Today it is a short one – after nearly a year’s break, I finally put up my page covering the research I conducted for my Honours thesis. If you go to the “Research” link at the top of any page here, you can read the short version, or grab the full two-hundred-and-something page long Thesis. Enjoy!
I recently graduated from QUT for the second time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been back to uni since I finished up my honours thesis. Having completed this first part of my career/learning journey (and being amidst the second phase with starting at a professional services firm as a graduate), I’ve had the opportunity to return to university. Not to be taught, but to teach.
Being provided the opportunity to teach was a big achievement for me. Being a student, I found my tutors inspiring. This is what I believe made me want to be able to teach. And I’m lucky to have the opportunity to teach.
But teaching is quite a different thing from being taught. It is a different experience. A different perspective. A new way of thinking.
Teaching makes you think twice.
More than once in my class have I had to pause to think carefully to answer a student’s question. This creates a bit of a tough situation. Having the responsibility of knowledge transfer means you need to know your stuff, and you need to know it well. Regardless of how trained you are, sometimes you are thrown a curveball. These times make you stand back and assess knowledge gaps and development opportunities. What feels like a tough situation turns into an opportunity to grow.
Teaching makes you think in more ways than one.
Oftentimes, the knowledge you take for granted as a professional is difficult to transfer. This isn’t because you don’t know your stuff. It is likely due to a gap in how you understand something and how your student is able to conceptualise the topic at hand. This scenario forces you to think in new ways to effectively explain content, in turn forcing you to reassess how the topic is structured. The imperative to explain the topic to your students turns into an opportunity to look at something in a new way, which leads to benefits in day-to-day professional practice.
Teaching makes you think more deeply.
In addition to what I mention in my first point, students often have surprising and unexpected questions. These questions challenge your current thinking. This need to assess what you know makes you reconsider what you know and how deeply you know it. These challenges and reassessments point out areas to explore topics further as both an educator and as a professional.
Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to be a student.
While you are a student, you know what it is like to be a student. Teaching makes you see what it is like to be a student. Standing at front-of-class gives you a perspective on how tough and exhausting it can be to study. It forces you to think “what is important as a student?”. Knowing the key points to get across is most of the battle of educating. Getting it right lightens the load for students, and reinforces one’s knowledge.
Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to teach.
This may sound like a recursive nonsense statement. But it is true. Teaching is the only way to really understand the rigour of tertiary pedagogy. Studying is one thing, teaching another. The two must go hand in hand to reinforce and develop the other.
What new perspectives have you gained when having to teach someone something new, in or out of the classroom?
As some of you may know/have worked out, I’m a bit of a (self-confessed) nerd. I’m a stickler for correctness, I need to always be learning something new and I’m very specific about how things need to be (anyone that’s been in a university lecture with me knows I need to sit in a specific spot and my friends need to sit in a specific order, too). Even as a very proud nerd, one thing I don’t normally do is try to show off too much; I don’t think that (showiness) is a great trait. But in the interest of being a true inhabitant of the Internet, I’m going to be on this occasion.
Going on from the above, I was obsessed with getting straight High Distinctions for my entire degree. This fell down in only the second semester of my degree with Interaction Design. That didn’t stop me from trying to aim high for the rest of the degree, regardless of what people told me was impossible and what was realistic in terms of grades. Close friends know of a specific incident regarding someone telling me it was impossible to receive straight sevens. Didn’t I prove them wrong.
I graduated with First Class Honours from my B.InfoTech(Hons) degree this past July, being the only person to from this degree in that round of ceremonies. My final GPA for honours was 7 (how impossible is it now?!). But, that’s not all I achieved,or all the university bestowed upon me.
I was honoured with the award of a QUT Medal, which is the university’s most prestigious award for graduating bachelor students. Out of the 1,400 students graduating in the July round, just 7 were awarded with a medal. This represents the top 0.005% of students.
To say I am proud is an incredible understatement. I was lucky to have incredible family, friends and educators to get me to this pinnacle. Although it sounds cliché, I could not have done it without them.
Has someone ever told you that something was impossible? How did you prove them wrong?
I was speaking with a colleague and good friend recently. We were considering a report on cloud computing published by a large consultancy firm, with support from a number of big technology firms (the names of which are of the household variety). As my friend and I were talking, we were considering irrational investment in cloud services (among other IT products and services) and why this sort of irrational spending occurred.
This took me back to university, where every IT unit pushed the concept of IT people speaking the language of business, rather than our “industry jargon”. This concept was hammered time and time again by countless lecturers and tutors. The discussion with my friend of course triggered us both to consider this little piece of industry “wisdom”. But that made me realise something. IT has learnt to speak the language of business, but business can’t (or refuses to) speak IT.
Over my brief experience as a consultant, I’ve seen many businesses heavily reliant on IT to “get things done”. The business expects IT to improve business outcomes and support complex business processes. This must be done on tiny and ever decreasing budgets, minimal staff and with limited input or support from the business. Business just expects IT to bend to the ever-changing whim of the organisation. Often, business will just make decisions for IT, without consultation or even the slightest understanding of the implications of their decisions. The assumption is IT will jump to meet these business decisions.
The cloud is a perfect example of this, with C-level business people making ill-advised purchase of cloud services, purely on a cost basis. It’s up to IT to make cloud magically work with current infrastructure and services, and make the cloud as secure as possible. The business just expects IT to get everything exactly perfect of a statement like “We are going to use cloud because it’s cheaper than that clunky server we run.” In all likelihood, “that clunky server” is probably running a high-security application the business needs to function and business units refuse to let go of. But, the business doesn’t want backchat from IT, and the expectation is IT will get things done because “they are a smart, nerdy bunch of people.”
IT knows this “strategic project” will go down the path of the business having unrealistic expectations and assumptions, leading to a less than optimal solution being implemented. Then business blames IT for getting it wrong, all because the business refused to listen to IT’s concerns from the beginning.
The ultimate lesson is that unless business quits refusing to listen and actively collaborate with IT, purely-business people will keep making poor decisions and investments on behalf of IT. My recommendation is the business actually start to understand why their IT is structured how it is, the constraints that IT faces within the business, and then actually talks and works collaboratively with IT. I know that leads to better business outcomes enabled and driven by IT.
Do you think business works well enough with IT? What gaps do you see between IT and business working properly together?
I’m making this post short (unlike the post’s title). After roughly twelve months, I have completed honours. After four coursework units, four research units and acceleration over summer, my 210-page thesis is done and the marks are in. Done.
My work was titled A framework for managing multiple vendors in an outsourcing arrangement, focused on IT multivendor/multisourcing practice. Rather than let twelve months and 210 pages or work sit idle, I wanted to share my work. I never wanted my work to be purely academic – it was designed with practice in mind. So here is a direct link to the work should you find yourself inclined to read an academic thesis (the chances are slim I know).
Thoughts on the work? I love comments.