Podcast

017 - Creating 100 courses (and counting) with Greg Shields

Greg Shields, Pluralsight Author Evangelist, speaks with Jeremy about the incredible accomplishment of publishing his 100th course and why storytelling is at the heart of everything he does.


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Transcript

Intro:
Hello and welcome to All Hands on Tech where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. Most of us can't imagine creating one Pluralsight course, let alone 100. In this episode, Author Evangelist Greg Shields speaks with Jeremy about his incredible 100 course accomplishment. What paved the way to him becoming a Pluralsight author and why storytelling is at the heart of everything he does.

Jeremy Morgan:
Tell us about what you do for Pluralsight.

Greg Shields:
So I am Author Evangelist here. I'm also a full time author. And that actually it's kind of interesting because it kind of spans several different activities. Most of what I do here as a full time author, that portion of it is in just generating courses. And as you can see obviously with the topic for today's conversation as many courses as possible.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah, lots of courses.

Greg Shields:
Lots of courses. And we have a very, very small set of full time authors that are on salary here on staff here at Pluralsight. In part because it gives us the opportunity to kind of work on some courses that sometimes we have difficulties finding people for. So stuff that may not be as exciting to someone in the outside world. It also the evangelist part of it. I think a lot of people kind of see the word evangelist and assume that it means product evangelism. And the evangelist part of this role I guess is more about... I usually say that the direction of the evangelism actually points into Pluralsight in that we as authors kind of embed ourselves in with the rest of the author community. And there have an opportunity to kind of get a feel for kind of what's going on the ground there with people and then we can take that and bring it back inside Pluralsight and people have ideas or thoughts and just present ourselves as kind of an avatar of the author based. Can sometimes call us the canary in the coal mine for potentially really bad ideas.

Greg Shields:
And so it gives us an opportunity to, whereas sometimes it will be difficult to bring on outside authors just because of the relationship. It just gives us an opportunity to have product teams, for example, kind of ask us questions about what is it like to be an author. So the evangelist part, like I said, is kind of representing the authors to the rest of Pluralsight.

Jeremy Morgan:
Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And I know that you also talk with authors a lot. Before I was a full time employee, I was in the author Slack a lot as an author and I remember sending you messages and stuff and seeing things you're posting and you're kind of like a go-to person for the authors as well.

Greg Shields:
I try to be when people do reach out and kind of back channel questions from time to time and it's nice to be able to offer up a career's worth of experience and building courses in courseware. And I guess I'm the Camtasia person. I tend to be the Camtasia evangelist too, I think.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah. Probably. A little bit.

Greg Shields:
Yeah. And it's always been informal. Sometimes people just have questions that they just, they can't get answers to through the usual channels. And sometimes it's nice to have somebody that feels like they're on their side too.

Jeremy Morgan:
So how did you get started in tech?

Greg Shields:
Wow, well, when I was eight years old my grandmother's, I think my grandmother's boyfriend at the time brought us an Iie. We were living out on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Southern Illinois, 45 minutes for the nearest grocery store. And he brought the family and Apple IIe. And I took to that like nobody's business. My dad used to tell me all the time, "Go outside and I know you understand learning to code." And I spent most of my time actually trying to get my video games to work on that machine without completely destroying my dad's accounting database, which I did. And then undid several times. So that was an early starts there and just trying to make machines work and keep them running so that I wouldn't get in trouble from my folks for breaking the important things for them. 

Greg Shields:
I did a lot of work. Then in high school managing the very nascence network and network in an IBM based network operating system there that I don't think anybody actually knew how to run and so kind of got my feet wet there just because they needed someone to help figure out how to use a silly thing. I actually got started in teaching back when I was in college completely by accident. There was a group of people, the CCSR the computing and communication services office there and the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and they were like the computer people and they happened to have a job opening to teach people Microsoft Office products on Mac.

Greg Shields:
I applied for the job and got it. Let's see. That would have made me what age 19 I think. And the job was to build courses like entire lesson plans to teach the staff and university staff and students how do you do databases and how to do office products and all these sort of introductory level things. And so I was reminded just recently that I guess I've been building courseware since I was 19 years old. 

Jeremy Morgan:
Wow. That is pretty amazing. Do you think it's that the outside passion that you kind of brought into it? Because my story kind of is very similar actually. I grew up out in the country and my mom was an accountant and she had a computer at home. It was an old 286 and exactly the same thing. I was trying to run games on it. I was trying to do all these things.

