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10 lessons I learned after teaching a class for the first time.

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Last week was the last one of a 6-week long course called “Cloud Services and Security“; part of the “.NET Developer” program offered by Newton Kompetensutveckling Vocational High School in Malmö, Sweden. I was asked to teach this class as the colleague who was supposed to do it resigned a few weeks before the class would start. I need to admit that at first, I had my doubts. For some reason I have always felt that teaching applied science is something people should do as late as possible in their careers, after spending years in the industry and that it somehow means that they “can’t cut it” anymore. Boy, was I wrong!

The class consisted of ~40 students and it was the last one of their studies, meaning that they were supposed to be, more or less, ready for the market. At that point, they had just had their first internship and were supposed to have another one after the course. The technical background variated from low to very high and that’s fine; I suppose that it is what I expected it to be. Their enthusiasm though, did surprise me as they were more than curious, they were actually eager to learn and this is a great morale boost for me. During those 6 weeks, we went through:

  • Cloud 101 and Introduction to Microsoft Azure.
  • Azure Storage (Blob Containers, etc)
  • Azure Functions
  • Web Apps
  • DevOps and Infrastructure-as-Code 101
  • Event Grid
  • Service Bus
  • NoSQL and Cosmos DB 101

They learned everything on an introductory level and the goal of the course was for them to get familiar with and comprehend Microsoft Azure and how we work with it. Additionally, we spoke about best practices about how things are done “in the real world”. The criterium for completing the course was a group project which required the use of all services we went through over the course.

Overall, I feel that the course went well, I got some great feedback and I am confident that all of the students learned (at least) the very basics of Microsoft Azure. Naturally, since this was my first time teaching, I got some precious insights which I am happy to share:

  1. I should not have started by saying that this course is impossible to fail since we were going to do the group project, more or less, together in the class. Although this might for sure help some students drop any unnecessary stress, it made others feel confident that they don’t need to attend the class.
  2. Preparing and running such a technical course can be exhausting. It took me hours and hours to prepare all the material, test everything the night before and make sure I can answer all questions.
  3. This repetition has been fantastic for me as well. Learning by teaching is a great method to learn and although I use those services on a daily basis, I really needed to go through the basics again.
  4. Every student has their own reasons for being in the class. Some of them might have no interest at all and just want to finish school and go look for a job, while others might be extremely interested and authentically eager to learn. The teacher needs to provide learning to both types and everyone in between.
  5. A confident teacher has confident students. Azure is huge, it can be overwhelming but it is possible to get started and use it; maybe not to its whole extent from the beginning but you’ve got to start somewhere. So I realized that even when showing a bit more advanced stuff, if I was confident of succeeding, then that confidence would be transmitted to the students.
  6. You cannot plan everything. Azure is a software product and software breaks sometimes, you just have to live with it. In the beginning, I worried a lot about what I would say if something didn’t work temporarily but then I realized that if I just be honest and explain how waiting times, collisions and similar stuff occur then the students were 100% undestanding.
  7. It is important to leave no one behind. All students matter and all students have their own learning pace. I made it clear from the beginning that I will always be available to everybody for a catch-up, happy to cover again and again everything until it is understood by all students. In my experience, this helped a lot the overall sense of confidence in the class.
  8. A class of adults is different from a class of kids/teenagers. I only judge by my times at school as a kid/teen but I understood very early in my course that it wouldn’t work if I just stood there and spoke for 45 minutes. Adults have longer attention spans than kids but they also have the choice to leave the room if they feel that they’re not learning or if they get bored. Interactive sessions, code along and lots of discussions worked very well for me.
  9. I should have given them homework. I begged for feedback throughout the course but didn’t really get much, possibly because people want to be kind in general and not hurt anyone’s feelings but late in the course (probably the last day) I got a tip that some homework might have been helpful for people to work at their own pace at home. I thought that adults would see homework as childish, but I was very wrong on that.
  10. Teaching applied science in the industry has nothing to do with a career ending as I used to think. Apparently, the great Tim Correy agrees with me on that. The more senior you get, the more time you should allocate to skill sharing and various forms of educating others, peers as well as fresh colleagues. I had a fantastic time at Newton and I will definitely be looking into doing that again in the future.

If you read this far, then I thank you a lot for your time and attention. I am more than happy to hear your thoughts about teaching and knowledge sharing.

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