Part of your job should be to learn

Jan recently asked:

“Something I don’t see being addressed that often – When you say you
read a lot, is that on your own time, or do you actually spend time at
work reading? I think spending time at work reading & learning is
justifiable, although not always easy.”

My answer is an absolute and irrevocable ABSOLUTELY. You should spend as much time as possible learning while at work, and you should use your work itself as a learning platform. Even in an organization that’s constantly under intense client deadlines, you should be able to fit in reading a couple blog posts at the start of your day and during lunch time. It helps if you have a specific list of high-value blogs (as opposed to having to wade through sites like weblogs.asp.net for example). Jeremy Miller recently mentioned that he likes http://www.infoq.com/, so I’m going to start keeping an eye on it. There’s also my own aggregate at http://www.foundationsof.com/ which is good if you like codebetter-like content.

Also, I find that there are always some throw-away projects on the go which are ideally suited for experimentation (like that one data import that needs to get done). At the very least, these projects can help you get over some of the technical hurdles of learning a new tool.

You can even find the time to create and maintain your own OSS project at work. For example, I had to write a JSON parser for the compact framework (at the time, none existed). I talked to my manager and, since our company isn’t in the market of selling software (or making software for that matter), got approval to release it on CodePlex. In a previous job, I had to write a AMF serializer/deserializer, and since it was based on a GPLd Java Port I also got approval to release it.

Learning at work is something you should talk to your manager about – whether that be for formal training, or simply reading blogs and contributing to OSS projects. Furthermore, the process can be formalized as a team activity, through Lunch and Learns or code reviews. Are you considering using a DI framework, unit testing, or NHibernate at work? Why not download CodeBetter.Canvas and get your colleagues together for an hour to review specific parts of the code?

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11 Responses to Part of your job should be to learn

  1. Paul Cowan says:

    Well you certainly do not work for yourself and you certainly do not work on fixed price bids.

    Your view is unrealistic and it would appear that you would sanction internet study time then I am laughing out loud.

    I am wondering should I fit that into my next bid.

    Seriously, get with the real world.

    We are trying to make money, not use the latest and the greatest which is what this often boils down to.

    Next you’ll have developers wanting to do functional programming because they did a 20 minute tutorial.

  2. BlackWasp says:

    Good post. I have worked at companies that don’t understand that people should be allowed to learn during office hours. When I had a dev team I implemented a policy that Friday afternoons were learning time. Sometimes you had to drop the afternoon to hit a deadline but the principal was correct I believe.

    It’s interesting that this is another area where development doesn’t follow other disciplines. We wouldn’t expect a surgeon to learn in his own time. We would put her with a more experienced surgeon and allow her to learn in this manner. The same applies in many professions.

  3. raveman says:

    I agree you should talk with your boss about it :) if something funny happen please post it :) i bet most managers would love the idea of you spending time at work reading stuff on the internet.

  4. Sla says:

    It would boil down to the learning being your job in any case.
    The question raised here is more about should you read let say books during work time or during your free time, after work. And that’s actually 2 different questions.

  5. Critical.
    I think this is an area where a disconnect between IT and management often occurs. Companies need to assure they are providing and even financing additional/ continuous training. This is very important to foster an environment where IT staff retention is high. Most (good) techies are alot a like in the fact that there is a heavy thirst to learn. Managers really need to understand that and do what ever they can to support their employees in “keeping up”… Just like the commercial, “Moving at the speed of light”, in reference to IT.

    My two cents…
    RA

  6. Matt says:

    >What really frustrates me though is the fact that most people I work with (manager included) think that they’ve already learned all they need to learn.

    Agreed. What’s also frustrating is taking on the role of learning new techniques and working with a team of people who don’t have the same passion. I find this is very, very common. As a result, as I introduce new things I am often met with more whining and resistance than a desire to want to absorb the knowledge.

  7. My boss at my previous job almost looked at me funny when I asked if it was okay for me do read up on stuff. He was upset I hadn’t done so already.

    Since then, I typically use the first half hour or so in the morning after checking the nightly jobs logs to do my “learning” Reading the blog posts while getting that cup of coffee in the system gets me energized for the work ahead.

    In addition, having a couple of tech podcasts to listen to during the day is a big help. Granted the info doesn’t stick as well since I’m listening while working, but I’ve picked up a good number of things along the way

  8. braindead says:

    > Depending on your position/status, learning can occur without it being obvious, if you know what I mean 😉

    That’s pretty much how I do it on my current job. I usually swallow my lunch as fast as I can so I can come back to my desk with more 30+ minutes to spare and do some reading. Sometimes (on slow work days) if my boss gets called to a meeting I might take that as an opportunity to read up/catch up.

    What really frustrates me though is the fact that most people I work with (manager included) think that they’ve already learned all they need to learn. I usually get laughed at for being the guy that “goes home to keep staring at a computer screen after 8+ hours of work”.

    And don’t even get me started on “oh that’s a cool OSS tool/framework, I’m sure MS has something better though, let’s check MSDN…”, but I guess that’s an off-topic rant for another day.

  9. Martin says:

    Increasing your knowledge can only add value to your employers business provided that a balance is kept between learning and delivering product.
    If you’re employer doesn’t value staff development, they don’t value their staff.

    Good post.

  10. Bob says:

    Great post Karl!

    >If you’re fortunate enough to have an employer that understands the benefits (always within reason), that’s a win-win situation.

    Depending on your position/status, learning can occur without it being obvious, if you know what I mean 😉 The goal is to improve the quality of software that you produce, which is something your employer does care about (I hope).

  11. Hadi Hariri says:

    If you’re fortunate enough to have an employer that understands the benefits (always within reason), that’s a win-win situation.

    However, if it’s not the case, I don’t think that should be an impediment. Learn on your own time. Don’t make your employer an excuse for your lack of knowledge.