Lunch & Learns

A lot of companies have a regular practice of "Lunch & Learns"—a series where engineers within the company give a presentation to their coworkers on some technical topic in which they have an interest.

I myself have given presentations at several companies where they did this, and have sat through many presentations by other engineers. Over time, I've developed a taste for what works and what doesn't.

Set the Stage

Start with the basics: Who are you? What do you work on in the company? Why is this topic important to you?

I've watched too many of these where someone starts the presentation by screen-sharing what seems like a random code file in Visual Studio (or their code editor of choice), and just starts talking in minute detail about lines of code in the file. No context at all for: what am I looking at, what is this, why is this significant, what is this application, what does this application do, why would I care, what am I supposed to do with this information, etc.

Go Beyond Generic Content

I've sat through too many "Introduction to X" presentations. They always have generic names like "React.js" or "Test-Driven Development". Now, there's nothing wrong with introductory content, but here's the thing: the audience knows how to use YouTube. If they want a generic introduction on some technical topic, there are undoubtedly free videos available that are more authoritative and higher quality.

If the content of the lunch & learn is completely generic in a way that it could be given to any group at any company without context, then there's really no good reason to be gathering a captive audience at one particular company to watch it.

Take advantage of the unique experience you have with the topic as it pertains to the projects and domain of the internal audience. Make the generic specific.

Make It Practical

What value is your audience going to get out of this presentation? Here are some lunch & learns I like to see:

  • This Is How We Used X to Do Y in Application Z
  • How to Replace X in Your Project with Y
  • Postmortems / Lessons Learned from Project X

One of the best tech leads I've ever worked with once gave me some advice about technical presentations that I've never forgotten. He encouraged me to think about "presentation to Production". It's one thing to give an interesting presentation, or pick an interesting topic, but the next level is to think about "How are we going to put this technique/language/framework/practice into Production?"

Include the Thing

I literally wrote a blog post a couple years ago called Include the Thing about effective written communication for engineers. And it's advice that is totally applicable to presentations.

Look, no one wants to watch a presentation where someone is showing a PowerPoint deck and simply reading the slides back to you. But I think some people, especially engineers, go too far in the other direction and eschew any kind of written outline material for a lunch & learn.

It's great to "show the code", but it's next level to leave a written artifact (PowerPoint deck, Wiki page, etc.) with links to the specific internal code repositories (GitLab, Bitbucket, whatever) and individual files that you were looking at in your local code editor during your screen-share.

For lunch & learns at my current company, we do the trifecta: 1) wiki page including… 2) embedded PowerPoint deck and… 3) embedded screencast video of the presentation. Anyone coming along later who couldn't attend the lunch & learn live, or anyone who wants to refer back to the content has all the context they need.