There is never time for training, or to make sure the servers have the right background image, or to make a monitoring script to send emails when certain schema changes occur in the database, or to improve the feedback loop on quarterly goals, or to change that dreadful change management form to streamline the process. Unfortunately the deep, dark secret is that in 6 months we're going to be saying the same thing, "There isn't time now, we'll do it later".
This is the first article in a three part series on major gaps that we continue to put off until we have "time", a magical state that never seems to occur on it's own. Each article is based on one high-level subject and provides ideas on how to gain individual and group level traction and make now that "time".
Training and Development
Training and development seem to be the easiest items to put off until later. Training in our field is critical in timing and content. If we are not constantly honing and growing our skills then we are actually degrading in both ability and the level of opportunity we provide our companies. What's worse, you're not only performing at lesser levels, but everything you produce with degraded skills is going into production with higher maintenance costs, is not likely to be redone in a hurry with newer technology, and is possibly putting you at a competitive disadvantage.
Times are tough right now and there are still many businesses that don't understand the speed with which our various technical landscapes are changing. Instead of waiting for your company to provide training, here are some other ideas on how to improve your skills without breaking the bank:
- Lunch and Learn
- Lunch and Learns don't have to be official and don't have to be large. Get sign off from your manager, gather some co-workers, and take a slightly longer lunch once every week or two. Take turns researching a new topic and presenting it to the group. Extra technology lpus presentation practice, double win. Out of ideas or research time occasionally? Webinars are occurring on every topic imaginable> Watch in a group, discuss, and try along with the video as ateam.
- Can you say free training from top-level talent? More obscure interests may be harder to find specific webinars for, but Microsoft has tons of saved videos, PASS virtual chapters offer webinars every week or two, and so on.
- Make a list of 5 major new technologies and take it to your boss. Explain that you would like to spend 4 hours a month (or a week, or whenever) working in a lab environment. It might take some negotiation, so make sure you bring some articles of companies that are making a great deal of money off those technologies, saw savings in time or resources from the technologies, or lost vast tracts of their business from diving on a technology without researching it first. Make sure you aren't just playing with these new toys, try to solve actual problems with them or create new services for existing products.
- Have you set up an RSS feed reader? Drowned in the results and stopped reading? Time to try again. Instead of trying to read everything new that comes in, give yourself a goal of reading 1-2 articles a day. Read those one or two then mark everything else as read and repeat the next day. The goal isn't to read everything published every minute of every day, it's to find 1-2 good articles each day that make you think, expand your skills, or simply present a different outlook or opinion. One article a day is five articles in a work week, is 20 articles a month. Set a goal and achieve it, don't let the feeds drown you.
- This was my secret weapon 7-8 years ago. I had a technical forum account and I started by answering beginner and mid-level questions. As I saw other questions come up I would be interested in their answers or in finding the answers myself. I pace setup on a home PC to try out potential answers I found and answers others suggested. Like a workout routine, I set time aside to visit and answer questions and grew my knowledge incrementally. Also like a workout routine, this doesn't have to be a daily habit, just a regular one.
- Peer Review
- Some developers already do this and it's a tactic we can all take advantage of. That co-worker beside you? yeah, they know something you don't know. And guess what, you probably know something they don't know. Convince them to sit behind you for a little while, and vice versa. They are going to not only point out that you hit the backspace key 50 times per minute, but also that they do certain tasks slightly differently, or had a different understanding. And while it may seem slower to have someone sit behind you for a few hours insteda of working on their own, keep in mind that if they come up with one shortcut that saves you 10 minutes a day, you just bought an entire extra week of productivity a year (~48 weeks * 5 days * 10 minutes / 60 minutes = 40 hours).
- "Wait, writing stuff makes me better? That seems backwards." Starting to write regular blog entries on technology or your professional interests will force you to focus your thoughts and find new ways to present them. You will end up doing random internet searches that provide you with more knowledge, you will work harder to form your thoughts and experiences into words that other people can (hopefully) understand. In short, you will be getting more out of the experiences and knowledge you already have and keeping those skills sharpened even when you aren't actively using them.
These are just a few ideas, I'm sure if you spent a few minutes you could expand on them and even come up with others that I didn't think of. The key factor, though, is that you have to take the initiative to make these happen. Waiting for someone to budget some extra training time or to setup one of these programs for you is likely going to leave you exactly where you are right now. Pick one of these that seems easy, determine your next step and commit. Now write it on a post-it, tell a co-worker, heck post it down below and tell us all what you will start doing in the next 24 hours (or 6, or now) to keep and improve your edge.
Next - Part 2
We can't keep waiting for a CPU to fry from a failed fan, a 3AM outage from a full disk drive, or for database to corrupt before we find out no one has been switching out the tapes. Get your training and developmental tasks started, the next article is going to bring another gap...and another challenge.
Miss an article in the series?
There Is Never Time For ... Part 1: Training and Development
There Is Never Time For ... Part 2: Standard Processes
There Is Never Time For ... Part 3: Process Improvement