Greg Shields:
Wing commander.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah, exactly. Without trying to break the computer and then when I did break the computer it's like, "Oh mom is going to be really upset so I got to figure this out." And that kind of passion was the same thing when I was in high school and college, I had all this outside passion that I brought in there and it kind of led me being a go-to person also because I was just so passionate about it and I would come in there and be like, "Yeah, I totally know how to do this because this is what I did last night for six hours or whatever." And do you think that, that outside passion was kind of an early driver that put you into a position where you could teach others?

Greg Shields:
I think so. I also, so a couple of stories people don't really know about me. So I was heavily involved in the Kiwanis in high school and college and actually in high school, it was called the Key Club. And in college it was called Circle K but it was all this community service kind of stuff. And I just, I took to it also because we were a farm family that kind of moved into the local towns that we could get them the better school district. And in there I actually got myself into some of the leadership roles in both of those in high school and college. In high school I ended up being governor of the Illinois Eastern Iowa District Key Club International. And somehow through a very long story ended up being international secretary my junior year in college.

Greg Shields:
So even at a very early age, I was traveling the country giving speeches to people, motivational speeches at the time on why community service was important and trying to motivate people to do things for their communities. 

Jeremy Morgan:
Wow, that's really cool.

Greg Shields:
It was, it was actually really cool from a very early age to have an opportunity to stand up in front of people, both peers and also regular middle aged people that were your adult quantians and stand up there as a peer and talk to them as an adults and kind of get over that fear of audiences and learn how to communicate and learn how to transfer information and learn how to motivate. So that was I think also helpful in a lot of my later on career decisions and doing a lot of conferences and I've done hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of webinars over the years.

Greg Shields:
Not so much anymore, but back in the day. And then also these courses too because that early start there just kind of laid the groundwork for understanding the art, I guess, of transferring information from one person to another. The other story that I don't think a lot of people know is in college so it just seemed correct to for me to go into computer science in college. And I got into, like I said, the University of Illinois in their engineering program and I hated it.

Jeremy Morgan:
Really?

Greg Shields:
It was awful. I just hated it. And I actually dropped out of the C++ programming course twice because I couldn't figure it out and eventually dropped out of the entire program and got a degree in business. And yeah, it turned out that the actual, the structures at the time of, at least how the curriculum was built, just did not grok with the way my brain worked. And so my formal education is about 50% technology, computer, computer science, like straight up computer science. And then about 50% are probably more the application of that into business, which as you might imagine also kind of folds into I guess where I am today.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah, I was going to say that probably helped tremendously for where your career trajectory ended up going.

Greg Shields:
It's funny, a lot of people, formal college kind of gets a bad rap these days by some people, but still that four year experience, if it's something that if you have the capacity to do it, does expose you into different things that you might not necessarily have otherwise done. Like taking classes in marketing and taking classes and international business and things like that. That as a farm kid, that was eye opening to me and I still use those skills today.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah, I could imagine for me it was economics. I would have never gone in my own volition and taken an economics course, but when I had to, I was like, this is amazing. This is the coolest thing. Having a structure that you have to follow that somebody else's structure that may end up working out well for you?

Greg Shields:
I guess I keep telling people I keep falling into all these jobs, but I started to think now that I'm just speaking the words out loud that maybe all of this actually there was a progression that I didn't even know at the time. 

Jeremy Morgan:
So do you have any crazy jobs that maybe helped with your current job? Like something you did a long time ago? I worked at a lumber mill for a short amount of time before college and years later I came back that I started to know some things about production and I was thinking about dev ops and software delivery and things like that. There were some things that I learned about production in a lumber mill, turning logs into boards that nobody would probably think that had anything to do with it. At the time I was basically stacking boards as they came out of a mill, but I was learning about production and flow and things like that. Is there any kind of job that you could think of that's not related to all the, what you're doing now, but kind of had an influence on it?

Greg Shields:
Probably. Gosh, that's for the longest time at the beginning of my career I had all kinds of different jobs. I did theater, lighting and design for several years. I ran the light rig for Foellinger Auditorium there [inaudible 00:11:40] did some sound, so sound engineering too there for those guys, which involved pushing levers up and down on a board more or less. And I learned more about life in that job, I think than anything else. I don't know if it involved much about what I'm doing today, but I learned a lot about just how life works in that job. So thank you to Tom Emmanuel for hiring me. That was an awesome decision part. And then after college I didn't really know what to do with myself and ended up coming out here to Colorado work at Dave & Buster's as a bouncer for a long time.

