Friday, November 14, 2014

unCon 2014 Session: How Developers Learn

By Madeline Barnes

Moderator: Jeff Whatcott

Today, Jeff Whatcott led a discussion that focused on teaching developers new materials and skills. Considering this hurdle, how could one educate developers in a way that corresponds with both changing technology and the strategies of the already existing company?

In every company, there always seems to be a gap between the development teams needs and what the actual market is providing. How can you manage what you have to do for the company while bringing in new ideas?

We discussed why we think it is important for developers to continue acquiring new information as well as the process surrounding this.  Major points included the importance and struggle of acquiring talent, being able to keep that talent, the transition to new technologies, as well as and the balance of new technologies with the company’s current system and strategies. It was concluded that in order to help motivate developers and engineers to want to acquire new skills that would serve as an asset to the company, there would need to be a strong focus on the conceptual level of the information needed, before its implementation. Understanding how the product or application works is crucial in order to begin learning new material and skills that would help it progress.

Some successful approaches in teaching and expanding these skills include:
  • “Trial by fire”: This is where developer would be directly presented with a problem where, through self-fed research, they would need to find a solution and present it, regardless to the outcome
  • Peer teaching: Having developers teach other developers, rather than brining in an outside consultant, resulting in greater motivation towards learning the application or product’s system.

An unsuccessful approach that was discussed surrounded the attendance of conferences. When developers attend conferences, they are given the opportunity to learn new information about current or future innovations. However, in learning that their company may not be up to date and unable support such technological advances, developers are not able to apply the new technology. This sends a conflicting message. If we are empowering engineers and developers to learn this new information, then why are we not giving them the opportunities to apply it?

So, how do developers learn? In order to continue branching out and learning new technology and skills inevitable failure must be embraced and accepted. If developers and engineers are placed in an environment where this failure is accepted, such as hackathons, or internships, they are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to real situations that matter, because learning is a skill that can be easily lost if it is not practice


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