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Reflections of a Middle-Aged Intern: The Value of the Lunch Break

crock-spot(Image from Crock Spot website via fair use law)

Over the years, I’ve worked a number of jobs. Full-time jobs. Part-time jobs. Temporary jobs. Seasonal jobs. Looking back, one of the key factors of my most memorable work experiences has been the opportunity to step away from my responsibilities and enjoy a mid-day meal, especially with co-workers. At my ViaSat internship, there was time available to step away from my cubical and eat lunch. Every day there was a different food truck parked outside the Denver office that offered employees a wide variety of food, including fish tacos, Italian cheesestakes, BBQ brisket, and Asian fusion. One of my favorites was a chicken couscous dish served up by Crock Spot (if you live in the Mile High City, please check them out). As an employee perk, ViaSat threw in a $4 voucher. Twice a week, interns got a full voucher! In addition, our departmental team would organize pot lucks to share food and exchange conversation.

Unfortunately, not everyone takes the time to get away from their responsibilities and eat lunch. Too often, people are eating at their desks. In 2015, only 1 in 5 people were getting out of the workplace for lunch. It’s important for one’s mental health to step away from the computer, even for 15 to 20 minutes. Plus, a lunch break is a great time to socialize with coworkers, which can offer both collaboration and networking benefits. Of course, not every job offers an opportunity to leave the building or eat with coworkers. At one point, I had a part-time job at a hotel where the closest restaurant was the in-house sports bar primarily serving fried food. I generally worked alone on a swing shift and oddly, there didn’t seem to be a refrigerator that employees could use to store food from home.

Now that I’m working my new part-time job, I look forward to the food trucks arriving on the Auraria Campus each Monday. Still, I have a tendency to eat at my workstation, but whenever Crock Spot is there, I’ll line up to get my favorite dish.

 

Reflections of a Middle-Aged Intern: The Subject-Matter Expert (SME)

cont_emspec2(Above image from Wikimedia. Solely created by NASA and resides in public domain)

When I was interviewed over the phone for an instructional design internship position at ViaSat, one of the questions I was asked was my knowledge of computer networks and satellite communications. I said something like, “Well … I know a little bit.” In fact, I knew very little of these fields. As someone who has worked in television production, my last experience in a science-related subject was a sophomore zoology class I took back in 1993!

Fortunately, I was hired as an instructional design intern at ViaSat where I had the opportunity to learn about computer networks and satellite communications from several subject-matter experts (SMEs). As it turns out, instructional designers, or IDs for short, don’t necessarily have to be experts on the project subject matter. In a few short weeks, Jasmine, my fellow intern, and I were quickly learning topics such electromagnetic wave characteristics, the radio spectrum, frequency division multiple access (FDMA), geosynchronous orbit (GSO), and rain fade. The SMEs gave classroom lectures, drew sketchbook diagrams and answered any questions we encountered. Jasmine and I incorporated all this information into the onboarding tutorials we were creating in Articulate Storyline.

The internship was a great opportunity to work with people who not only had years of professional experience, but also were willing to take the time to explain scientific details on subject matters they find fascinating. The time at ViaSat gave me a better understanding on how to collaborate with SMEs, but it also made me think about how much an instructional designer needs to learn when adapting to a new project. In some instances, the ID may also have to serve as the SME. Plus, there may be a different style of creating and delivery training material. The SME may prefer linear text-heavy Microsoft Word documents, but the ID needs to create media-rich, interactive content in an eLearning tool.

As I look for instructional design positions, I’m looking closely to see opportunities that will allow me to collaborate with SMEs and give me time to get up to speed with the project content. At this point, I’m still trying to figure out what fields I’d like to pursue (telecommunications, health care, education, etc.), but hopefully, I’ll be teaming with SMEs who have years of experience and a strong desire to share why they love their work.

 

Reflections of a Middle-Aged Intern: The Hackathon

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-10-19-19-am(The above image is a screen grab of a video posted by ViaSat on YouTube)

When I first heard the word “hackathon“, I thought about a scene from the movie The Social Network where a group of young web developers compete against each other in an alcohol-infused contest to be a part of the Facebook team. This past summer, I took part in the ViaSat Summer Hackathon at the home office in Carlsbad, California. I was part of one of the teams from the Denver, Colorado office. In less that 30 hours, Jasmine, Kyra, Manthan, and I (I’m the gray-haired guy in the blue shirt listening to my teammate’s insights in the image above) put together a prototype website specifically designed to offer interns resources (housing, social activities, shopping, etc.) when they move to a new location for an internship.

