May 28, 2009

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Helping people learn about Web 2.0 through stories

I help people learn about social media and Web 2.0 through stories.

Bullet points and screencasts aren’t enough, but stories about how real people use these tools to reach out and connect can help inspire others to learn about and try those tools themselves.

But I don’t just tell stories. I make them, and that’s my favourite, favourite way to teach.

Take this week, for example. I was coaching a client on how she and others could make the most of LinkedIn. She called me up to ask me some questions. She started the conversation by asking, “How are you?”

“Fantastic!” I replied, as I almost always do.

“I know! You’re living an awesome life.”

That made me laugh. And then she told me that she’d been reading about my gardening, and that she’s looking forward to hearing more about it. Turns out that she’s also growing a garden, and has rather ambitiously planted fifteen tomato plants.

Fifteen! That’ll be quite a harvest. =)

We had a great laugh about that… and now she has a story about finding common ground that she might not have come across in ordinary conversation.

You can give a hundred presentations on social media and Web 2.0 without getting through, or you can make stories and cultivate the kind of environment and culture where other people will make stories. Focus on being part of other people’s stories, and make magic happen! =)

Coming soon:
Imagining stories
Helping people create even more stories for others

Drupal from the trenches: This is my game

I’ve been coaching a senior architect on a Drupal site he’s developing on a tight schedule. With a little bit of help, he was able to build all the functionality needed and keep up with constantly changing requirements. Now it was time to theme the site. As I was walking through how to modify the Zen theme to use the HTML, CSS, and images that he received from the designer, flipping between Vim editors in two Putty sessions connected to the web server, I saw his eyes start to glaze over. Hmm. He was definitely interested in learning how to do it, but I knew he’d enjoy learning it more if he had most of the framework already in place.

I offered to get things started. The senior architect asked me how much time I thought it would take. “Two hours,” I said, which was the first number that came to mind.

After lunch, I headed to the senior architect’s desk with my laptop and wireless mouse. I thought about asking him to change his password to something I could easily type, just in case I needed to start multiple sessions. Then I realized a much better way to do it would be to use my Emacs environment, which is already set up for doing really cool things with Drupal. So I switched my keyboard layout to QWERTY, used ssh-copy-id to copy my authentication ID to the server, and then opened the directory in Emacs using the location /ssh:user@host:/usr/share/drupal6.

Emacs worked like a charm. I edited files on the server as easily as those on my own computer, with all the syntax highlighting and keyboard shortcuts I’d gotten used to. I split windows, moved windows around, copied and pasted regions, and even did a little autocompleting.

I think I made the senior architect’s jaw drop.

I finished almost all the basic theming (minus a few quirky CSS things) in one hour and fifty minutes, ten minutes less than my thumb-in-the-air estimate. The senior architect said it would’ve probably taken him 16 hours over the weekend.

While we were chatting about the changes he’d need to make and the other things he could learn, the senior architect asked me if I played any games. I told him that I play one computer game–Nethack (an old text-based roleplaying game)–and I only play it in airports. I pointed to my laptop and said, “This is my game.” Programming has its own major challenges and minor opponents, it has progress, it has points, it has that adrenaline rush of trial and triumph. Programming is my game. Life is my game.

And it’s tons of fun. =)