Greg Shields:
Also learned a lot about life there. And ended up getting a job at Raytheon. It's kind of just bizarrely they were looking for someone to do documentation to essentially write these enormous documents that now we actually just built and code. But it would be like, okay, step II.a.1.a.4 click next. II.a. lower case, whatever, dah, dah. Click next. And it would be these hundreds of pages of documents because when you build a satellite system, you have to have all the documentation for how to rebuild it because sometimes they go boom. And so I got hired essentially to build this enormous set of documents for an ISO 9,000 audit that was coming up. And actually I did that for several for a long time, for months and months.

Greg Shields:
And I lived in the basement of a building with no windows. The building that we were in was designed to survive a near miss from a nuclear missile. No kidding. And so it was a fair day cage. The entire building was a fair day cage. And so no radio got him like there were no signals that could get in or out and there were no windows because at the time they didn't want the bad guys looking in the windows and seeing what we were building. And our chief scientist came down, his name is Terry Plymel. And he was talking about this new program that Raytheon had just won and how we needed to build 300 computers fast, which no one had ever done before. Because at the time, in order to build a computer, you put the DVD in the drive and clicked next and click next. And everything was-

Jeremy Morgan:
Not an automated process at all.

Greg Shields:
Very, very manual. I mean, it was the same documents that I was writing were the documents that people would use to build the computer click next, click next and so on. I think I still have the license key code for Office 95 baked into my brain sometimes. 

Jeremy Morgan:
If you ever needed to install that, you wouldn't have to look it up. 

Greg Shields:
Yeah, exactly. 112301. But so Terry came down and was telling this story about how we were afraid we were going to not be able to get this program started in time. And I said, "Terry, I'll make you a bet." I said, "I'll build you 300 computers in a month. And in exchange I'm going to need some software and some stuff, but an exchange if I do that, if I build 300 computers in a month, you'll make me a systems administrator." And he looks at me and he's like, "Deal. All right." And that was at the time when Ghost first was coming out and no one at the company had heard of Ghosts. I had. And so we got a copy of ghosts and we got us a big rack with a bunch of cables on it and we got those computers built about three weeks. And Terry's like, "Okay, here you go, you did it." And here's my a part of the deal. And so he moved me out of the basement of the building with no windows and he rolls me into the room with all the systems administrators like the tier three crowd. 

Greg Shields:
And he's like, "Okay everybody, this is Greg shields. He's your new system administrator." And they're all like hated on me at first because I got to skip several levels because of this bet. 

Jeremy Morgan:
That was pretty quick. 

Greg Shields:
They were like, "We don't know what to do with you, but we'll find something." And eventually I became the guy in charge of terminal services. I don't know if that's a crazy job, but it was definitely a crazy story that's kind of drastically accelerated my career cannon from tier zero to I guess tier three, tier four very fast.

Jeremy Morgan:
You've done 100 courses for Pluralsight and I have also done courses and at your current rate to catch up to you. I would have to do it I think for another 100 years or so, which isn't going to be possible. So my question is how do you remain so productive when it comes to building courses? I imagine you have a ton of tricks and shortcuts and actually I've asked you for some of those and received them. So I know you have some, but how do you remain so productive with building courses?

Greg Shields:
Well they keep paying. So I keep getting my check at the end of every two weeks, which is great. Again, being on salary. So that's the joke there is that we do some courses as the check's still cash in reality though. So it's really hard to say. And it's funny because here both internally and then also to some of the ideas that we projected the other authors, it's funny for me sometimes because we project some of these formalized systems that I always kind of immediately in my mind reject until I realized, wait a minute, you're doing this anyway. You just don't have words behind it. Last year at author's summit we were spending a lot of time talking about backwards focused design and a lot of the processes that go on a backwards focused design. And I was like, this is silly.

Greg Shields:
This is a really silly idea. And then I kind of sat down and thought about it and I'm like, no, you understand these sorts of things are things I think I've been doing from the beginning. And just sort of figuring it out. But some people are finally putting words to or definitions around some of these tactics in approaching these different concepts. So for me for example, I always tend to have a pattern for the either a course or if I've got multiple courses on a learning path, there's always a pattern. It's always the same pattern, right? And the pattern begins with, okay, here are a pile of Lego's, right? And that's at the very beginning. We start with nothing. If you can start with a series of windows servers or computers, whatever the basic building blocks are to get something started, let's start with that. And at the other end, way on the other end is a fully functioning environment that you would feel comfortable rolling into production.

Greg Shields:
So everything in between are the steps that you would go through to start with that pile of Legos and to end up with some thing that is ultimately working.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah. Sounds like the picture of the moon lander.

Greg Shields:
Exactly. 

Jeremy Morgan:
That you could look at. 

Greg Shields:
That's the start.