In that 30-hour period, I witnessed the remarkable collaborative efforts of not only my team members, but also of the other interns brainstorming nonstop in that campus building. There were bleary-eyed people writing lines of HTML code for hours. Some were building remote-controlled robots and testing them in the corridors. Conference room whiteboards were filled with new ideas and makeshift diagrams. Senior ViaSat leaders would come by and offer suggestions to us about our projects. Not having an extensive web development background myself, I offered my team creative suggestions on what content (public domain and Creative Commons images from WikiMedia, Pixabay, etc) we could incorporate in the front end of the website. Fortunately, it wasn’t all work and no play. There was a BBQ dinner where we all had a chance to chat with ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg, a table constantly full of highly caffeine beverages and fast food (including In-n-Out burgers), and a trip to a local Carlsbad beach complete with surfboards, s’mores, and a bonfire.

I can’t say I learned a lot of about HTML coding during that time, but the experience gave me some insight into the potential benefits of hackathons. Often times, a hackathon is less about a website or an invention but more about the potential benefits of an new idea. There have been hackathons tackling topics such as homelessness, social injustice, and renewable energy.  In addition, hackathons teach people important interpersonal skills and collaboration techniques. Personally, I found out that a middle-aged Gen Xer like myself has something to contribute to team members 20 years younger than myself. Then again, no amount of free Red Bull will keep me from getting a little more sleep!

 

 

Reflections of a Middle-Aged Intern: Picking the Right Mic

640px-sennmicrophone(photo by ChrisEngelsma via Creative Commons Attribution-SA 3.0 Unported license from WikiMedia)

Each week during my summer internship at ViaSat, the company would schedule weekly Tech Talks, similar in content to presentations from Google.  These were internal, online teleconferences from the home office in Carlsbad, California to all the satellite offices in the United States. The perk of attending the Tech Talk was getting free lunch from a local food truck parked right outside the building (P.S: If you’re ever in the Denver area, please be sure to track down the Crock Spot food truck. Plenty of tasty couscous dishes!). The presenters covered a variety of topics, including wireless internet networks, market demographics, data visualization, and the future of ViaSat. Each speaker was highly qualified and extremely knowledgeable about the weekly subject matter. Often times, however, it was difficult to hear what they were saying.

Having moonlighted as a mobile disc jockey at weddings, I understand the importance of using a quality sound system. In situations such as a wedding toast, a hand-held microphone (like in the above photo) works best. On the other hand, in a lecture-style format, like the weekly Tech Talks, the hand-held proved to be not the best option. Generally, presenters need to have their hands free to both engage the audience and highlight details in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. A lavalier microphone, which is commonly used in broadcast journalism, does free up a speaker’s hands, but is ineffective when the person moves his or her head and talks away from the microphone. The best option would be a thin, headset microphone (see image below) that is often used by stage actors and church officiants. Wherever the presenter turns his or her head, the mic follows. It’s an investment all companies should consider when delivering meaningful presentations.

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(photo from reddingaudio.com website under fair use law)

Granted, there are other factors that a part of an effective virtual presentation, but a good microphone will maintain the attention of the audience. Having created live webinars in my eLearning Design and Development graduate classes at University of Colorado-Denver, I’ve seen how bad audio (feedback, low recording levels, etc) can wreck a well-organized presentation. Sometimes during the ViaSat Tech Talks, my fellow interns would become disengaged from the videoconference because they could not hear what the presenter was saying.

In the end, if the audio elements in a presentation are neglected, the visual elements will be irrelevant.

 

Reflections of a Middle-Aged Intern: The Puzzling Popularity of PowerPoint

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During my time in the instructional design program at UC-Denver, I’ve found that many of the instructors discourage students from using Microsoft PowerPoint in their eLearning design and development. To be frank, they think PowerPoint is inferior to such authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. During my internship at ViaSat, we used Storyline to create technical training courses covering radio frequency principals and satellite communication. It’s a very effective and user-friendly tool. Before we could create the modules in Storyline, however, we had to verify our information and visual elements with the subject-matter experts (SMEs). As it turned out, the most widely-available application across all departments that could present a content-rich project was, in fact, Microsoft PowerPoint.

Even though PowerPoint doesn’t offer the same interactive possibilities as Storyline or Captivate, it’s still one of the most popular applications in the business world. This is not surprising considering that Microsoft Office 365 has become the most widely used enterprise cloud service.  At ViaSat, we came to realize that when working with SMEs from other departments, it’s important to get their feedback in a context they could easily access on their computers or on a conference room screen. Also, it was relatively easy for us to import a PowerPoint presentation into Storyline and make adjustments.

I have Adobe Captivate on my home iMac. It offers a lot of interactive features to engage learners. Still, I know that if I am going to work for an organization that relies on Office 365, I’ll have to plan on creating a “rough draft” version of an eLearning module in PowerPoint first, despite it’s limitations. Oddly enough, I just realized I have an outdated version of Microsoft Office (2008 for Mac!) on my home computer. Time to upgrade I guess!