienced students — they've developed taste and developed expert content of their own, the students know what "bad" is. Students don't want to ship something that's "bad."
This semester, I'm trying something new — we're shipping something each week to practice the habit of learning something new without the pressure of being perfect.
This skill is a skill I'm still learning myself. It's hard to be bad at something new. It's not fun to be bad at something new. However, growth doesn't happen in comfort zones. 😉
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