Home Articles Newsletter

Learning at work is work

Learning at work is work

May 7, 2020

Nowadays there are hardly any companies who aren’t trying to assess candidates' willingness and ability to learn. Nearly everyone agrees that constant learning and having a growth mindset are fundamental to success in software engineering. Albert Einstein is reported to have stated, “Once you stop learning, you start dying” and this definitely seems true in our trade, there’s so much change on multiple levels: new programming languages, frameworks and tools pop up like mushrooms after rain.

Yet once you’re done with onboarding at your new job as a software engineer the rat race seems to begin, leaving no dedicated time for learning. True, in many cases the best way to learn is by doing, but that usually lacks structure and strategy and a sense of progress.

Why isn’t learning happening?

First of all learning is complicated. Doing it right highly depends on your personality and requires a topic-specific setup and structure. Some things are best learnt by just doing it repeatedly, some things need a top-down, hierarchically built set of materials, some require a constant back and forth between these two modes. Some people learn best alone, some progress best with a mentor who stays close. Certain topics need longer chunks of focused time, some can be mastered in a series of 10 minute breaks between two work sessions.

Most importantly in the majority of cases learning requires a commitment from both parties which means support from the company (plus your team and your manager). Moral support is hardly enough. It’s not enough to say ‘we trust you can learn this, do your best’.

For most of the engineers immediate success is defined by team goals (sprint goals / project goals) and personal goals. This means that if you only talk about learning the next card on the board will be more appealing to your engineers. They might even feel they’re cheating on their team and they are being selfish if they use work hours for learning. When annual reviews happen they aren’t talking about the books they read but the projects that they contributed to (and even though learning might support the next project, the immediate need feels to be the current one).

What can we do then?

As a manager supporting your engineers is a huge part of your job. In this particular topic support has many forms and aspects:

Subscribe 🤩

A hand-curated newsletter for leaders and managers in tech.

Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.

    I won't send you spam - pinky swear! Unsubscribe at any time. ❤️

    As a closing remark I’d like to emphasize that making sure learning happens is your responsibility, too, dear manager. It’s not enough to say you encourage it, demonstrate it with relevant actions. Don’t expect people to magically grow without proper support. The amount and kind of support heavily depends on the situation, but it’s always required.

    ✨ Newsletter ✨

    A hand-curated newsletter for leaders and managers in tech.

    Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.

    No ads, ever.

      I won't send you spam - pinky swear! Unsubscribe at any time. ❤️