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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 2

Last time, I gave you the first two secrets of acquiring knowledge. I’ve employed the crazy tactic of reading the manual and reading online help for years and learned a ton. But sometimes, the answer you’re searching for is not there, or you are still not getting the results you want. At that point, you have to expand your search radius. 

Image courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

Image courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

Contact Tech Support

This goes overlooked more than it should. It’s true that some companies have terrible phone support (we’re looking at you, Blackmagic…) but others are stellar. I’ve had some tech support staff help troubleshoot problems that turned out to not be theirs. One even contacted support at another company and helped me solve a tricky problem between platforms. 

I have learned so much by talking with good tech support reps. Often times, I learn not only about their product, but about a protocol, system or just how something works. Good tech support teams are invaluable and when you find them, you want to keep their number close. 

Use Your Network

I put this last for a reason. I’m a big fan of having a network of people I can call when I get stuck. But I usually only call on them after I exhausted the above options. The reason for this is simply time. Most often, I can find an answer quicker in the manual, online or with Google than I can from a friend. My friends are great, but they’re also busy. I don’t expect them to drop everything and help me solve a problem.

Sometimes I’ll shoot a quick text to a friend with a question, but if I don’t hear back right away, I’ll work through the previous steps. Many times, by the time they get back to me, I have my answer. There are times that I can’t find an answer, or the question is so specific that I really do need advice or counsel from a friend, and that’s really the best use of your network. 

If I want to know how to invert a selection in Photoshop, I’m not going to ask my friend Ken—even though he could surely tell me. I can find that on Google in under a second. But if I’m trying to decide if I should upgrade to Photoshop CC or stick with CS5, we’re going to have a conversation. See the difference?

Bonus Round: Use the Search Box

This is something else I get all the time; someone will ask me, “Hey, I think you wrote an article on thus and so a while back. Do you know where it is?” Chances are, the answer is no, I have no idea. I write well over 200 articles a year and have been doing so for 7 years. Even if I did remember writing the post—which I probably don’t—I couldn’t tell you the URL. 

But, Squarespace has this great search tool. The search box is right over there on the right, and you too can do exactly what I’m going to do; type some keywords into the search box and see what comes up. Again, you could email me and wait 2-4 weeks for me to do a quick search on my site and send you the result, or you could do it yourself. Not that I mind hearing from all of you, but you can probably get the answer faster on your own. 

So that’s it. That’s how I look so smart all the time. I learned a while ago that I don’t need to know all the answers, I just need to know where to find them. Today, that’s easier than ever. And you can do it from your phone. To be fair, I am really good at seeing how a whole bunch of disparate information fits together in a cohesive whole. That’s a natural talent that I’ve worked hard to hone. But you too can learn this skill. It all starts with a quick glance around the old inter-webs.

Roland

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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 1

I get a lot of questions from other tech leaders. And I’m OK with that. I really do enjoy helping people and solving problems. But I’m only one person, and I’m a busy one at that. Sometimes, emails and twitter questions can pile up and go weeks without being answered. I generally get to them eventually, but I feel bad when it take so long. 

In the interest of spreading the wealth (of knowledge), I’m going to share with you the secret to acquiring knowledge. Learning new things has been one of my keys for staying employed, and I think it’s one thing that makes me good at what I do. So here you go; some of the secrets I’ve employed to learning more about this crazy trade.

Read the Manual

Yes, I know. Most of us pride ourselves on being able to take any new piece of gear out of the box and start using it without reading the manual. Well-designed equipment will even make that possible—at least to some extent. But when you start getting into the technical details of how to do something, often the fastest way to figure it out is read the manual. 

I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered from people by simple downloading the manual for the product they’re having trouble with and reading it. Sometimes, I even cut and paste the relevant section in my answer. 

Often, you will even discover cool features of a product that you didn’t know existed by reading the manual. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish this box would do …” only to find it does because I read the manual.

I will acknowledge that many manuals are not worth the paper they’re not printed on (everything is a PDF now, right?) I’ve seen a manual for a mixer say, “The PFL button engages PFL mode,” and nothing more about it. Well, now that’s super-helpful isn’t it. I sort of figured pushing a button labeled PFL would do something related to PFL. And if you’re familiar with what PFL is, you probably don’t need that less than helpful sentence. But if you don’t know what PFL is, you need to go searching. 

Use Online Help

More and more software is coming with built-in help that is actually useful. Just the other day, we were trying to figure out how to run a particular report in our new system-design software. We knew what we wanted was possible, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. So I hit the big ? button. It took me to online help section that eventually led me to the solution. 

More and more, companies are using YouTube for really helpful instruction videos. I was trying to learn some new to me lighting software a while back, and discovered a whole slew of videos from the creator of the software. My learning curve shortened dramatically.

