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Developers are the most inquisitive employees out there. It’s ingrained in the nature of a role that operates across a dynamic landscape of languages, tools, security threats, and technologies. Unfortunately, companies are dropping the ball when it comes to reinforcing developers’ desire to learn, grow, and experiment. This failure causes them to use their limited free time to learn or even look for other job opportunities. In fact, 58% of security and development professionals say they currently are experience burnout. In addition, 42% of those who have not quit their job this year are considering or might consider quitting their current job.
While many of these eternal problem solvers spend time developing their skills on the clock, they can feel overwhelmed by all the seemingly high priority or interesting learning opportunities. So how can we really satisfy developers’ curiosity and desire to grow?
That is a question I often have to deal with in my role. It’s become clear to me that the answer comes down to helping developers use their learning time effectively by intentionally giving them space to explore their interests, connecting multiple ways of learning, and encouraging all the different career paths available.
Today’s engineering career path is a grid, not a line
While career growth was once seen as a straight-forward trajectory, today developers’ path is more like a grid, branching out into different directions that align with one’s specific interests and talents. As technology and tools continue to evolve rapidly, new skills are emerging every day, paving the way for new roles such as privacy engineer, cloud architect, and VP of DevOps. It’s important to realize that not all developers choose to stay in traditional tech roles; product management and pre-sales also present creative problem-solving challenges.
With ever-evolving career opportunities comes the responsibility for organizations and managers to show their technical talent the diversity of the paths forward. They should help developers focus on what they enjoy doing most, ultimately guiding them to relevant skills and learning opportunities to carve a path forward that fits their needs and interests.
Don’t underestimate collaborative learning
A crucial part of creating the space for professional learning is providing opportunities for active peer-to-peer learning. From fostering stronger employee relationships to increasing engagement, collaborative learning is essential.
Moreover, according to Dr. Saul McLeod of the University of Manchester has created a significant gap, called the ‘zone of proximal development’, between what one can learn for oneself and what one can learn with the encouragement and support of others. Collaborative learning can help people bridge this gap and vastly expand their knowledge of a given subject.
One way companies can promote collaborative learning is by hosting programs that challenge people to be creative and innovative in teams. At SAP, we host the Innovator Challenge, a global program where participants have approximately six months to build something new using SAP technology. Employees are matched with colleagues with similar interests and skill levels, with the aim of gaining hands-on experience with our products and services. Not only does this program enable techies to learn more about technologies they don’t work with every day, it also provides a fun, safe environment for employees to innovate and deepen their special skills.
For more short-term collaborative learning, companies can consider learning circles, hosting a hackathon, or providing incentives to teams completing training modules together.
Encourage communities to learn
Building a culture of learning requires organizations to think beyond isolated events or annual training. Teams need a platform for continuous conversation and exchange. As developers are constantly optimizing their approaches and methods, online communities can be an incredible resource for them to ask a specific coding question or just learn more about what’s out there.
Communities of Practice allow developers to connect with peers or mentors to share their daily challenges and successes, solve problems, and share more. Hosting a community for dialogue can spark a passion for learning that combines formal training with less formal ways of learning, such as crowdsourcing book recommendations, podcasts, YouTube videos, and online forums like StackOverflow.
Developers crave learning. If leaders overlook the need to provide them with ways to feed their curiosity, employees will find ways to do it after hours or they may look for new opportunities. To retain top talent, focus on guiding your tech team through their unique career paths, encourage group learning, and provide space for peer-to-peer exchange. This intentional approach will spread the benefits throughout the company.
Nicole Helmer is a development learning leader at SAP.
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