We (esp. those in the tech industry) have an instinctual aversion to pedagogy. “Those who can’t do, teach” the old saying goes. But the truth is the opposite. Teaching does not indicate an inability to do something. On the contrary, teaching empowers and enables ability. It is the highest form of understanding. When you teach something, you gain a deeper mastery over the subject matter than you would as a passive student. As Leonardo da Vinci said:
He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.
Through teaching, the teacher becomes the compass guiding the student’s journey. And it isn’t just altruistic — it makes you better in surprising ways.
The best way to learn something is to teach it. This is the essence of the Feynman Technique - named after the famous physicist. As Feynman observed, attemps in explaining something force you to simplify concepts until their essence becomes clear. Every teacher has experienced the insight unlocked by putting ideas into plain terms.
Similarly, in the Protégé Effect, professor Jean-Pol Martin discovered teachers gain as much as their students. The act of advising forces you to reflect on your own experiences and verbalize the implicit knowledge you possess. Expressing your personal experiences and thoughts out loud can strengthen them in your mind and reveal new perspectives. Each lesson is itself a lesson for the teacher.
There is no better test of comprehension than to explain something in simple terms. If you struggle to convey an idea clearly, you do not understand it as well as you thought. The process of simplification thus expands the teacher’s mastery and appreciation of the subject. As Einstein said:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
Additionally, many parallels can be drawn between teaching and doing sales. To convince students to pay attention, you must deliver value. The best salespeople are educators at heart. They seek not simply to push a product, but to guide the customer to the optimal solution. This entails listening with care, discerning true needs, and clearly explaining how their offer fulfills those needs. Just as in teaching, success requires rapport, insight, and communication skill. In both professions, you must simplify complex ideas, motivate with passion, and customize the delivery to connect with each unique individual. Those with classroom experience understand this inherently. They enter sales with a leg up, able to leverage their practiced ability to break down difficult concepts, address objections persuasively, and inspire buy-in.
Finally, giving back is an overlooked benefit of teaching. For those of us grinding away in tech, our skills don’t come easy. We scour tech docs, burn midnight oil, and suffer failures to gain expertise. Teaching lets us gift this hard-won know-how to others. Consider teaching a coding bootcamp, running a conference workshop or giving a talk at a local tech meetup. You directly arm the next wave of programmers with tools for success. The students will pay it forward. Teaching feels good. But more importantly, it does good. For the student, community, and yourself. It connects us to something larger.
If you ever find yourself wondering “What’s next?”, teach something. Tutor a child, mentor an intern, train colleagues. Whatever your subject, teaching others will strengthen your understanding, communication ability, empathy, and persuasion. The rewards go far beyond the paycheck.
- Teach Programming To Become A Better Programmer
- The Feynman Technique 2.0: How to Level Up Your Learning
*This post was inspired by one of the life lessons proposed by Tim Minchin is his
If you are in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher.