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Notes from TechKnowCon 2018

I attended TechKnowCon ( this week. I enjoyed the  conference a lot. It centered around the theme of continuous learning, and how to instill a learning culture in your work environment. There were 2 talks in particular that I got a lot from, “Teach Like an Engineer” and “Peer learning at scale”…

“Teach Like an Engineer”

The most interesting (and funniest) talk of the day was from Jen Gilbert, an Engineer and Technical Instructor from Lyft. Jen talk about a framework for building technical curriculum and measuring its effectiveness. Her main points for developing internal training were as follows:

  1. Start with learner stories (What should the learners be able to do when the training is complete)
  2. Aim for an MVP (e.g. design in text for as long as possible)
  3. Separate your concerns
  4. Write good tests
  5. Monitor your students (verify the skills of every student)
  6. Measure success (Learn from the students; assess your workshop; My favorite quote here was “Think of your students as integration tests for your training”!)
  7. Put the learner experience first

I liked Jen’s comments on the need to get feedback, and she suggested using tools like (see as a way to confirm students understand the material you just presented.

I also like her final point of Keep Innovating, suggesting for example that you should ask new joiners to give back by giving back to the on-boarding experience they just went through, as well as teaching and sharing.


“Peer learning at scale”

Katie Hawkes and Simeon Franklin shared lessons learned from building Twitter University.

Reduce friction

Their first point was about the importance of providing support for those people prepared to share and teach. For example, help them find rooms, setup AV, and in general reduce friction to internal sharing. Make it easy for people to step up (and then get out of their way!).


Always be recruiting

And who will be the people who step up? Their next point was, always be recruiting. Always be trying to find people who are willing to share, teach, and facilitate. All company learning programs rely to some extent on employees volunteering, and volunteer equates to turnover, so you always need new volunteers. Lower the barriers to entry for people to help so encourage and support. For example, allow people to start teaching to just 2 or 3 people, or shadow an experienced teacher first. And reward the volunteers (they gave the example of SWAG, but I would really have liked to hear other examples – I for one have enough free tee-shirts!).


Representation & Diversity

Encourage under represented groups to lead and teach.



Communicate about the learning opportunities every chance you get. For example: email, wiki, slack, word of mouth, news letters, physical notice-boards, posters, announce upcoming talks at the start/end of any talk etc.


General advice

  • Embrace being a facilitator rather than an expert
  • Cultivate owners (occasional speakers are good; passionate educators are great)
  • Incentivize a culture of learning
  • Exec support is crucial

My takeaways

The main takeaways I had from the conference, the things that I felt I would like to start or do more of at my company were as follows:

1. Start early

Encourage new joiners to:

  • Improve the on-boarding process with feedback and action
  • Give back as often as they can by sharing what they know and are learning

2. Encourage

  • Encourage volunteers to speak at or coordinate learning opportunities, including those from under represented groups (“Always be recruiting’).
  • Reduce the barriers to entry for those interested by handling admin such as booking rooms, sending announcements & invites, and helping with AV setup.
  • Encourage reuse and sharing of learning materials between presenters. Consider using outside material when relevant to reduce the setup/preparation burden.
  • Encourage attendance by offering food/drinks at events.

3. Reward

Reward those who volunteer knowledge sharing however you can e.g. Swag, and acknowledging in your appraisal process.

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