How to ensure your developers never stop learning

Illustration by Mengdi Zhang

Great developers never stop learning. For tech companies to attract, retain, and develop top talent, it’s crucial to create an environment that prioritizes continuous learning and growth.

In the 2018 Hacker Rank Survey –– which received nearly 40,000 responses –– professional growth and learning was found to be one of the most desired perks candidates look for in a job.

At Jet.com, we believe our developers should never stop learning. Our belief in this maxim is so strong that we have a team dedicated to Learning, Training, and Evangelism, a.k.a. the Jet Tech LTE Team. (The internal joke though, is that we actually help drive Jet’s “Long-Term Evolution”.)

Here are 3 ways to ensure your developers never stop learning, and how we practice them at Jet.

Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival

1. Make learning resources accessible and available.

It’s simple for a company to say they value learning and growth in their employees, but it means much more for a company to actually provide the resources for their employees to grow. And with the advent of online learning, doing so has become much simpler.

At Jet, we provide a variety of e-learning resources for our engineers. Engineers get access to courses at Egghead and Udemy for Business, and they also get to choose between two of the three resources: Coursera, Pluralsight, and Safari.

We’ve also allocated a Personal Development budget for each of our engineers. Engineers can use this generous budget to register for conferences, workshops, courses, or other learning events or opportunities they are interested in.

A big budget is not necessary to show that you value your engineer’s personal development. What is important is taking action to show you value their growth.

2. Provide Opportunities for Self-Directed Social Learning

Learning happens quickest when it’s on a subject you’re passionate about, and we find it fun to learn with friends. Thus, we make it a point to support and encourage engineers to self-organize groups dedicated to exploring particular areas of interest. We do this in a couple of ways:

JIT (Jet Innovation Time)

Twice a year Jet hosts JIT (Jet Innovation Time), a 3-day hackathon for employees to work on ideas they have to “make Jet better”. JIT not only helps encourage the pursuit of innovation among employees but also provides 72 hours of uninterrupted time for employees to work on something that interests them. During this time, managers take over on-call duties so that engineers can fully focus on their hackathon projects.

Team’s working hard on their JIT (Jet Innovation Time) projects

The prompt is intentionally left open-ended as it allows engineers to explore a wide breadth of ideas, and at the same time, dabble in new technologies, frameworks, and tools.

Naturally, this lends itself to a lot of projects that feature emerging + trending tech. We’ve seen a broad assortment of chatbots, AR/VR applications, and even a couple of cryptocurrencies.

TRG’s (Tech Resource Groups)

Our TRG initiative was founded on the idea that the majority of learning on engineering teams is peer or self-directed. Technical resource groups are a way for engineers who share a common passion about a specific technical subject to interact regularly and share/spread their expertise.

TRG’s are responsible for deciding when, where, and how often to meet, as well as the goals of the specific group. This provides an opportunity for greater ownership over learning and self-development.

Furthermore, we encourage TRG’s to host public events to share knowledge with the rest of the engineering org who may not be as actively interested. After all, the best way to learn is to teach.

A few of the TRG’s at Jet include Tech Blog, Open Source, and GoLang.

Our tech blog TRG’s celebration for relaunching our blog (a little meta haha)

Ultimately, look to develop opportunities for engineers to imagine, create, and explore new technologies and frameworks that they’re interested in — even if this may not be directly related to their core responsibilities.

3. Actively host talks, workshops, and events to encourage learning in the workplace

To incorporate more engaging and approachable opportunities for learning, we host a variety of workshops, talks, and seminars.

We normally find these events to be more accessible for our employees as they are not a long-term commitment. Furthermore, by having a nice mix of both internal and external speakers, we find we are able to not only share ideas across the organization but also inject fresh ideas and build connections with the external tech community.

Tech Talks (a.k.a. Lunch + Learns)

At Jet, we host a Tech Talk every Tuesday during lunch. We find that these lunch-and-learns provide a way for employees to take a break from their work and learn something new. Past topics include Observability for Distributed Systems, Omnichannel AR-kit, Tech Blogging, and Managing Multi-Tenant Micro-Services.

Michael Lopp (former VP of engineering at Slack) speaking at Jet Tech

Sourcing quality external speakers can be difficult, but ask if any of your engineers know of a speaker they can recommend. Or, use this as an opportunity to encourage employees to lead a talk — a great way to improve their public speaking skills.

Meetups

Every month we host one or two Meetups which allows us to engage and provide value to the wider community. We host these Tech Events after hours, and always encourage our developers to speak at or attend. Meetup topics are varied. Our past few meetups have been on topics that range from Augmented Reality to GDPR to Blockchain to Pony Lang.

Our Blockchain + AI meetup

Want to attend some of our tech events? Take a look at our upcoming events on our meetup page!

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

The benefits of fostering learning in the workplace are enormous, and as managers and leaders we should actively brainstorm and implement ways to ensure ongoing training and education is approachable and accessible.

The above list is certainly not exhaustive, and there are certainly numerous more ways to incorporate learning. A favorite of mine not mentioned is the mentor-mentee or pair programming initiatives that some companies do exceedingly well (we normally leave such such programs to be organized by the individual tech teams).

So how does your workplace incorporate learning? When was the last time you learned something new at work? Do you feel that your company provides sufficient opportunities to improve your skills?

If not, go ahead and share this article with your team so you can start the conversation. Or come and join our team at Jet! We’re always hiring life-long learners :)