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An Inspirational Visit to the Powerhouse Museum

It seems I do most of my blogging on airplanes – this is another blog post written while crossing the Tasman.

Last week the Software Education trainer team had a rare opportunity to get together for some professional development and R&R together. We try to do this on a regular basis, but it’s been quite a while since we got it right.

Nine of us met in Sydney for three days; we spent the first day sharing ideas and talking as a team. The second day Clarence White from The Actor’s Studio took us through some exercises to extend our classroom delivery skills, and on the third day we did touristy things in Sydney: a visit to the Powerhouse Museum followed by a Harbour Cruise lunch.

I really enjoyed opportunity to spend time with my colleagues – we tend to be a fairly solitary bunch, and seldom get the chance to work together simply due to the nature of our work. We travel to venues around Australia and New Zealand (and beyond) delivering courses and consulting with companies and teams on our own, so being able to spend three days in each other’s company is a real privilege.

We debated the content of courses, delivery styles, and the state of the world at length – it would be impossible for us to get together and not have intense discussions as we’re all so passionate about our work.

If you think the testers and developers in your company sometimes have passionate discussions you should see a bunch of testing and development trainers talking about the merits and flaws of each others topic areas:-). Fortunately we value diversity and embrace free thought and the sharing of ideas, and we have a social contract that sets the framework for debate so the discussions were interesting, fun and respectful.

On our third day together we visited the Powerhouse Museum and had a Curated Tour. This was generously organized by Damian McDonald and we were guided around the museum by Matthew Connell.

Matthew is the Principal Curator for Physical Sciences & IT and he took the time to not only show us around the museum, he explained what the exhibits are, what they represent, and the process the curators go through to identify and select what goes into an exhibition. This was a fascinating tour and the insights Matthew shared with us were inspirational both in terms of how the ideas apply to what and how we teach, and about the lifecycle of technology and innovation.

I didn’t take many notes (too absorbed in listening) but fortunately Sharon and Anja were armed with their iPhones and they did take notes of some of the key points Matthew made. So, thank you ladies for sharing your notes with me.

Here’s what Sharon had to say (she summarizes so well I’m not going to try to paraphrase)

  • The museum had to focus on “less consumption and more interaction” – I thought that was a good analogy for software also, particularly the development of Agile software – less “take what you are given and be happy with it” more of “what do you want out of this and how can we provide it”. Less spoon feeding more designing the menu.
  • “Living laboratories” in the museum – I could also draw the analogy back to software here –our solutions should be built with this in mind – particularly with an Agile solution – let’s hypothesise and experiment with the solution and use the results of the experiment to determine our next steps.
  • “Technology at a cultural level – what is the context, purpose, persistence of the technology” – it was a great trigger for thinking about how long any solution will be around and why is it being used. So often we see our solutions not providing a single solution but being built as a package of solutions – is that the best way?
  • “Significance is not a universal concept – it varies over time”. I thought this was very insightful as you can see this is software when the priorities change at the micro level and when the technology changes at the macro level – iPhone and iPad aps are the example that came to mind – we have moved away from complex multi-function software to small, simple aps that deliver the required solution
  • “The Rubbish Phase” of a product or an artefact – this made me think about good software solutions that do not survive the “rubbish phase” and are thrown away before people realise their value or potential value [Editors Note: the Rubbish Phase is the period between an idea being innovative and it becoming an important part of history. Matthew spoke about some of the material the museum has in storage that runs the risk of being discarded to saved space, and then becomes rare and historically significant]
  • “Innovation is something that changes human thinking” – I thought this was a great definition and would love to do some blogging and working on innovation in IT and what is it and how do we recognise it?
  • “The deficit model of scientific communication – we know everything and we will tell you what you need to know” – Matthew was talking about climate change as his example but I could see us in IT doing that to the business and our end users – only telling them what we think they need to know.

Anja posted her thoughts to the Software Education Yammer stream:

I felt inspired by our Powerhouse Museum visit in Sydney
that was guided by Matthew Connell, the principle curator.
He was an excellent speaker - now that means different
things to different people. 

He was fluid, and was able to provide knowledge in context
of historical, current and future changes within the
engineering space. 

Moreover, he was very personable - or, he was in the moment,
very approachable and humble about his knowledge trying to
connect to us by giving us his focused attention for over
an hour. And no GAMES!

In his words, displayed work ("art") is not just about
communicating and interacting with people, but to engage
them in context of their realities, their lives -
how and why we are evolving.
Innovation in his own words he described as providing a person
with a new understanding of the world and themselves, their
culture with the main objective to have a social impact.
Innovation can be gradual or big bang. 

The main message I took away from "new approaches to teaching
and learning" is that of an intuitive journey -
to provide for the individual as opposed to mass!

So we had a great time, learned a lot and gained an insight into the historical and scientific mindset. If you’re in Sydney and have some time to spare go and visit the Powerhouse – it’s a great experience. I certainly plan on returning to see the new exhibitions.

Thank you Matthew and Damian, and thank you to my colleagues for sharing the time. Thank you James for the idea of visiting the Powerhouse.

Thanks too to Martyn & Phil for giving us the time and money to be able to get together in Sydney. Now, where should we go for the next trainers session (Fiji anyone?)

Oh, yes – just in case you think we were purely focused on work and learning, I can attest to lots of banter and laughter over great German food and a wonderful cruise on the Harbour. Significant quantities of good beer and wine somehow appeared on the bill at each meal we shared 🙂

The photo was taken on the first day when we were behaving ourselves because the boss was there with us. There will be no published record of the later events. 😉

Posted by Shane Hastie

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