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Getting Them To Love What They Hate

November 7, 2018

How many of you enjoy reading network traces?. . .No one? I can promise you that by the end of this class you will not only enjoy it, you will love it.

Krista was teaching a Microsoft training class. The class focused on the low level network communication between Microsoft Exchange Server and the Outlook client.

Our students were Microsoft support engineers and third party partners. Most of the training we produced was new-to-product training. We had a two week course that covered anything and everything having to do with Microsoft Exchange. But, that course was aimed at people new to the product.

This new class was an attempt to create advanced training. Engineers, while working with customers, would often have them create network traces to attempt to diagnose issues.

A network trace can contain hundreds of packets. To the untrained eye they look like a random collection of letters and numbers. But, with the proper training, the random numbers and letters organize themselves into packets, sequences, calls and responses.

Our course was three days long. As Krista noted, students hated the topic. Most had experienced the frustration of attempting to decipher a network trace. Network traces most often were passed along to the Critical Problem Resolution (CPR) team. They were senior engieers and junior programmers.

However, most of the time, the traces were incomplete. Either they were started too late, or only captured one half of the conversation. In that case, CPR had to request a new trace.

And everyone was frustrated.

They hated network traces.

How do you get someone to love what they hate? I don’t know. I can only tell you what worked in this case.

It was education and training.

The course, was unique among our training. It was entirely performance based. We took first canned traces, prerecorded. Then, live traces, as students paired up, one on an Exchange server, the other on a computer running Outlook.

The process was similar to learning a new language. They learned the vocabulary; the meaning of each part of a packet. Then they learned the vocabularly; how the packets worked together.

It was not an instantaneous process. At first, it was simply a matter of the students watching the instructor go through the traces explaining them.

But, on the second day something magical happens. When I was first teaching the course, I noticed it just as people came back from lunch. I always scheduled labs for after lunch. No one ever fell asleep working through a lab.

As the students settled into the act of creating and reading their own traces, the room got very quiet. At first I thought perhaps they were confused. That they were still struggling to understand the content.

So, is there anything. . .

Wait!. . .I’m getting it!

It was amazing to watch a classroom of people all “get it” at the same time. The incomprehensible jumble of letters and numbers were suddenly coming into focus for them. Like a door being opened, or a light being turned on, they finally understood.

It’s why we become trainers. To help people achieve that moment.

From that point on the students really taught the class to themselves. The instructor’s role was to guide them through the self learning for the rest of class. Already working in pairs, they would design their own labs on the fly.

Let’s try public folders!

Yeah, and then let’s see what happens when we add a new user.

As the course designer, I had the chance to train occasionally, but Krista was a full time trainer. She told me about the class where she issued the challenge that the students would grow to love network traces. She had a conversation with a student at the end of the class.

On the first day, when I found out that this course was about network traces, I was planning to leave.

So, why did you stay?

You made that that challenge that we would grow to love traces. Honestly, the only reason I stayed was so that I could prove you wrong.


I can’t. I never thought I’d say this, but you were right, I love to read network traces.

If it’s true we fear what we don’t understand then it makes sense that as we gain understanding our fear is replaced with love.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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