Thoughts on Employment: Encourage Continued Learning

Header Photo Credit: Lorenzo Cafaro (Creative Commons Zero License)

This posting is part of my “Thoughts on Employment” series, detailing some lessons learned and general musings from my career as a software developer on what an employer can do to provide an effective, productive and attractive work environment for highly effective software development teams. For an index of postings in the series, please read the series summary.

As an employer of software developers, not only should you not get in the way of people learning new things, you should encourage it.  This doesn't necessarily mean you have to pay to fly a developer to New York or Vegas for a week long convention - one easy, and cheap, way to do this is the Lunch-and-Learn:

At West Monroe Partners, we had a session once a month, where a team member spent about 45 mins  (allow 15 mins beforehand for people to grab food/dial-in) presenting some new (or old) technology, tool, business concept, etc., and the company paid for pizza or sandwiches for everyone.  This served many purposes, since this was a consultancy firm:

  • kept technical staff aware of the industry
  • provided a safe environment for people to work on their presentation skills
  • served as a means for team members that did get the trip to a conference to share that knowledge with the rest of the team, thus giving the company more bang for their training buck

At InRule, three out of four Fridays in the month, we order-in lunch from a local deli (again, the company pays) and gather in the conference room with the projector to watch a recorded technical talk, typically from a tech conference like BUILD or ØREDEV, which post them online for free.  These are generally about an hour and the actual video is selected ahead of time by our department head from his own searching, or from proposals submitted by team member.

In all, each company spent about $10 person, and depending on the attendees personal lunch habits, lost 0 - 30mins of each person’s workday. A fairly small investment for the increase in knowledge and fellowship among team members.  Even if only one session per year resonates with an individual, the company has still come out ahead financially compared to sending the employee to even a half-day formal training session somewhere.  And in my experience, the "I learned something interesting" rate is closer to 40% per person, especially if the attendees have a say in the topics.

There are also may local and regional conferences which are free or cheap to attend and typically have great sessions.  May occur on weekends too.  In the Chicago/mid-west area, some great options include:

Additionally, look for other ways for people to share insights internally.  Maybe that’s an internal blog (I haven't seen this have much traction), or a platform like Yammer, where team members can post links to sources they find useful, tips & tricks, etc.  West Monroe, CSG and InRule all used Yammer, but I found this was much more effective at the smaller companies.