Jeremy Morgan:
That's where we're going.

Greg Shields:
Whatever thing that we're aiming to achieve. Now in order to get there, whether it's one course or an eight course learning path, the steps are just, you take all that content in your mind if you just kind of chunk all that content out. So kind of break it apart into its just individual things you have to do. And then I try to reassemble it together. This is my term, a term I use a lot. If you try to reassemble it back together into what I term a navigable storyline. So when the person is watching this, you want to tell a story but you want to tell a story that they can navigate on their own because my assumption in all these courses is that you, the learner are following along and doing all these things at the same time. Now I guess the deal that I make with you, the learner is that at no point am I going to do one of those and then a miracle occurs and wave my hands over the screen and throw a puff of smoke and that kind of stuff.

Greg Shields:
Because that's my, I guess social contract with you the learner is, even if it's hard, I still want to show it to you because it's hard. So every time I build these courses it's like, that's exactly the same pattern for the courses. Here's a bunch of Lego blocks, there's where we're going now let me chunk everything out into a storyline that would make sense for you to do in that order and eventually we'll get there.

Jeremy Morgan:
And so it's a little bit different than a tech demo per se. Like with a tech demo, where you're trying to, that's exactly what it seems like we're trying to do is get the puff of smoke and magic and look oh now we've got a bunch of containers and apps running in. Isn't that magic? So it sounds like it's a different approach where it's like, here's the step by step, so this is exactly how you do it and now you can do it right alongside.

Greg Shields:
The funny part, or I guess the not very secret about this stuff is that we rarely create net new. What we do, and I don't consider myself like an engineer or a creator. I'm a storyteller, right? I'm taking the content that you could probably access on your own. I'm not got any secret content here. All the stuff that, even the knowledge that I pick up, the little details come from publicly available documentation, but sometimes reading that documentation is just brutal. As someone who reads a lot of documentation, yes, it can be brutal and in a lot of cases too, it's not so much that the... Yes the documentation is brutal, but sometimes the people who write that documentation, they do the best they can, but it's fragmented and you got to go to nine different places to try to assimilate together that navigable storyline.

Greg Shields:
And so what I bring to the table or what I think everybody here at Pluralsight tries to bring to the table is we take the information you could have got anyway and reassemble it back together into a navigable storyline so that you, the learner can start with zero and go to whatever level you want without having to go through all the brain drain of trying to then reassemble those fragmented information. Because you probably just don't have time to do it. So I always tell the authors too when something is hard, show it. The value that we bring to people is so these last three courses, the 98th, 99th and 100 courses, there's 12 different virtual machines that are required to get this thing running. And it took me about a day and a half just to build the environment. Just the very basics of it. So in some cases people aren't going to follow along, even if you assume that they do, but they want to be able to see something that would otherwise be really hard to see on their own. 

Greg Shields:
And so that's the value we bring to people is giving them the abilities to see these things that would be hard for them to mock up on their own. And it would be hard for them to reassemble together from all these different stacks of documents and best practices that are out in the industry.

Jeremy Morgan:
Would you say there's an element of triage there also? So if you're going through documentation, which anybody in tech has probably done this at some point where you go through every bit of documentation and there's just a pile of information and you use 30% of what's in there to do what it is that you wanted to do. So do you think there's an element of triage there also that that has to come in?

Greg Shields:
Yeah, you do. I will say you do to get to certain points when you're like yeah, we're just not going to talk about that. And for me it's not necessarily, it's never about, because it's too hard. It's doesn't impact the storyline. So a example, right? So again, back to this last, these three, will be four in this next learning path. But so the last time I did this, I attempted to follow the exam guide more like Barry very specifically. And I found that even though I was talking about these topics that were in the exam guide, they weren't all that interesting and they pulled away from that narrative arc and this next round, in addition to updating it to 7.10. What I also did was I also kind of trimmed out some of the stuff that didn't feel like it really, it didn't get the ball down to field better. 

Greg Shields:
It kind of, it felt like an aside as opposed to actually kind of furthering the storyline of the way that it should. So sometimes you tell a story and you have to tell it a couple of times in order to tell it correctly. I've told the VMware Horizon story for version, I think four or five, six and seven now. So each time you tell that story you kind of figure out a better way to explain some of those concepts or to reassemble those different chunks together. 

Jeremy Morgan:
So a lot of your courses deal with things like VMware and a lot of virtual machines. What does your tech stack look like? Like I have a small server and I use a VMware workstation. Basically because I don't need anything super fancy for what I'm doing, but I am curious for sure before going into this, what is your tech stack look like? Do you have a big bunch of racks? Are you doing things in the cloud or how are you spinning up these virtual machines and these networks and stuff?

