February 28, 2008

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Earning vs. Learning

It's the age-old quandry: how do we learn new skills and improve as software developers when we're under pressure to focus almost exclusively on delivering software now?

As a trainer and coach, it's the number one biggest barrier to getting results. The management want their teams to be more productive, and they want the software they produce to be of better quality. But the developers who tend to be most productive and who produce the best quality code tend to be the ones who have dedicated the most of their time to learning and experimenting.

And that time came at a cost. And someone bore that cost. But who wants to pay developers to learn and to "play"?

As a freelance consultant, I bear most of the cost of my own professional development. But I do use client time as well to explore and to try new things, because I think every organisation that relies on capable people must be prepared to pay a sort of competence tax.

I am lucky. I am strong-willed, and assertive, and motivated. I usually manage my own time, so when I need time to learn, I take time to learn. I also have the kind of job where that's often part and parcel of what the client is asking me to do, so I can be actively encouraged to do this.

Many developers are not so lucky. Their time is often controlled by someone else, and they cannot choose to spend a few hours noodling with NUnit or knocking up a prototype to test a theory about design principles, or reading a PhD paper on graph theory. Most employers view that as "wasteful", and forbid their developers to do it.

Which is a big mistake, in the longer term. Because your developers learn slowly, and the skills and knowledge that might have helped them solve a problem faster and better will elude them for longer.

The focus should not be on utilisating all of their available time. That is a false economy. The focus should be on what they achieve in the time that is utilised.

Give them the space to learn, and you'll be surprised at just how much more you will get out of them when they do apply themselves.

Posted 1 week, 2 days ago on February 28, 2008