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Learn or Die!

Personal growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

12 January, 2021

Marian Kamenistak, VP of Engineering at Mews, outlines key recommendations and resources to make learning an integral part of the engineering role and knowledge sharing across the company a steady practice.

Problem

As a manager, I too often saw newcomers with scarce experience skip over the knowledge and skills of seniors within half a year or a year. They would avidly read books and blog posts or listen to podcasts and soon be more knowledgeable than other team members about technologies or tooling. They would be familiar with the latest solutions shared on GitHub and knew how to integrate with what we would be doing.
 

These newcomers would be the people to further progress, which creates a competitive advantage for us as a company. I strongly encourage my reports and people across the company to continue learning and expanding their knowledge. If they don’t, soon they will cease to be relevant or metaphorically speaking (as the title suggests) -- dead.
 

Actions taken

First off, I would encourage people who are keen to learn to follow some of the technical blogs or podcasts that I find tremendously useful. I also supplement that with recommendations relating to leadership and soft skills.
 

This is the list I recommend:

https://medium.freecodecamp.org
http://softwareengineeringdaily.com
https://martinfowler.com
https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/
http://www.infoq.com
http://www.lightbend.com/blog
https://www.datawire.io
https://eng.uber.com
https://blog.acolyer.org
https://techblog.bozho.net
https://www.thekua.com/atwork/
https://8thlight.com/blog/
https://blog.takipi.com/?category=all
http://engineering.indeedblog.com
https://developers.redhat.com/blog

 

I would advise them to block half an hour of their morning time for learning. First, they should skim the list of the latest posts through, open several posts that they would find most interesting and then, focus and carefully read only two. I would tell them not to worry if they would open five tabs (with articles or posts) and then read only two of them, closing other tabs. The guiding principle I preach is to avoid creating reading lists populated with articles meant to be read later but seldom are. These lists usually get too long and, at one point, must be abandoned; as a result, people often feel frustrated about it. The underlying ratio is -- better read something than nothing.

 

I suggest trying out the tools to gather different feeds and triage the most interesting picks:

feedly.com inoreader.com

 

After a couple of months, when they become more comfortable with their learning routine, they should start sharing the most exciting information. The best way to start is by posting technically-slanted articles on Slack channels and gradually establishing oneself as someone who loves learning and sharing knowledge. At this point, as a manager, I would try to coach them on how to present their arguments, have a constructive debate, and be open to other, divergent opinions.
 

As a manager, my responsibility would be to create a space where these interesting articles or podcasts could be shared and discussed and initially, even to facilitate the discussion. In the end, I hope they would maintain their own space to share and compare outcomes of the things they learned and applied in their own work and further exchange best practices. This can serve as a great encouragement to people who are a bit more reluctant to embark on the learning journey.
 

Whatever approach they choose at the end, they should be consistent. A half an hour dedicated to learning should become a routine they regularly perform. Exceptionally skipping it is acceptable as long as it doesn’t turn into a habit. Once it does, it’s time to rethink if learning is still their top priority. If it is, they should make a plan and start from scratch.
 

Lessons learned

  • In the long-term, we, as a company, gained a competitive advantage by cultivating the culture of learning and encouraging individuals to create their own learning processes. Another significant lateral benefit is that the people who actively share their knowledge also promote the company, and as a result, the best talent is easier to attract.
  • We created an environment where people understand that if they don’t keep on learning, they won’t be able to keep pace with other people in the company.
  • In the beginning, I would suggest a person dedicate half an hour, but as they get more senior, it can go up to two hours. In my particular case, it becomes an inherent part of my leadership responsibilities. Of course, you can read a book or listen to a podcast while commuting or doing some other activity outside the business hours.

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