Greg Shields:
This is almost a political question. There's 10,000 ways that you can build your lab environment and all of them are perfect for whoever, each person it's perfect for them. And it's funny too because recently on Twitter there is a group of people that were kind of sharing their home labs, the bill of materials for their home labs. And for some of them it was sort of like a who spent the most money conversation. Because in some cases there are people who are spending like five and six figures on home labs. And early, early, early on, my wife was like, "Okay, so no server equipment because they're too loud." It's just too noisy for, I had a way early on I had like an old throwaway piece of equipment that was a server that I think actually consumed more electricity than a refrigerator.

Greg Shields:
Yeah. And I kind of got to the point where I'm like, this just doesn't work for the rest of my lifestyle. So big shocker. I use one desktop, I have a single, it's actually a six year old desktop Pluralsight bought it for me when I first started working here. Occasionally my old desktop is actually still sitting in the other room, which once in a while if I need the extra RAM, I'll power it on and connect the two together. But just about everything runs on one desktop. And here's why. So it was a couple of reasons, but number one is I'm lazy. And number two is I'm cheap when it comes to this kind of stuff, right? I want something that's going to be easy to build and maintain. I want something that's not going to cost me a bunch of money because I respect entirely wanting to have a mockup environment.

Greg Shields:
Especially when you're talking about virtualization stuff where you've got hardware interconnections you've got to be concerned with. But number one, I'm lazy, number two I'm cheap, but number three, and this is the more real of the three is I want to build these courses in a way that somebody, a learner out there could follow along, right? That's my rule. And if it takes more than what I can do on a desktop, a sufficiently powerful desktop, I'm always running out of RAM. I've got 64 gigs and Eric could use 120 frankly. But if I can't build this course on a off the shelf piece of equipment, then you can't follow along with an off the shelf piece of equipment. 

Greg Shields:
And that breaks my social contract with you. So I spend a lot of times, but an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to squish all these simultaneously needing to be run machines onto a single machine so that you could do the same thing when you follow along. Like I said, I want you to be able to follow along. If I can't do it, then you can't do it then it's not fair to you. So that's everything fits on a desktop. 

Jeremy Morgan:
It's actually, I was one of those people that was tweeting out personal labs last weekend and a couple of weekends ago. And I put my cost on there as kind of a, to let people, I spent $400 on the machine that I used for my lab and I put that intentionally almost for the same reasons. You can build a lab without going crazy with it. I bought this machine with 32 gigs of RAM and put Linux on it and VMware and that was kind of my motivation as I was sending the tweet. I'm like, maybe I should just put how much I spent on this so people don't think, you know that you need $5,000 to do virtualization or whatever. 

Greg Shields:
This particular desktop is a little bit more expensive only because well, Pluralsight paid for it, but it was also a it's an ultra-silent machine, which is a game changer for when you're recording courses. Like not having fans running is great because it gets them out of that audio. I have a room, my wife and I built a house here about five years ago and I have a room that is covered in sound foam in the walls and then covered in sound foam on the walls to try to keep as much of the ambient noise out. And then also, so not only to keep the outside noise out, but then we're authors, anybody that's worked in front of a microphone reflectivity or echo is a real problem. And that is you're in a room that has walls at 90 degree angles to each other and your voice goes through the microphone, bounces off the wall in front of you, hits the microphone again, bounces off the wall behind you. Hits the microphone and it just keeps doing that.

Greg Shields:
And we struggle with this all day long. And so room treatment is frankly has much or more importance than the machines that you're working with. And so I've got some in some cases, some nice stuff and some cases less than nice stuff here in this room as room treatment for when people are listening. We found, Pluralsight found, I've found over the years that the number one turnoff for folks is when the audio is bad. If you hear echo, if I'm a little, my voice is a little chewy because I just had eggs for breakfast and whatever. All of those things when you're doing this close Mike's intimate level, one-on-one sorts of things, those are really, really important for, for keeping people interested, especially when you're talking about a course that could be four or 24 hours long.

Jeremy Morgan:
That makes perfect sense. That was one of my biggest struggles as an author probably with audios. I had done courses for a company and with that level, with the level that they accepted, I actually just had a headset and I was sitting in my cubicle at my desk talking and that was perfectly fine for all the courses I built. They're internal only, nobody really complained. But as soon as I started doing courses to a Pluralsight they're like we need better audio. And so for me that was a huge, huge jump where I had to spend a lot of time reading about it, researching and then I had realized after a long period of time, actually you were one of the people that I would bounce questions off of and several people, I realized that I didn't need to spend as much money on the equipment and have all the fancy equipment and super expensive equipment. The room treatment was what getting rid of those echoes and keeping sound out of the room and then keeping things from reflecting inside the room was far more important than spending $1 million on a bunch of fancy equipment

Greg Shields:
And mouthwash, xylitol based mouthwash, which is great for me. I just ate eggs for breakfast [inaudible 00:31:20]. That stuff is magic.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah. Absolutely. 

