How we achieve continuous learning in a fast-paced workplace

  • November 9, 2018
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Author: Rob Sharp // Head of Engineering at Digivizer

At Digivizer we only want to celebrate and work with smart, talented people, who get things done, are infinite learners and not arseholes.

To ensure we keep to these values, we regularly poll our team on what they value and consistently one of the strongest values is our desire and ability to be Infinite Learners.

It’s an essential skill for any function in our business, but the impact of Infinite or Continuous Learning, or rather the lack of it, is readily apparent in Software Engineering. As an industry, over the course of the last five or ten years, we’ve fundamentally shifted both our technology and processes – and the current rate of change won’t decrease.

As an engineering leader, your time is best spent acting as a force multiplier. This means that your best opportunity is to help your team grow. Particularly in startups, we become accustomed to operating at 100% and may consider ourselves ‘too busy’ to continue to learn.

However, we have to measure the cost of standing still. A recent post from Michael Simmons hypothesizes that “it takes 5 hours per week, 50 weeks a year, just to stay up to date”, mainly due to the ever-expanding nature of our field.

Michael applied this rule to people, and I’ll add that I think this also applies to software. Software, too, must evolve. Commitment to continuous learning gives us an opportunity to improve the capability of our team as well as our product. Win-win.

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How do we ensure continuous learning at Digivizer? Here’s a rough summary of the steps we’ve taken.

Clear The Path

One of the biggest impediments to achieving 5 hours of learning a week is finding that 5 hours. This needs commitment from the business. Ask the team what’s preventing this from happening today. Ask peers and execs. Move those roadblocks.

Define Success

At Digivizer, we tie learning to our OKRs. Whilst defining a commitment period per quarter is tempting, it’s better to tie to a measurable output. What does a successful step change from learning look like?

Make It Real

Block a recurring afternoon. Subscribe everyone to the online learning platform Safari. Allow everyone to set their schedule and fit learning around their commitments.

Move Forward Together

Learning can be an individual activity, but it’s fun to spend time as a team implementing something together. Want to rewrite that service in Go? Spike the idea and learn as a team.

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Another approach is ‘book club’, where the team reads through a text and discusses it. Apply what you’ve learned to your team and product.

We’ve had success watching class conference videos together, particularly Rich Hickey and Gary Bernhardt, who are often accessible and entertaining!

Win

A more proficient team will deliver better products more quickly. You don’t always need to hire in new talent to build team capability, you can build capability in your current team. As a leader within a startup with limited resources, I’ve found this is the best way to improve both myself and my team.

Have you created a learning program in your business? What challenges do you face? Let me know in the comments.

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