Again, I’ve done this for others. Many times, when I get a question about software, I’ll either launch my copy or download a demo and look for help. It’s amazing how many times the answer is right there. But sometimes the answer is there, but it doesn’t work. I was trying to convince a Blackmagic routing switcher to work the other day and while the manual told me what to do, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. In that case, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

Use the Google

Google is probably the single greatest technical resource for a technical director today. You really should learn how to use it. Seriously. I’ve had questions come in and I’ve literally typed the question into Google and sent out a response based on my findings. 

See, here’s the thing. Chances are, someone else has already needed to do what you’re trying to do. And they’ve probably already written something about it online. And Google knows where it is. Now, you could email me and ask, or you could just go to Google. Google is faster, by the way. 

Google has become really good at taking in natural language questions and giving you good results. I was going to give you an example, but I do it so regularly that it’s become like breathing; I don’t even think about it. Just try it. 

Someone asked me once if I had any online resources for training volunteers. You know what I did? I used the Google (and reminded them about this cool site called ChurchTechArts). When someone asks if I’ve heard about an obscure product, I use the Google. Do I remember where an article by someone is on a particular topic? Use the Google.

Next time, more top tips for acquiring knowledge!

“Gear

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The Story of Redemption in Furniture

One of the projects I undertook during our renovation was the building of the tech booth desks. I’ve spent the last three years cribbing design ideas from various tech booths around the country. I integrated those ideas in with the needs I saw regularly as a TD. Last time, I talked about the design specifics and construction details. This time, I want to look at it from a different perspective. 

One of the things I hear often around the Visioneering offices is how we can tell a story through architecture. As I spent close to 100 hours building these desks, I had plenty of time to think about the story they tell. If you know me at all, you know I don’t do much of anything without intention. Building these desks, I made some very intentional decisions that not only led to a solid desk, but also tell a story. 

Be Where You Are

Sometimes, we think that in order to do ministry, we have to go to some exotic, far away place. But most times, we’re called to serve right where we are. While I could have used oak, maple, teak or my personal favorite, cherry for these desks, I chose Douglas Fir and Redwood. Both these trees are native to California and remind us we don’t have to go far to make an impact. 

We Are All Flawed

One thing we regularly hear from those outside the faith is that they don’t like church because it’s too fake. As Christians, we’re really good at putting on our happy face and hiding our problems when we go to church because we’re told that once we get saved, our lives should be happy and blessed. Except sometimes they aren’t.

The world still beats us up. We lose jobs. We lose marriages. Our kids screw up. Our parents screw up. We screw up. We can be abused. Life isn’t always easy. 

I’ve built a lot of furniture in my life, and normally, I try to make it perfect. But on this project, I intentionally left some flaws in place. While the half-lap joints are incredibly strong, they are not perfect. There are some gaps. I didn’t try to fill them in because I wanted them to be a reminder that we’re not perfect. And it’s OK. It’s OK to let people know things are hard right now. Of all places, the church should be a place where we can be broken, and be OK. I suspect tech guys know more about this than most, and I wanted this reminder present. 

table-joints.jpg

Jesus is a Strong Bond

For those half-lap joints, I used Gorilla glue. It’s billed as the world’s strongest glue and having used it for 20 years, I would agree. It’s an expanding, gap-filling polyurethane glue. When you spread it on the joint, it expands to fill the gaps. As I watched the glue expand during set up, I thought about how Jesus fills in some of the cracks and gaps in our lives. He creates an incredibly strong bond between us, the Father and other members of His body. 

I left the glue exposed in those joints to remind us about this. Again, it’s not perfect, as Jesus doesn’t make our life perfect. He does however, anchor us. Just as no one will ever be able to separate these two pieces of lumber, no one can snatch us out of His hands. 

God Doesn’t Only Use the Beautiful People

When you look at those on stage in many modern churches, you would be tempted to think that only the beautiful people can make a difference for Him. When we build furniture, we typically choose the best pieces for the front and the beat up ones for the back. While I did some sorting on this project, I decided to put a few pieces that were a little more rough out front. These pieces are still incredibly strong and will do their job faithfully despite not being as pretty as the other ones. I did this to remind us that we shouldn’t look only at outside appearances when choosing someone for a task.

Transparency Matters

I chose a clear polyurethane finish for these desks. Again, it would have been logical to paint them and use laminate for the tops. Had I painted them, I could have filled all the gaps, plugged all the knots and filled all the holes. But, I believe church is a place where we can all go, flaws and all, without having to cover it all up. At the same time, I did spend considerable time sanding off the rough edges and smoothing things out. I know God has smoothed off many of my rough edges over the years, and He continues to do so. I’m not yet perfect, but hopefully I’m a little less rough then I was. 

When we’re serving together, we shouldn’t have to hide our struggles. Often, God uses other people around us to smooth our edges, but that can’t happen if we show up looking perfect. 

I could go on about all the ways I see God’s story of redemption in these simple tables. Some may say I’m reading too much into this, or that I’m just lazy for not finishing them further. But I really do believe that everything speaks, and it’s really a question of what it’s saying. My hope is that these tables will keep speaking long after I’m gone.

Roland