Greg Shields:
And room temperature water with lemon in it, all these things are a little-

Jeremy Morgan:
Got it sitting right next to me. Right now. As you're producing these courses, you're obviously producing them very fast. So there's an element of the actual production and efficiency there, but how about learning the thing that you're teaching about? Do you have any methods or tricks for that because you have to know the content to teach the content and so you're, you're clearly ramping up on things and learning things very quickly in order to produce the course for them. Do you have any tips or tricks on learning things quickly?

Greg Shields:
I'm going to share a little secret trick that I probably shouldn't share, but I will anyway. If you're a learner, sometimes it actually is not only not important, but it's, sometimes it's not even helpful for a person to be necessarily like a globally recognized expert in something to be good at teaching it. Personally, this is a personal opinion here and it's been, I think other people are kind of coming around to this idea as well, but sometimes the biggest experts in the world when you're talking about insert name of technology here, sometimes the biggest experts in the world aren't that great at teaching it for one reason is that when you're such expert in something, you forgot what it was like way back in the day to learn it. 

Greg Shields:
If you've been working with it so long, just that process of going from zero to one, not even to 10,000, but from zero to one, you've probably, it's been so long ago, you forgot some of the basic fundamentals of how you got from not knowing about it to how you'd got to knowing about it. I've got another term I've coined, I call it emergence instruction, which is a fancy term for, there are times when I'm learning it as I'm teaching it. My old joke is you know the difference between a teacher and a student, don't you?

Jeremy Morgan:
No.

Greg Shields:
About 24 hours. And I feel comfortable saying that because you asked the question about, so how do you learn something new? And then sometimes it's on the job training where the job is helping other people learn this stuff too. And this whole idea of emergent instruction I think is really helpful for people who, like for authors for example, who are like, I'm a .net person and I'm a .net person. Well if you're not that person, you could probably do some, I don't know that space, but you could probably, there are adjacencies to .net but you might not necessarily know intimately, like deeply, but you kind of can, you can feel your way around. And so having a background at this point, a pretty deep background in a few key areas, offer some adjacencies there for other kinds of things that, yeah, I haven't touched them before. But the process of me learning it and then talking about me learning it, as long as I've got all the chunks assembled in that navigable storyline and as long as I do a good job of kind of just broadly looking at the thing to be built and then chunk it out and then lining them up in order.

Greg Shields:
In a lot of cases, I don't have to be an expert, I'm just trying to get you from zero to maybe one or five or 10. We're not trying to go to 10,000 here. And so this process of learning new technologies, a lot of it is, it's just sitting down with documents and thinking about them. Just thinking about them for a while and using that to, okay, well if I were trying to learn this, in what order would I want to be introduced to what new things? As I continue to think about each new topic that I ended up going down that path and ultimately sometimes teaching courses on it. A lot of it is, a lot of it is just looking at documents and saying to yourself, okay, as a person who is learning, what is the next thing that I'm interested in? Because the next thing that I'm interested in is probably the next thing that that person is interested in as well.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah. And that can be easily argued to be a better approach because if you're something like, say for me, I've been writing C# for about 10 years or so. So if I tried to do a beginning C# class right now, how many things would I just assume that people know because I forgot that I didn't know it and learned it 10 years ago, for instance. And so it could easily be argued that there's somebody out there who just started learning C# who could teach it far better than I could because I'm not sitting there saying, "Well, what's this dictionary? How does this work?" That's not even entering my brain at this point. Whereas somebody who's new and starting out, it's like, "What is this thing that he keeps mentioning this dictionary, why does that exist?" So yeah, you could easily argue that that would be a better approach just because of how fresh the information is and you know what to ask and what the why is behind certain things. So that's very interesting.

Greg Shields:
Yeah, I've always both here and I also worked for another company producing courses before Pluralsight. And I have always thought of myself as a storyteller. There are a lot of different descriptors that you could have for what it is that you do. I'm maybe not an expert in stuff. I'm probably not an expert in a lot of things, but what I am is a storyteller and I sometimes I think our best authors here or really anywhere are people that really embrace the storytelling aspect of this they really, that's what really gets them up in the morning is okay, well the process of telling the story, like just the taking all those kind of dry things on paper and then turning it into something that's useful, that's what really gets them up in the morning. 

