I love training people how to program. Not only do I get to talk about things I love, but I get great satisfaction in passing along knowledge and love of the craft to others. I’ve taught quite a wide range of people from many different backgrounds and I’ve had a chance to form a few thoughts about ways you can maximize your training time. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it might help you make some decisions to get the most from your classes.
1. Context is everything.
Programming requires a working knowledge of DMX, color mixing- both additive and subtractive, differences between an ellipsoidal and a soft light, major attributes to control a moving light, an awareness of the difference between recording cues in tracking versus cue only, awareness of priority within consoles, and many other things. It’s not that we won’t teach you what these major concepts are, but that we can teach you so much more if we don’t need to introduce a major concept of lighting in order to teach you a function of the console and how to use it. Time studying these concepts in action (meaning- doing shows), reading or watching videos is time well spent to maximize your time in the classroom.
2. Don’t Schedule Any Work
I know this is tied to a bunch of privilege, but if you possibly can, do not schedule work for yourself during training days. You will likely find yourself exhausted before the end of each training day. (Remember yawning all throughout high school?) Don’t push yourself further after your class (or before) if you don’t have to.
3. Training is Not Something you Binge
Training is not a Netflix series you can absorb in one extended period and expect to get much out of it. You will not go from zero experience to experienced programmer by taking five days of training in a row. I highly recommend reading through the teaching materials available on the website of your console (or at least the syllabus if the full training workbooks aren’t available) to get an idea of how the classes are laid out. Then, I would suggest taking one day more than what you feel you already know. Meaning- if day one sounds like familiar concepts, I’d take day one and day two, but not day three. In my experience, the first day will surprise you as you go through things you are sure you already know and you are presented with amazing, new-to-you techniques and concepts where you thought there were none. On day two, you are going to be working pretty hard as more in-depth concepts come at you quickly. If you stop there and go back to your theater/event space and practice, practice, practice all the things you learned, you will have a great experience both in the classroom and in your work space.
4. Know How You Learn
I’m a note taker and thankfully, I’ve gotten good at it over time. If you are also a note taker, I suggest writing the notes directly onto the teaching materials you are presented with. That will give you context triggers (pictures in the materials, plus memories of the moment you took the note) plus the procedure you were doing at the time you took the note. But if you know that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry about it. Record information however is best for you. If you are an auditory learner, get permission from your instructor and record a day long memo. Do whatever works for you, but do not trust you will remember. So much is included in each day of training that it’s unreasonable to expect you will have perfect recall of everything.
5. Be Interactive
This is your education, so grab it. Ask questions. Ask all the questions. If you are not a very chatty person, give as many non-verbal responses when you comprehend something as you are comfortable with. Why? Because good trainers read the room. If you’ve been nodding for five minutes of concepts and then you suddenly freeze when I introduce a new concept- I know you need more information/context/examples. One of the hardest things as a trainer is when the room is unresponsive. Not because my ego is that desperate for your affirmation (though it’s certainly nice), but so we know when to help you. Make your needs known in any way possible. I personally would rather make it through half the teaching materials and know that everyone in the room comprehends them fully than race towards some “finish line” and leave people behind.
5. Schedule Regular Time to Practice
You are what you practice. Education research shows that practicing daily for 15 minutes a day is far more beneficial than practicing once a week for 2 hours. Don’t just commit your time to attend the training. Commit your time to practice what you learned. It is the single greatest thing you can do to advance your career and skill set as a programmer. If you are a person who can’t seem to think of anything to program without someone telling you what they want, consider working with a friend who can ask you for outlandish (or simple) lighting looks. Put up a request invite on your preferred social media platform and have your friends request things. Or you could shadow a programmer in your community and make a list of things that were requested and go home to recreate those same things. Work your way through as many concepts as you can imagine, and sometimes just sit behind the console and ask “what happens when I…?” If you find you’ve “done everything” then the next question will always be “how can I do it faster/better?” Programming is more like working towards a fitness goal or learning to play an instrument than it is anything else. Practice regularly.
Hopefully this will help some of you get more from your training experience. I adore learning, so I’m a frequent student myself, and I hope that informed this article. What tips and tricks hep you learn things? Hit me in the comments.