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"Technology evangelist" and not a technical Instructor
By Balasubramaniam N
Published on 10/01/2020
As a teacher, the only consolation and joy at the end of the day is to have inspired, modified and enhanced the levels of understanding of your students. Nothing more!! The last week of December was an extraordinary adventure for me.
In the class were fifteen senior participants, six in the class, and the other six attending online from different parts of the world. They work for one of the biggest payment solutions businesses in the Western hemisphere; and for more than two decades all their data is stored and managed on standard relational databases. We are talking in the magnitude of hundreds of terabytes every two days.
Each one of them in the class had a solid background in Databases, going back to the days when Fox-pro ruled the roost and even earlier than that. From those vintage times, they moved up the ladder to become Database Administrators (DBA’s) for large-scale data storage solutions for transactional processing.
The challenge before all of us now was to move from a traditional paradigm of storage to a newer model. Luckily, many such solutions are available in the market today, but the real difficulty is in triggering a mind-change or (as I normally would like to phrase it) a re-wiring of our thinking process to adapt to those changes.
That was my kind of uphill task with the 15 participants that week, and I had just four days to do it. If could walk out of class leaving my students with beaming, smiling faces and an aura of wisdom – I thought that I could consider my job as done.
However, it was not going to be easy. There were four issues to contend with. One, this was my first class on this technology, two, my participants were hardcore advocates of relational databases with an entrenched view that nothing can better the way things are done right now. Three, all participants had already studied the online versions all the stuff I was about to teach and four, probably the most critical factor before me was that the head of education of the product had flown down to be part of this class to audit how things were going. So, here I was, faced with this challenging task, and I realized that this could quickly turn out to be an embarrassment for me if it was not handled well.
With this background, I started the class. In the first 30 minutes, I made a good decision, one that was to stand the test of time- I decided to let go of all my slides and prefabricated demonstrations. While I was talking in the opening session, I quickly realized that - if I was ever going to transform their thinking, the only way to do it was to get into the trenches, show changes on their own environment, and convince them why they should change. Otherwise, this class was going to be a waste of time.
So, I rolled up my sleeves and did exactly that. For the next four days, not a single slide or a lab was used. Every morning, we assembled at 9 and took up a few use cases and worked through them in their own test environment. We projected our experiments on screen for whole group to see and brainstorm. Believe me, it was not easy. These were industry veterans I was working with. Each individual was very sure of his own point of view and therefore when newer methods were suggested, the inevitable happened- tempers flew high, arguments turned acerbic, sometimes reasoning failed, sometimes succeed, lots of jokes flew around taking the edge off the proceedings; but underlying all these discussions and digressions was the common goal all of us sought - which is to to see if the solution that was emerging out of our brainstorming sessions would prove to be effective.
The entire experience, even for me as the facilitator was as much engrossing and It was captivating. At some points during the class, I felt like a master conductor waving his baton to play a specific note. My goal was to steer the group to a conclusion which is favorable to the product. In in my own mind I had no doubts in about what we were proposing to this group, but that was not enough, it was my job to convince the assembled team that my technical convictions satisfied their usecase requirements. Otherwise, the battle would have been lost.
On the last day, at 5 pm, all of us were physically exhausted, but intellectually we were vibrating at a feverish pitch. During the class, we had managed to benchmark every important feature against traditional way of doing it. And the conclusion was unanimous. The new solution proposed was indeed the right way of moving forward.
As I headed back to my car, the Head of education caught up with me and said, “In my twenty years of work, I have never seen anything as extraordinary as this. You are a teacher in the true sense of the word. I now know whom I should call if I need to sell my product.”
I laughed and replied, “Yes Sir, I call my team ’technology evangelists’, not instructors. A technical Instructor is a limited term, and anyone can be groomed to become one. But to convince a set of reluctant participants to adopt technology-- that is the goal of the company I work for.”
And his response- “Great, we are happy to be associated with all of you.”
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