Learning how to learn
Learning is no longer an option in today’s world, but rather a necessity. The fast pace of change in the tech industry forces people to constantly hone their skills and learn new ones.
Those who feel comfortable learning new stuff, experimenting, and exploring disruptive ways to do things they already know, will be the best equipped for tomorrow.
The gray area of learning in technology
The tech industry needs innovative and disruptive players. Companies and individuals that master cutting-edge technologies and are aware of the latest tools and trends. But then, who is responsible for making learning happen?
Some people often look for job opportunities in which they can “learn” while doing their job. And when I say learn I mean “learn”, sit down and learn. Not only learning by experience, but also learning from books, taking classes, assisting to specialized courses.
Some people don’t even invest any of their time in learning. They rather point fingers at the company they work for, claiming it’s their job to provide their employees with the time and material to research and learn new languages, technologies or tools.
Learning is an investment that we should make for ourselves. Companies should help incentivize it and grow a healthy learning culture.
We should definitely take that culture into account when looking for the right company to join. But at the end of the day, we can’t blindly blame our company for our learning failures. Learning is an individual process at heart. We should make an effort and invest time in learning, to make it part of our routine.
There is no “silver bullet”
In NaN we definitely wanted to foster a learning dynamic. We created a “learning area” that started as a space for doing presentations. An hour space during which one of us exposed the result of his research or explained how we technically approached a newly developed product.
This was great to share rare knowledge that few of us had, and spread the word across the whole team.
The format of the presentation in itself is great to arouse interest in a topic, to motivate or inspire, and to trigger further learning. But presentations are not a right fit for everything. Companies and individuals have all kinds of learning needs. And some of them require a different style!
It was obvious that we needed to change something if we really wanted to add value to learning, and make it engaging, fun and satisfying, both personally and professionally.
The many faces of learning
After reading everything that we could about learning (there is a lot, by the way), and getting inspiration from the great book of The Software Craftman, we came up with new channels for learning.
Many companies also know it under the name “Lunch and Learn”. The main idea here is to sit together over lunch-time and discuss very specific topics that can be of immediate use for all participants.
The presenter shouldn’t need to prepare anything. She could just use a blog post, some chapters of a book, or (my personal favorite) a simple blackboard.
Here we tackle daily problems, like “my team is struggling with this feature”. Or “we want to know more about the infrastructure of this app”.
Hint: topics that enable healthy discussions or that propose exercises are a good fit.
Our light talks
Lately our Light Talks revolved around Clean Code. A book about good practices.
We expose a chapter and we discuss how we are handling (if we are) similar cases in our respective projects.
Also known as “Book Clubs”. The main idea here is to propose things that are of personal interest but that one wants to learn as a team.
The only condition here is that it must be based on a specific source of knowledge, which will be used during the whole club.
Investigations can be done here, but they require more organized individuals. If there is no frame, we can start reading about anything and end up with the pyramids of Egypt.
We will arrange bi-weekly meetings, in which we digest a portion of the source material, and we discuss it.
Our geek clubs
But lately we’ve seen topics as “How the Event Loop works on Node”, Arduino, React and TDD, among many others.
Presentations are still at the core of Learning. We dedicate one hour in which a presenter will expose a specific topic to the whole team.
The content presented here requires some preparation, so this practice is more time consuming for the presenter.
Our bar for presentations is that it should be ready to expose outside the company as it is. Which translates into a high degree of polish.
We covered a wide range of topics in our presentations.
Into security, OWASP 10, and how SSL Handshake works.
To more Operational topics like Docker, Docker Workshop and Continuous Integration.
We are still growing
We are not perfect, and we don’t pretend to be. As any project we recognize that we will have to make some adjustments down the road.
But right now the chances seem promising. We have seen a lot of motivation in here to propose things to learn (things that we didn’t imagine), which is always a good thing.
We also aim to shake the fear to speak in public, and start getting use to it, by giving a friendly talk in a friendly environment.
And we also want to discover new ways of learning how to learn 🙂