Greg Shields:
My wife always sort of chuckles because we'll meet people and some people will say, "Oh, you should meet my friend. He's a big IT person. You'll love him." My wife is like, "Yeah, he's almost not an IT person. He's more like a storyteller than an IT person." I think that's the skill is in how to tell stories.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah, absolutely. And I see that emerging a lot the last few years with all of the kinds of things that I study. I'll study things on presentations, public speaking, course design. All of these different things that I'm super curious about and it all keeps falling back to that story, the hero's journey, things like that and how story is tied to our survival in our brains. And it seems like that that seems to be the number one piece of advice for producing any kind of content, whether it's teaching people things or even just writing a technical article is tying everything to that story. And so it seems like that's kind of the big chunk of advice to give anybody who's wanting to create things or teach things is start following that kind of story structure like you're saying.

Greg Shields:
Yeah. You tend to find here, so new authors I think sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like they need to be more formal than their regular everyday speech patterns. Just, "Oh my gosh, I'm in front of a microphone now and this is official so I should talk formally."

Jeremy Morgan:
I still do that. 

Greg Shields:
My advice for new authors is over yourself. The people that are here. I hope this is the case. I mean, people still watch my courses. So hopefully I'm an example here, but kind of let loose, not a lot, but formal, sometimes it's kind of a put off because it feels so formal. I had a professor in college who would read his lectures, type double space so they'd be 25 pages long and nobody went to that lecture because it was just brutal. Take a step back sometimes. Just think about how you would want to be heard. Listen to yourself and go, "You know what? I'm not all that entertaining is if you don't pass your own smell test, then people aren't necessarily probably going to follow along too.

Greg Shields:
Now that's not to say that you shouldn't have some formality in your speech patterns. But sometimes kind of taking a step back and actually be useful. Here's an example. So here's another, so if your list, if you've actually gotten this far in this podcast, I will share with you an excellent trick, just a little tool that you can use to make yourself a better speaker. Okay. And we actually, my wife actually is one that came up with this idea. Years ago my old business partner and I had a project, big, big, big project where we had four or five different people recording these. I think there were like five or 10 minutes long, these little instructional videos. And as part of the gig, we also had to transcribe them.

Greg Shields:
So I hired my wife to do the transcription and she says what's funny is when you transcribe somebody else's stuff or even your own, there's kind of two different speech patterns that you hear, a lot of different speech patterns, but she broke it down into two. On one side, you have people who speak in complete sentences. And so reading what they speak and or hearing what they speak, it sounds the same. And those individuals when they're actually doing that. And so those people, when you hear what they're saying and you read it on paper, you can actually just see the sentences. And then you've got another group of people who when you hear them, it's difficult to understand what they're trying to say.

Greg Shields:
But then when you transcribe them, you hear two different competing voices and you have to use a lot of parentheses or M spaces like the dash, dash. So someone will say something and then the other half of their brain will step in and say something and then they'll back out and-

Jeremy Morgan:
That's [crosstalk 00:41:15].

Greg Shields:
... Pick the sentence there, and she said, it's amazing whenever you're the person that's actually having to actively transcribed somebody's voice. So she said, you know what you ought to do is have... We had four or five people, we had two that were okay and two that were good and one that was not so good. It was two that were okay. Two that were not so good and one was in the middle. She says half those people transcribe their own stuff so they can visually see how they speak. And I'm not getting all those, the three people that we had do that, did that, underwent that activity, that whole exercise and immediately saw their speech patterns on the piece of paper.

Greg Shields:
And as a result the clarity of their speech improved immediately like it was night and day. It's impressive. And so I guess the exercise is if you want to become a better public speaker, find something to talk about. Don't make a script or anything, but just stand up and talk about something you're interested in. And when you get done, don't do a lot because it takes a while to transcribe five to 10 minutes. But when you get done, sit back down and listen to it and transcribe it onto a piece of paper just as an exercise and you'll find that you can visually see your own speech patterns then. And just the act of doing that, a time or too will make you a better speaker.

Jeremy Morgan:
I'm going to try that absolutely for myself.

Greg Shields:
If you find yourself meeting like parentheticals and empty spaces everywhere, those are the things that you want to like, if it's not comfortable to read, it's not comfortable to listen to.

Jeremy Morgan:
What are you working on right now that you could tell us about? 

