Learning to Learn by Teaching: Kat Cosgrove on Developer Education
by Lindsay Neeson
We recently sat down with Kat Cosgrove to discuss learning and teaching all things DevOps as part of our 99 Percent Visible series. Kat is a Developer Advocate at JFrog who specializes in creating approachable, 101-level content for junior developers or anyone else who considers themselves new to DevOps.
If you’re a senior developer, a manager, a team leader, or anyone who works in DevOps, this talk can help you better understand how to grow and mentor your team. And in the process, become a better leader.
As Kat framed it, “A senior’s job is to help teach the juniors but ultimately, the junior’s job is to ask questions.” When learning something new, asking questions, being curious, having opinions and ideas is the best place to start.
Let’s look at some of Kat’s discussion on Learning to Learn by Teaching.
What do you do if you don't know the skill set or the knowledge of your audience? How do you find balance in your content?
“If you don't know the knowledge or the skill set of your audience, make the assumption that they know the least in in my experience, experts are rarely bothered that you took the extra three seconds to define a word you're using.
An example: When I'm speaking at a DevOps conference about DevOps. I start by defining DevOps as I'm going to use it in the talk because people are still arguing about what DevOps means.
Nobody's gonna feel like you're insulting their intelligence by taking the time to define a term. But, people who don't know really appreciate it, because if you don't explain that they can't understand you. And if you want to be understood, then you assume that there is somebody in the audience who doesn't know what this word is, and you need to define it for them.”
“It gets easier to identify what you're feeling is imposter syndrome. At least for me, the feeling has not even really stopped. The way I handle it is I have a couple of friends who work in a similar field to me who have considerably more experience than me that I trust.
When I can't tell if what I'm feeling is Imposter Syndrome or not, I will go to them and say, ‘Hey, this is what I'm thinking. This is my opinion.’ I trust these people enough that if they say, ‘No, you're absolutely right. This is an imposter syndrome.’ I believe it. If they say, ‘You're off base here.’, I trust them to handle that in a way that doesn't make me feel bad about myself. You need an Imposter Syndrome Buddy.”
“It depends on the scale of the problem they're struggling with. I taught Python to high school girls for a local nonprofit. So in that case, I say you can stay stuck for 15 minutes. But after that, I expect you to ask me a question asked me for help. I set a time limit on allowing people to struggle then ask what they've tried and what they have searched for. Then, we solve it together.”
When learning something new or teaching something new, follow these main takeaways:
- Assume everyone is just starting out. (I know what they say about making assumptions… In this case, it’s a good thing.)
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Questions are the answer.
- Give yourself the freedom to struggle and investigate the problem yourself.
- Don’t be so damn hard on yourself. You got this.
Note: These excerpts have been edited for clarity and concision.