I’m a visual learner. I’ve known this for quite a while now. While I can find a location with printed directions from Google or Mapquest, once I’ve been to a place and seen how to get there I won’t get lost again. Network diagrams convey information much more clearly to me than spreadsheets. Even the act of my watching the information being written on a whiteboard is enough visual stimulation for it to stick with me. I think in pictures. And, for the majority of my career this has served me well.
That is, until I started doing site walkthroughs. Part of my job as a consultant requires me to walk around customer sites and observe things. I need to figure out what kind of electrical power is available. I need to know if the racks in the location will support a small UPS or a large rack-mount server. I need to know how many patch panels are installed. In short, I need to build a picture of your equipment and network so I can start figuring out what you need. In the past, I’ve always taken notes in my handy notepad. I jot down what I’m thinking at the time and what I’m seeing. Which works great as long as I can provide some context. Some notes, like “needs power” make sense if you remember to tag which rack you are talking about. Or you can remember which order you went through if you forgot to provide locations. Other notes, like “messy” or “I don’t want to ever come back here” tend to get lost in the shuffle. And so I found myself looking at my notebook days after my walkthrough wondering exactly what I was thinking when I jotted down a particular entry. That is, after I combed through the the 5 notebooks and legal pads I keep on my desk and in my car where notes may or may not be written down. Even moving to an electronic device for taking notes didn’t alleviate all my note-taking challenges. All that changed last year thanks in part to Cisco.
When I was at Cisco Live Networkers 2009 in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to win one of these:
For those of you not familiar, this is the Flip Video camera that Cisco now offers after their purchase of Pure Digital in 2009. This particular one was won by playing the Mind Share game at the Cisco Learning Lounge. When I won it, I first thought “Great!” Then I realized that I never really take pictures of anything, let alone video. When John Chambers was sitting on stage during the keynote talking about the revolution of video and how it was going to become a real game-changer, it didn’t really sink in.
Not until I was back home and working on the drudgery of my regular, non-nerdy non-convention life did the reality of video truly hit me. All of the problems I had experienced with notes could be solved with video! No longer did I have to remember to write down some key piece of information before it was forgotten. No longer would I have to make several trips to a site to answer a question about port counts or rack types. I could be free to conduct site surveys in a much more informal and meaningful manner.
Now, instead of flipping out my notebook or iPad or papyrus and quill, I take my Flip camera out of my backpack and just turn it on. Then I talk. I describe what I’m seeing. I talk about rack types and punch downs. I sweep the camera all around the area, noting anything of interest I might find. And when I’m done with my video note, I save it to my computer for future reference. In six months when an account manager asks me what kind of power is available in the room, I don’t have to make another trip to the site or spend half a day pouring over notebooks. I simply fire up my video record of my walkthrough and give them the answer they’re looking for.
It also helps to jog my memory when I look at a map of the building or I’m asked about a specific closet. I can go back and relive my time there to get the answers I need. And others can watch my videos and see the same things I’ve seen. That way, I can provide as much info as possible for as many people as I can in the shortest amount of time. That, in essence is the power of video. And for visual learners like me, it’s a really powerful way to demonstrate what I’ve seen to myself and to others.
And, thankfully, since I’m the producer I never have to be in front of the camera. I let the visuals speak for themselves. Because the last thing my customers and co-workers need to see is another nerd on film.