Panic! What I did when my expert left
By Vanesa Magar, Agent and Lecturer in Coastal Engineering, University of Plymouth.
Last spring one of our PhD students accepted a job in Australia, and left for warmer pastures in the middle of the summer. He was our local expert on Delft3D, an open-source software package developed by Deltares. What did we do to survive this loss of expertise?
Well, it is kind of unavoidable. Especially as you realise that you are going to need to cover all of the activities your developer was in charge of, and work out how to transfer their knowledge to others.
This is a more productive approach. I made a list of the tasks that my developer contributed to, then prioritised the more urgent ones. The number one priority was to train undergraduate students so they could use the Deflt3D software for their dissertations. I organised a series of tutorials to help them develop the necessary skills. Was this successful? I hope so, but I will not know for sure until I check their progress during the summer.
Ask your developer to train a team
This is excellent advice, but it needs to take place before your developer leaves. As you may have gathered, it was not advice that I had time to follow. If I could, I would have relied on another of our students or post-docs, but they were already busy training to use the software they needed for their own projects. One of the tasks that my absent developer contributed to, is the demonstrations for an MSc module. Unfortunately, it is now too late to rely on anyone else, so I am going to step in. This means I will have to go to the training sessions offered by Deltares.
Gather existing materials and study them
Thankfully, Deltares have produced a number of invaluable resources, such as webinars. We had also produced some of our own basic documentation, but it is more Delft3D for dummies than advanced Delft3D. If I had been more organised, I would have videoed some of the demonstrations that my developer presented last year. I will not miss that opportunity again this year!
Recruit the experts?
Some people would simply invite Deltares to visit them, lead a workshop and provide basic training. This requires funding, so it is not always doable, and may not be sustainable in the long-term. Recruiting the experts can help when you first realise that you are going to lose your own expert, because it ensures that your local staff is trained appropriately.
This may happen at some point. I am not sure when... Possibly once someone in my group, either myself or someone else, starts to use the Deflt3D software regularly and becomes the new expert. Or when I know that we can handle any question that may arise.
If you would like help preparing for the loss of a developer, please read our briefing paper Help! My developer is running away.
Posted by Simon Hettrick on Wednesday 26 September 2012.