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Learning On The Job

Published 1/20/2016

In today's episode, I discuss four tips for learning on the job.

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Today's episode is sponsored by Digital Ocean! Use the code DeveloperTea at checkout to get one month of a 1GB droplet, completely free!

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey, everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode we're going to be talking about tips for incorporating learning on the job without spending a major amount of overtime. As we've discussed before, learning is one of the key fundamental concepts to being a successful developer. And in today's episode, I'm going to give you a few tips to help you learn on the job more effectively without spending a ton of time after work or before work or even during lunch. Because the common recommendation is that you take some time outside of work to do your learning. For example, go to classes after after work or maybe watch a few tutorials or read a few articles in your off time and that may help, that may be a good idea, but I also think it's important for you to incorporate learning on the job because for a lot of us, those outside of work opportunities can become slimmer based on your circumstances. For example, right now I am married and I don't yet have children and I do plan on having children and once I do have children, I'm not going to have as much time outside of work to devote to learning. So I have to learn how to incorporate learning into my job and I'm going to give you some tips for doing that today. Today's episode is sponsored by DigitalOcean. DigitalOcean is the fastest growing cloud infrastructure provider because they are fully focused on their mission to create simple and elegant solutions for developers and teams and we'll talk more about what they have to offer later in today's episode but let's dive straight into tips for incorporating learning on the job. I have four tips for you today to help you learn on the job. Some of these may seem obvious to you and others may turn on a light bulb that's never been turned on before as it relates to learning on the job but when it comes down to it, learning is fundamentally about exposing your brain to new techniques and information and then using that information to do something. As a developer, this usually means building a project or perhaps building a feature or a couple of features on an existing project with that new tool or that new technique and this requires that you have the time to digest that material in some way whether that's by video or a blog article, book, documentation or perhaps by watching someone in person. This is why it's a little bit difficult to learn on the job because all of these things take time. Now the tips I'm going to give you today are not about finding more time or about shoving learning into your existing time. It's about how to shift your perception and also your employers and co-workers perceptions so that learning becomes more a part of what you're already doing. So the first tip is don't be a closet learner. Don't be a closet learner. This one may seem kind of strange to some of you but learning in the dark is going to be incredibly difficult. You need everyone around you to know that you are a learner. You need your boss, your colleagues and if you are a manager, those you manage, they all need to know that you are a learner, that you are dedicated to learning. Now why is this so important? Well, for quite a few reasons. First, they know you are a learner so they will naturally come to you when they learn something new because that's common ground. When they learn something new, then they're going to talk to somebody who cares about learning and perhaps you will learn something in that process as well. Second, if your boss encounters a project that he knows requires learning, he may have a more of a tendency to look to you to acquire those skills because he knows that you're interested in learning. This is a huge opportunity because it's almost like inception. Most bosses don't really want to give a free pass to employees to spend a ton of time learning techniques unless they know for certain that the efforts are well-founded and that the learning is necessary from a cash flow perspective. So by your boss being the one to bring you the project, and rather than the other way around, you can explore the learning space with less hindrances because you know that the cash flow problems are taken care of. You know that there is an adequate demand for this particular learning scenario. Next, other developers will likely admire your tenacity to learn and you'll become well-respected in your job as an authority over new technology. So there's quite a few reasons why you may want to not be a closet learner. Why, instead, you'll want to tell other people about what you're doing, but you don't want to get too specific about what kind of learning you're doing because it may suggest that you are jumping too quickly between technologies. The reality is when you're in learning mode, you may jump from one technology to another without taking a ton of time to focus on any single thing. Of course, you should be focusing quite a bit of time on some things whenever you find something that is worthwhile to focus a significant amount of time on. But it's a good idea to not tell everyone every single detail about what you're learning, but rather let them know about your principled stand that learning is incredibly important. And you don't really want to tell everyone exactly when you are learning