This feature first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
I am a seasoned software engineer. When I want to become familiar with a new technology — or with anything else, for that matter — I automatically look to that seemingly infinite source of knowledge known as the World Wide Web.
When I took an interest in the practice of firewalking, I instinctively researched it, and even tried to learn how to do it, with random blog articles and videos from — you guessed it — the Internet! What I discovered was a daunting array of short, confusing, directionless D-I-Y crash courses.
Most of what I found was outdated, and all of it seemed to either emphasize repetitive basic knowledge or plod through excessively advanced (but equally confusing) information. There was a distinct lack of any kind of organization and I was unable to find any real clarity on the topic.
When I set out to really learn how to become a firewalker, I looked for a well-organized course with a clearly defined outline, as well as opportunities to simulate and practice real-world techniques without doing any actual damage to myself or others. Ideally there, would also be a way to track my progress that would ultimately result in new skills that could be evaluated at the completion of the course.
That's how we design our training and IT certification courseware at TestOut. Every course is carefully structured and laid out to guide learners from one topic to the next, while at the same time letting them practice new skills in a safe environment. You can review what you've learned and repeat simulated activities at any point.
Learning to firewalk has some similarities to learning new technology. As you'll soon see, however, there is a bit more emphasis on practice than theory.
My true journey began in the summer of 2015, as the sun was dwindling at evening time — around 8:45 p.m. — in a backyard near the Great Salt Lake. Having digested a few hours of theory and training, I was ready. Five minutes earlier I had removed my shoes and socks and stepped barefoot into the soft, cool green grass. Three inches of bright red coals were laid out nearby forming a walkway ten feet long and two feet wide.
My instructor called out, The fire is open! A few minutes later, I was directly in front of those hot, brightly burning coals. I hesitated. I had always considered myself adventurous, even fearless, but that night I was paralyzed. I couldn't move. Not because of fear — or any other kind of emotion — but out of an inexplicable hesitation about moving forward.
I moved two steps to my right, and a short, delicate lady of mature age stepped up directly in front of the burning walkway. She hesitated only a moment and then took the first step, then the next, and the next, and boom! She was at the end of the bright red walkway! How had she done it?
I had signed up to learn and experience firewalking because I had a desire to participate in something exciting that I knew was possible for me to do. I had even been willing to pay for the experience. I had driven 50 miles, just to be there. I was troubled by my unwillingness to take action. Despite everything I had done to get to that point, I hesitated over that seemingly impossible first step.
I kept procrastinating. I stayed where I was, two feet to the right of the glowing pathway, and watched others go through the experience. Our instructor yelled out again, Firewalkers, stop! Firetenders, refresh! The firetenders took the shovels, and threw fresh bright coals onto the walkway. By now it was after 9 p.m. The brightness of the coals was such that we had no need for artificial light.
I kneeled down and put the palm of my hand closer to the coals. I could feel the heat from 10 inches away! How was it possible that people were able to go down that walkway over and over with their feet totally unharmed by the glowing coals?
Success requires action
There are scientific and esoteric explanations of the phenomenon of firewalking, but those are hard to reconcile with the actual reality of hot coals. If you have ever been close to the charcoal briquettes on a barbeque grill, or put a hand over the embers in a fire pit while camping out, then you know how intense the heat can be. Our instincts warn us to stay away in order to avoid painful injuries.
As a software engineer, I have to constantly assimilate new information to stay on top of the technology game. I have seen colleagues fail in the software or IT fields simply because they lose the desire keep up. They aren't willing to undertake the learning and education necessary to remain informed. They inevitably fail to reach the next rung on the ladder of success because of this.
Back to the fire walkway: I decided to step in front of the fire once again. I took a couple of deep breaths and, without hesitation this time, took my first step. It felt like my feet were touching warm gravel. I took the next step, and the next, and then realized that I was firewalking. The instructor waited for me at the end of the burning pathway, hugged me, and whispered in my ear: I'm so proud of you.
I realized all at once that it I had done it — and it was easy! I even repeated the walk a few more times. The walkway was replenished again, and I continued to repeat the experience until, finally, the instructor yelled out Fire is closed, bringing an end to this unique first-time experience.
Firetenders proceeded to extinguish the hot coals with water. It was dark by this time. I remember how loud the sizzling was, and how white the steam was — confirming to us all how extraordinarily hot those coals had been.
Take your first step
Firewalking, at its core, is simple. Once the first step is taken, the next step must follow without hesitation. Going step by step, one is very aware of what is going on during the entire process. Learning and mastering new technology is, in a way, just like walking on hot coals.
You start with the first topic, continue to the next, and keep going, all while paying 100 percent attention to what is being taught. The reward comes when what you have learned is at last put into practice. After that first firewalk, I sought additional training. A couple of years later I became a certified firewalking instructor. My final test was to firewalk 108 times across a circle 50 feet wide.
Taking the first step is hard for most of us. And following up from there takes commitment. There will be many different distractions along the way. Once the first step is taken, however, and the distractions are set aside, each step moves you closer to the rewards at the end of the journey.
Along the way, you will benefit from the acquired knowledge of others who have gone before you. Following a well-laid path makes any journey easier, whether it involves information technology or glowing coals. That shared knowledge and wisdom lets us get the best out of ourselves and serve others. Fulfilling one's own passions while helping others learn and grow at the same time is priceless.