By Starshine Roshell | Monday, August 04, 2014
Dan Gookin is no dummy.
An expert at simplifying technical concepts, our new Android Essential Training author wrote the very first For Dummies books, helping to establish the popular series’ tone and format.
But even expert teachers can learn new things at lynda.com. Find out what Dan learned—and how he thwarts the “programmer priesthood” daily—in our Q&A.
How did you learn what you know about computers?
I wanted to be a writer, but I used to break typewriters because I would type so fast. Eventually I bought a computer to start my writing career. Because Icouldn’t afford the software, and I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted my money, I taught myself how to program it. I just took to it really well. I understood computers and could relate to them.
So what made you want to teach others about them?
Back then, there was what I call the “programmer priesthood.”Theywanted to keep computers mysterious and secret. So they didn’t tell anyone how to use a computer, they just fixed people’s problems and moved on. If someone asked how, then they were typically rude or patronizing in their attitude.
I didn’t want to do that. I don’t like people who won’t share information, who hold it secret. And I thought, I’m going to tell people how simple a computer works, so if they want to understand it, they don’t have to kowtow to anyone. My goal was to go ahead and tell people, “You can do this.”
You did just that with Dos for Dummies and about 20 other For Dummies titles since. Why do you think that series was such a hit from the very start?
Some of the other books at the time assumed that everybody wanted to be an expert, and there was a condescending attitude that made you feel stupid if you didn’t get it. My book didn’t do that. Plus my book was funny. I felt humor had a place in technical books.
Why do people find programming and technical topics so intimidating?
It’s an alien language. The terms are so weird and different, and they’re dealing with abstract things. What’s Bluetooth? That’s a weird word.
How do you make it less intimidating?
I develop a camaraderie with the person who’s learning so they know I’m on their side. I’m not this lofty, arrogant teacher. I try to remember that a beginner doesn’t have all the information, like they may not know where a file is located. I always ask myself, “What am I leaving out? What could possibly go wrong here? What else can I possibly do to help you understand something?” Like comparing an 8-bit data bus to 8 lanes on a freeway, so someone can relate to it better.
What did you learn while teaching your first video course at lynda.com?
I was embarrassed when I’d screw up in recording, when I’d try something and it wouldn’t work. But the producers were all so helpful, really friendly, very respectful. I found out that everyone screws up—no one does it perfect the first take. To find out that I was no different was very reassuring. And then it was fun!
Is there anything you’re a so-called “dummy” in? Something you could stand to learn more about?
Unfortunately, we don’t teach that on lynda.com.
If you ever change your mind, then I’m willing to do the research.
Begin learning software, business, and creative skills—anytime, anywhere—with video instruction from recognized industry experts.
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