Greg Shields:
Yeah, the fourth course right now in this. So the hundredth course. It's kind of funny. So there's so much press right now and it being the hundredth course that I don't want people to lose the fact that there actually is new three new courses on a VMware horizon, which is their VDI platform. And so the fourth course, the final course, arguably at least to me, the most interesting of the four courses is the one that's left to be done. It'll be kind of a longer one. Because I think I squished too much content at one course, but I had to do it that way. So it's going to be one more, probably really long course there as number four to finish out that series. And then after that, I'm not entirely certain. There's a couple of different avenues to go down or what the next thing will be. 

Greg Shields:
Lately I've kind of been also cheating a bit and asking Twitter, anybody has any ideas? And a lot of people have really great ideas that I hadn't thought about. So I might-

Jeremy Morgan:
Is there a particular topic that you like that you like to do a lot?

Greg Shields:
They're all fun and exciting for different reasons, for their own reasons. Yeah. Yeah. That's hard to say. It really is. 

Jeremy Morgan:
I got one final question then. This is a surprise pop question. What's your favorite fiction book of all time? 

Greg Shields:
I'll start with a nonfiction book because you asked it. Probably one of the most interesting nonfiction books I've ever read is a book called The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know by R. Richard Ritti. And it's a book that it was written in 1994 and it was given to us in an organizational behavior class back in college. I still have it, it's the only college text I still have and I thought it was just a really great. I haven't read it in a really long time, but I thought it was a really great exploration of just why people behave in certain ways, behavioral psychology and it's specific to how to be in an organization. Like I said, it's been a long time since I've read it and I hopefully I'm, this is the right answer and it hasn't evolved poorly over the years. But that's one that I really appreciated back from college. 

Greg Shields:
As to fiction, that's difficult I guess. I have to say The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, is amazing if you if you've read that or haven't read that, that's now currently a movie. No it's a TV series that was canceled after the third season and Jeff Bezos over at Amazon liked it so much he bought it and then now it's run on the Amazon platform released by the Amazon platform.

Greg Shields:
And The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. That was a amazing 12 or 13 books series that I started my sophomore year in high school and finally finished the last book several years ago, I think because it took that long to get written. I believe, I believe it holds the record for the longest story told.

Jeremy Morgan:
Yeah. And I have heard of it before, but I haven't started any of the series yet. I might have to put that on my list.

Greg Shields:
Give it a try. It's worth year and a half of your life.

Jeremy Morgan:
Very cool. So is there anything that you wanted to talk about that I didn't ask about?

Greg Shields:
I will talk about one thing. One of the most bizarre parts about this job. It's truly bizarre is there's a lot of people that reach out and just say hello or say thank you or have questions or whatever. And it is really cool. Like it is just to like heartening to get these questions from people and sometimes really strange parts of the world the person couldn't even think of. I was Facebook friends with someone who worked in the ministry of defense in Iraq for a while. I get emails from Pakistan, I get email or LinkedIn requests from those areas. I get people to contact me from just really, really interesting places. Individual reached out recently from Giza and had a question about, it was a question about Citrix or something and I said, "Can you see the pyramids out your window?"

Greg Shields:
And he's like, "Yeah, no, they're right across the street. It's amazing." Anytime you're in Giza come stop by."

Jeremy Morgan:
Wow.

Greg Shields:
And so just these, the opportunity to make the world a smaller place and recognize that even in today's day and age where everybody's talking about everything, that at the end of the day, people still need to know how to make an active directory domain controller across the world is just a really amazing part of this job. The other cool part too is a lot of these people don't know my face, but they know my voice. And it's happened several times where I was at a conference or out bizarrely across the street at my wife's, her community garden.

Greg Shields:
Someone heard me talking and stopped over and said, "Hello. You don't know me, but I know you. I've spent dozens of hours with you. I recognized you by your voice."

Jeremy Morgan:
That's really cool.

Greg Shields:
I think I speak on behalf of all the authors here at Pluralsight that it's those experiences that they don't happen very often, but it's those experiences that are at the end of the day What gets you up in the morning, gets you right back in front of that microphone to do it again. Because there are a lot of jobs out in the world that you're doing something or contributing to something that maybe you don't really feel all that excited about. But over here we get to do things and contributed to things that we know are helping people. We know that it's just genuinely a force for good. And I'll be forever grateful for the time I've had here because it is something that I can tell my family and I can hold my head up high and tell people, "Yeah, I'm here to helping people and I feel really good about it."

Jeremy Morgan:
Well, thank you for talking with me today. 

Greg Shields:
Yup. Thank you.

Outro:
Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a review on your platform of choice. You can see show notes and more info at pluralsight.com/podcast.