Saturday, November 17, 2012

On being a TWU trainer: a retrospective

Well, it's over. TWU 29 has officially ended. The students "graduated" yesterday and are either already en route to their respective homes or are about to be very soon. I've spent the majority of today bidding farewell to the remaining grads and feel mentally and physically drained by the goodbyes, the hugs, the promises to visit, and yes - the tears.

I've also been mentally compiling some thoughts around the experience I've had here as a trainer. Although I'll share most of these with my fellow trainers next week during our wrap-up and retro meetings, I wanted to capture them here as well for anybody down the line who is curious about what it's like.

I am relatively sure that at the age of 23, I am the youngest trainer who has taught at TWU. Not the one with the smallest gap between attending TWU as a student and coming back as a trainer - one of my fellow 17ers taught 27 - but just youngest in age. This was interesting for several reasons. For one, I sometimes felt like I was one of the students. I certainly resembled one physically. And sometimes mentally I felt like one too - like if I zoned out and came back to, sometimes my knee-jerk reaction would be to think "Woah, I'm back in TWU! This is awesome...wait, crap. I'm a trainer. I'm probably supposed to be doing something productive right now." For another, I was considerably younger than my coachees. One was 26 and another was 30. It was bizarre to be imparting advice onto people who had many more years of overall work experience than I had. Although they never asked me outright, I know they were curious by the questions they asked me about when I graduated, when I joined ThoughtWorks and for how long I've been here. I'm sure they put two and two together and quickly realized that I was younger.

I knew going in to the position that being a TWU trainer required a lot of hard work. What I didn't expect was how independently and isolated we were and how much freedom we had with respect to how we wanted to run sessions or projects. We essentially had six weeks, some floor space in the Bangalore office, and very little supervision to do whatever we wanted with the grads. The freedom was both wonderful and unnerving at times. It also meant that we had to do a ton of setup, orchestrating, and behind-the-scenes work to make things function as intended. With the help from the office admin, we trainers took care of virtually everything. I'd estimate that 60% of my time went into actually preparing and delivering material for sessions or for conversations, while the remaining 40% was spent on just planning or figuring out logistics around how to make things happen. Several times throughout TWU29 I felt familiar flashes of stress and pandemonium from my Away Day planning experience.

One of my biggest personal frustrations about training was around the fact that as the only BA coach among a group of 30 students split into three teams, I spent most of my days literally running between three independent and very different teams. I was three times the headless chicken that I usually am as a BA - a role that already demands a lot of running around and flapping of arms to begin with. As a result of this tri-team setup, I didn't get to know any one group especially well - I had barely enough time to work with each of the BA coachees, much less time to interact with the developers and testers on their team. While the dev coaches were all rooted down in just one team, I felt like I missed out on that wonderful experience of pushing through the valleys and celebrating the peaks in one consistent group. To quote Bilbo Baggins, I felt like "butter scraped over too much bread."

This was also my first time being in any type of formal training role. Sounds macaroni and cheesy but it really was incredibly rewarding to observe those moments when your student finally beings to "get" it after you've spent so much effort guiding them towards the right direction. They stumble, get frustrated, eventually pick themselves up, and repeat this cycle until that they finally get it right and the realization dawns upon them that yes, I did it! - that is an incredible thing to watch. Throughout the course of TWU29, I was constantly impressed and inspired by how brilliant the grads were. They are a testament to the careful and hard work that ThoughtWorks recruiting puts into their jobs in cities all over the world - kudos to any of you guys that may be reading this.

My final observation is that training at TWU really brings to light your strengths and weaknesses. It is an incredibly demanding role and there inevitably come the moments that can really test your limits. Looking back, I came into the role with a very naive and idealistic view of how things would be. I grew frustrated very quickly with how underprepared we seemed or how little sense things seemed to make at times. I learned slowly to grow comfortable and ease into the role, to take those frustrating experiences and use the learnings to make the next one better. And now I walk away from the training experience with a much broader perspective on how different types of people can work together to make something awesome happen.

Would I be a trainer for TWU again? Definitely. But I would want to come back with a few more years' worth of experience (and battle scars) to share with the students. And I think that next time, I would try to spend more time with the grads outside of the training room - this time I mainly socialized with trainers or with Bangalore TWers. Oh, and I'd definitely push for more butter chicken lunch and learns. Because the world could always use some more exposure to butter chicken.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where have I been?

Things here in India started out so well. I was sleeping well, eating a lot, getting exercise, and blogging regularly both for my own sanity and for my loved ones back home. I was living like a responsible adult and I couldn't have been any more content with my life here in Bangalore.

Or so I thought.

Somewhere around the half-way point, life here took a turn in a different direction. I'm not positive what triggered it or when - maybe a series of late nights at the office, or a particularly enjoyable team dinner, or perhaps just the inevitable bond that forms between ex-pats facing similar job experiences - but I found myself spending a lot more of my free time with my fellow trainers than ever before.  It was almost surreal, like I was watching a movie of myself where my new friendships were snowballing slowly but surely into a new lifestyle that I'd dismissed before in favor of sanity and routine. And just as slowly and as surely, as I was out and about on adventures with my new friends, my thoughts and ideas tumbled from my mouth during conversations rather than through this blog, my alcohol tolerance crept up, my post-work plans always started with the words "So what's the plan for tonight?", and the nickname "Granny Rose" became rather obsolete as I can't remember the last time I got eight hours of sleep...

It's been a shift, that's for sure. One that I've made some sacrifices for, like posting here. Or having any real free time to myself, really. I haven't had this much fun - or this little sleep - since my last TWU experience. I've been making a conscious effort to not let it affect my performance as a trainer and judging from feedback, it hasn't been. The hit has rather been on my own personal sanity. I think that at the end of the day, while I demonstrate the tendencies of both, I still consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert. And that prolonged abandonment of my own time to recharge in solitude, though fruitful in its creation of wonderful friendships and memories, was still a departure from my comfort zone. A large departure that was growing each day.

Then I started to feel sick - physically sick. And I figured that was my body's final protest against all the activity - that it was its way of saying "Woah girl. Calm the fuck down and take care of me." Last night was the first time I consciously declined an opportunity to have fun in the company of others. It was a grandiose occasion too - a large Diwali celebration at my co-trainer's house. Diwali is one of the biggest holidays here in India and spending it alone - especially the walk back to my apartment to the sounds of bursting fireworks and delicious smells wafting out of homes - made me feel sad and relieved at the same time. But I knew that my body - and more importantly, my exhausted mind - needed the time alone.

Fast forward to today and I know that I made the right decision to stay in last night. I'm feeling much more rejuvenated with gasp! more hours of sleep under my belt than fingers on one hand. I'm hoping to spend my remaining week here with a bit more of that balance - I feel that I've strayed too much towards one end of the spectrum and want to make an effort to get somewhere less crazy. Still crazy, but less crazy. Figuring out where I want to be has been half the battle and these past few weeks have certainly taught me a lesson or two therein.

All that being said, I'm still not going to stop Gangnam Styling. Whether its in a sari at the office, down the streets of Pondicherry at midnight, or whilst Skyping with the boy... that fun won't end.