Collaborate — internationally! — to discover yourself

I have been teaching students Global Software Engineering (GSD) since 2006, and more and more I realize that the learning I am trying to create in the classroom is not related to technical skills at all. It is about discovering yourself. Very few problems in GSD are of technical nature. Advances in distributed version control and integrated collaborative development environments have made most of technical issues conquerable. It is about how these infrastructures get used by people in different parts of the world, with different styles of work and communication, but more interestingly, different expectations of success and of others.

In a recent course I run at the University of Victoria in collaboration with the Finnish Aalto University — see here for a slide deck outlining our great GSD experience — I had the incredible experience that any teacher is hungry for: a student’s reflection on what learning GSD meant for him. Although my intention was to facilitate the UVic students’ international collaboration with the Finnish students, our UVic class was international in itself and we had many great discussions of what working in an international team really meant. In very few classes we get the chance to really reflect on our experiences and learning, and we had many opportunities to share the good and the  hard. Trust, large time zone differences and teamwork were among the few things that we talked in almost every class. My student’s report — a reflection from a reserved person most often not able to contribute to what were felt as advanced discussions, though his report is very telling about his learning — highlights in fact why collaborating across borders (whatever they are: physical, cultural, emotional, ideological) is important to (re-)discover oneself: where one comes from, how one approaches particular challenges and how one is willing to search for solutions.

It reminded me, once more, how much I continue to discover myself whenever I accept the challenge of collaborating internationally. It also taught me, as a teacher, to be open minded to the many collaborating styles that students have.

Are you up for it?