“Leading to Learning,” Part 5: Advice for Learners

Be sure to read Part 4 (and the preceding parts) if you’re not caught up.

In the last installment, I focused on some takeaways that business leaders can consider for making learning a more “production-like” part of a tech environment. This time, I want to wrap-up with some takeaways for learners.

First, recognize that the single most valuable skill that you have as a technology professional is your ability to learn. You need to be always learning. If your company doesn’t need you to learn something, learn something new for yourself. It keeps the Learning Muscle in your head strong, and that’s critical to a successful long-term career.

And understand this: if you’ve come to a point in your life where you’re simply no longer interested in learning new stuff about tech, then you’ve come to the end of your career. You may be near to the end of your value to your employer. Be aware of that. The difficult part about working in the tech field is that we can’t ever rest. Many of us were able to, for a long time, but that’s essentially come to an end as well, now.

Second, acknowledge that your preferred form of learning might simply not be one your company can accommodate. If you prefer semester-long, full-focus classes, that simply might not work. You will need to learn to use different tools, even if they’re not optimal for you. Practice at making it work.

Third, if your company is investing in learning the way I’ve been describing in this series, honor that investment. Work with your company to find ways to demonstrate newfound knowledge, so that the company can see a return on their investment. Too often, tech learning is like throwing worms into a river and hoping a fish pops out. Try to help make it less like that.

And along those lines, I do run into people who just view “a week off in the classroom” as a reward, not as an investment being made on the business’ part. Don’t be that person. Any kind of learning that the company is paying for, and making time for, is work. Understand up front what the expected outcomes are, and work to achieve those. Help your leadership figure out how to do that effectively and positively.

Fourth, help your company recognize all the non-formal learning that goes on every day, and help them to understand the value of simple peer-to-peer teaching. I wrote a book about it called Be the Master that you can check out; there’s a whole part on “Mastery at Work” in the 4th edition.

Fifth, recognize if you work for a company with poor leadership. If you’re being told to learn something on your own time, push back. Ask what the value of that learning is to the company, and ask what they’re willing to invest in order to realize that value. If you’re not getting practical answers, ask yourself why the company deserves to have you on the payroll. Your two strongest powers in the job market are “I’ve decided to pursue a new opportunity” and “I’m willing to relocate to do so.”

Sixth and finally, acknowledge that nobody’s perfect. Your immediate leader, and their boss, all the way up the chain, was probably never taught to “lead to learning.” They’re going to have to figure it out on the fly, and you can help with that, if you want to. Take it slow. Keep is business-focused: what’s the value we expect, and what are we willing to invest to realize that value? Read Let’s Talk Business if you need a primer in thinking about things in a business-like fashion.

Hopefully, this series has been a bit of a help in at least recognizing the problems some companies, and learners, face. I look forward to your comments!