Continual Knowledge Upgrade

Most of you have probably guessed by now that I'm a geek. I thoroughly enjoy being around technology, talking about technology and figuring out how to use technology to enhance the mission of the Church. That's why I have the job that I do. Every day is different, and I'm always learning new things. Some days I feel like I'm trying to drink from a fire hose, but the truth is I love it. I enjoy change, which is a good thing because one thing technology doesn't do is stand still. There's always something else to learn about.

What puzzles me is when I run across people who work in a technology field who are not all about change. That is, they are not interested in growing their knowledge base. I can't figure this out at a philosophical level, and it makes no sense to me at a practical level. For example, a few years ago I was between jobs. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and in the process I met a lot of people who were also in transition. I was frankly totally unprepared to come across some of the attitudes I did. I met quite a few people who had previously made their living programming in the A/S 400 environment. That's fair; it was the king of big iron a few years ago. However, those systems are on the way out. What amazed me was how many of those folks would grumble and say, "I'm a great A/S 400 programmer, but all companies want these days is .Net programmers." "Why don't you learn?" I'd ask. They'd mumble something about not having time (come on, you're unemployed), or not wanting to go back to school, or some other nonsense. Seriously, did you think you'd retire programming on one platform?

What does this have to do with church techies? I'd say, "A lot!" Thankfully, the pace of change is a little slower in the world of sound, lights and video than it is in the IT universe. Still, we're well into the transition from analog to digital mixers (sorry analog die-hards, digital's here to stay and analog is going away...). Those 700 Mhz band wireless mics are going to have to be replaced, and you'd better understand frequency coordination this time around. And of course, when it comes to speakers, line arrays are the hot topic. You should probably have at least a passing knowledge of them, and whether they're right for your room before someone tries to sell you $600,000 worth.

Video used to be pretty simple. It was all standard definition, 4:3, CCIR-601 and your biggest choice was BetaCam SP or MII. No more! We have have a half-dozen tape formats, again as many non-tape formats and even more aspect ratio/resolution combinations. FireWire was supposed to make video production plug and play, but does your editing software support your camera's codec natively? Check that out before you plunk down $6K on a shiny new camcorder.

Lighting hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, save the plethora of new consoles that are introduced every year. It's now possible to design a show on your laptop, in 3D complete with shading and color, then load it into the new console. Then there's wireless DMX. For temporary lighting, that's a technology worth checking out.

For the church tech guy or gal, it's important to keep abreast of all these changes. Sure, you may not be in the market for a new FOH mixer this year, but you will be someday. And as services get more creative, we need to come up with ways to implement the ideas that make worship gatherings more engaging. Standing there with your hands in your pockets muttering, "I don't like them new-fangled digital mixers a'tall" is not a way to maintain job security. Pastors want tech people who can make stuff happen, not give them a list of reasons why theirs is not a good idea.

So what can you do to stay current? Here are some ideas.

Read

The internet is a great place to keep up with technology. Any time I'm confronted with something I don't know about, I Google it. Granted, you need to sift the wheat from the chaff, but there's a wealth of information out there. You're reading this blog, which is a good start. Check out the ones I read (on the right sidebar). There are some amazingly gifted church-tech bloggers out there. Check out what they have to say.

Also, subscribe to trade magazines. I've listed a dozen or more, most of which are free, on the links page. I read about 14 a month just to keep up with sound and video. If we did more cool lighting effects at Upper Room, I'd be reading more.

Go to Conferences

There are so many good ones out there. I'm headed to WFX next week. It runs again in the spring. There's LDI, InfoComm, Willow's Arts festival, the big one--NAB, and more. Get out there and play with some new gear, even if you're not in the market. It's good to learn what's out there.

Network

Getting to know other tech leaders in churches around you is a great idea. The other day I met with a guy who's a new tech guy at a church down the road from us. I helped him with a gain structure issue he was having, and it turns out he's an Apple Genius. He had some great pointers for me as I get ready to set up my new IT system. I know I'll be calling him with more questions as I get further down that road. Hopefully, he'll call me when he has an issue I can help with. Along the way, we'll both learn something.

And don't forget the smart people you learn from on the web. I get questions all the time from people asking my opinion on which digital board they should buy, or which video switcher, or which long-distance video system they should use. My answer usually has more questions for them than answers, but I'm happy to share my opinion. So are many of the other guys who write about church and non-church technology.

Load Balance

I've decided it's impossible to learn everything about everything. So I cope with the enormous volume of information by digging into the things that I really need to know about. As I said, we don't do a ton with lighting right now, so I'm not spending a lot of time with that. As much as I love audio, right now I know what I need to know so I'm not focusing on learning quite as much. Since my job description has changed to include IT, I'm spending most of my time filling in gaps in my IT knowledge. Once that system is up and running, I'll be back to the intricacies of digital snakes (that will be next month...).

Forget

I once had to tell a particularly annoying video sales guy that I had forgotten more about professional video production than he knew. It's sounds arrogant (and maybe it was, but he was really getting on my nerves...), but the reality is I no longer need to remember how time align a A/B roll edit suite. So I forgot. OS 9? Please. How to program the ETC 24/48 light board I used a year ago? Gone. When things are changing as fast as they are, don't worry about keeping everything you ever learned top of mind. Strengthen what you need to know now. Google the rest. It will come back to you if you ever need it. Though I seriously hope I never have to troubleshoot an extension conflict again!

Use Technology

Google is a great resource. You can learn about anything in a matter of minutes. I also love a program called Evernote. I'll blog about that sometime. It's a great way to collect all the bits of information I need to keep handy without actually having to remember them all. What was that ADAT to balanced audio interface I found and where did I find it? Evernote knows. Take advantage of e-mail, blogs, Twitter and iPhones.

We live in exciting times. The pace of change in the arena of technology is staggering. It is a great time to be a church techie. We get to learn about all sorts of cool stuff that most people in the church can't even fathom figuring out. And we get to share that knowledge with our volunteers! And we get to continually enhance worship while we're at it. Does it get any better? I think not!

Embrace change--when it comes to technology, it's the only thing that stays the same!