Learning Fridays: Making the time to learn and improve
23.09.20194 Min Read — In Learning
Author:  Jakub Holý

We devote the last day of each month purely to learning - every techie is highly encouraged and expected to spend the time becoming better at her job by practicing her skill and learning new things. We read books, watch talks, go through on-line courses, make proof of concepts of new technologies, try out new languages. Why and how do we do that?

Why

The world of technology is constantly changing. We don't need to try every new framework and change our main language every year (who needs a new language after Clojure, anyway 😉?) but we need to keep up with the development so that we can benefit from new technology to deliver better and cheaper solutions and do so faster. And we also want to attract and keep good professionals, people who mostly love learning and improving.

But we always have too much to do, overflowing backlogs and looming deadlines. It is thus very difficult, if not impossible, to prioritize any non-critical learning, and especially the kind of learning that does not solve any immediate need but expands and improves one's "toolbox".

How

Everybody will eventually get used to the last Friday of a month being devoted to learning. Teams notify their product owners / business about being unavailable for the day (unless their product is in a temporary crisis) and then people go work on whatever "learning projects" they have. Nobody tells them what to learn or how to work. We trust our people to be able to figure out what gives them most value and to organize themselves. It can be reading, watching talks, playing with a technology or a tool etc. We encourage people to focus on the learning that they want to do but never have time for, i.e. that they cannot do as a part of their product work, and especially learning that expands their horizons. This is in addition to ordinary on-job learning, workshops, our "Full Stack Feast" conferences, tech lunches, irregular hackatons etc.

Participants are free to study alone or with like-minded peers (though that is highly welcomed), sit at their desk or in a café or a meeting room.

Both employees and consultants are included because we work as teams and thus want to build team spirit and not walls. We also want to attract and keep good consultants and learn from their vast knowledge and experience.

The only requirements is that the learning is related to one's professional development (no knitting courses yet, sorry!) and that participants brag about what they did in our #learning-friday chat channel the next Monday.

Testimonials

What have our developers, UXers, and testers participating in the first Learning Friday gained? (Redacted for brevity and clarity.)

Eirik: Learning Friday was nice, and here’s some of my learnings: I thought I knew everything about scopes in JavaScript, but no: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LEuJNLfLN0 I learned some more about Push notifications and that I probably will use the well written npm package web-push whenever I get to try it out in a project. Lastly I learned more about Clojure and REPL driven development, e.g. using *1 to reference the last output from a command, that -> and ->> basically is chaining/piping, and some important shortcuts just to mention some of it.

Jakob: I joined Jakub's Clojure REPL session where I learned about weird functions such as juxt and mapcat. Always useful to learn some more Clojure! I also spent some time on finally reading up on Terraform. Now I think I will know a little bit more of what's going on when setting up channel-api functions. Maybe I will not break the whole pipeline for all teams in Telia next time (sorry)

Marek: Working on my Declarative UI for Unity3d similar to React, hoping to learn more about reconciliation algorithm that React uses underneath, some new experimental features in Unity that would work nicely with DOTS, scripting with Lua. Better overview of how parsers work. Some notes: Reconciliation is no joke. Ended up with really primitive system that I will hopefully change in a later stage. But in overall I like how it turned up.

Maren: I'm taking a part time master's degree in Computer Science whilst being a full time employee and sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming. Therefor for me, these Learning Fridays are awesome!! It's a whole day I can spend working on my master thesis (reading about networks in the brain this first friday) and also get to relax in the evening. Even without these Learning Fridays, I would try to continue learning new stuff, but getting this time from the company makes it feel like they appreciate and support what I am doing to become a better employee.

Experiment FTW!

As mentioned, this is an experiment in our "Digital Channels" department. Our hypothesis is that it will increase work productivity, employee happiness, and show Telia as an attractive employer, leading to easier employment and higher people retention. We will evaluate the results in January, which will decide whether this will be extended to the whole Tech and perhaps done more frequently thereafter.