Credit: Pete Souza

How To Setup A Learning Routine At Work

4 tips to grow your skills while being hired

I’m convinced that your ability to continuously learn new things at your work place is more important for your day-to-day performance and career than everything you learned at university.

If you’re a developer, you’re also more likely to be pleased with your job if it enables you to learn new stuff (according to the Stack Overflow 2016 survey).

So I think all companies should embrace self development. Not only through making sure their employees work on tasks which turn them into better developers, designers, managers etc etc. But also by letting them devote time solely to sharpen their skills.

At Xeneta, all employees are encouraged to spend work hours to learn new stuff, as we believe employee skill growth directly impacts our success.

Throughout this year, I’ve tried to follow a consistent learning routine every week, and I’ve experienced how effective this can be. Likewise, I’ve also realized how easy it is to get off track, which is why I decided to write this article.

Below are the tips I’ve gathered along the way. They should make it easier for you to set up a successful learning routine for yourself at work.

1. Ask for it

Your first challenge might be that your company doesn’t have a training program. And it might not be a culture for it either.

When I started at Xeneta, we didn’t have an official employee training program (which we do now). But there was certainly a culture for learning new stuff. However, I didn’t know if it was ok that I spent a specific number of work hours each week to train myself. So I had to ask, of course.

The answer was yes. Not only that: I was encouraged to do it.

So if you don’t know if you’ll be allowed, the first step is naturally to ask for it. If you get a no, I think you should consider quitting your job.

2. Set off specific hours

In the beginning, I squeezed in a little bit of learning here and there, whenever I didn’t have other tasks hanging over me. This is a bad idea.

First and foremost because the mental cost of shifting between learning and working is big, and both activities are hurt by the switch.

Three straight hours of learning is better than an hour a day for three days.

Secondly, it’s easy to skip your learning sprints it if you don’t schedule time for it, as there are always tasks to be done. So save yourself the mental cost of having to choose between working or learning multiple times throughout the week, and simply add it to your calendar instead.

I prefer before lunch on Wednesdays.

The exact day doesn’t matter much, but scheduling it in the morning is critical, as it prevents me from being deep into another task when I start. This limits the chance of skipping it and also dodges the switching cost mentioned above.

3. Plan your training ahead of time

This point is important. The difference between a fruitful learning session and three wasted hours is often whether or not I planned what I was going to learn.

So I always try to mentally decide this beforehand. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but something like:

  • Code task A
  • Do next lecture in course B
  • Try to understand concept C.

If you’re really serious, even write it down!

Following a course online makes it easy to know what to do next. Here is a lecture from a course I’ve been taking this year (Stanford CS224D).

4. Put your skills to the test

This one is not critical, but it’s both fun and makes your knowledge stick. By finding a way to use your newly acquired skills at work, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and likely get motivated to learn even more.

Secondly, this also helps your co-workers see the benefit of self development hours. This will create more acceptance in your company for these kinds of activities.

After spending a lot of time (both at work and home) going through the Stanford CS224D course, I did a project at Xeneta where we trained an algorithm to recognize potential customers by reading their company descriptions.

Even though I didn’t directly use the neural networks structures from the Stanford course in the Xeneta lead qualifier, it did make me more comfortable using natural language processing techniques in general, and opened my eyes for all the possibilities in the field, which again gave me the confidence to tackle the project.

Hope these tips helped, and feel free to add your comments below if you have anything to add:)