something new or what you are learning because that actually leads to our next tip. The second tip is once you have identified a positive opportunity for learning, don't expose that to your coworkers yet. Now, you want to talk to them at some point. Obviously, sharing information, sharing the learning process is incredibly important, but learning requires failure. And even though that failure is necessary, seeing someone else fail might incite doubt into the person who is seeing that failure. So you want to be very careful when sharing your learning experiences as doing so too early when you're still in constant failure stage, may lead people to doubt that your focus on learning is actually paying off and that you're actually doing something with that principled stand to learn. So when should you share that you are learning a specific thing with someone? You're probably asking that. And the short answer is once you've actually done something with that new knowledge, reporting your learning before you have something to show for it is much less effective than having a tangible piece of proof that says, hey, I actually did learn something valuable and here's the proof. Here's the thing that I've made. This leaves no room for doubt that that learning is providing a positive effect, a positive outcome, and that you're being productive while you are learning. I want to take a minute to talk about today's sponsor and then we'll talk about the second two tips for learning on the job. Today's sponsor is Digital Ocean. As I already said, Digital Ocean is the fastest growing cloud infrastructure provider because they are laser focused on the mission to create simple and elegant solutions for developers and teams. Digital Ocean is super easy to deploy. You can spin up a droplet that is pre-configured with popular open source platforms, for example Node.js, Magento. You can use Docker containers, obviously, to launch your application. And you can launch these droplets from the control panel. Digital Ocean is built to scale. You can scale your applications with their API and their floating IPs. And as you grow, you can manage your apps with team accounts. It's reliable and always available. You can select from data center regions around the world based on latency or deploy across regions for redundancy. And of course, the most important part is that they have straightforward pricing. You only pay for the resources you actually use by the hour. There's no setup fee and there's no minimum spend. Now, on top of the fact that Digital Ocean provides incredible service and incredible features, they've also provided Developer Tealisteners with a promo code. That code is Developer Tea. And if you use it at checkout, you'll get a full free month of a one gigabyte droplet. That's one gigabyte of RAM on that droplet. This is like a $20 value, totally for free for Developer Tealisteners. Go to digital ocean.com today and set up your account and use the code Developer Teaat checkout to get a one gigabyte droplet for free for one entire month. Thank you so much to Digital Ocean for sponsoring today's episode. Now, let's get back into the discussion about learning on the job. The tips that I have for you today, we've already discussed not becoming a closet learner, but instead being vocal about your learning. Of course, you want to be careful and avoid being obnoxious to your coworkers, but let them know that you're dedicated to the importance of learning. Of course, when you aren't learning something, you shouldn't necessarily share that with everyone until you have something to show for it. You don't want to be talking about your learning process only when you're in the failure stage or even primarily when you're in the failure stage. Instead, talk to your coworkers kind of retro-respectively. Look back at the learning process. Document it as you go so you can share some of those important experiences with your coworkers. But wait until you have something positive to show before you tell them about your learning experience. And the third tip for today is to focus on learning primarily in low-stakes situations. Learning is least likely to cause problems when you're doing it earlier on in a project. And when you do it with one or two new technologies supported by a few technologies that you already know. In other words, you shouldn't try to learn an entire new stack of technologies. But instead, learn one technology that already fits within your current stack. And maybe it expands or replaces something else. And this sets up a low-stakes learning environment because it allows you to fail without the whole thing kind of falling apart. And it also means that the technology for the new thing you are learning is isolated by the technologies you already know. For example, if you want to learn React Native and you already are a web developer, you should probably start by learning React in the browser. The browser version of React, as you will be able to focus on the important parts of React itself without having to worry about the other and silly technologies that you may not necessarily be familiar with yet. So once you learn React, then you can go and start trying to learn React Native. And that way you don't have five things to learn at once. Instead, you're learning one thing at a time. And this kind of creates that low-stakes environment. Now, this is primarily the most important thing for you, not necessarily for your employer, because it keeps you out of trouble. If something goes wrong, then you probably know what went wrong. And if it's something that goes wrong with the thing that you're trying to learn, then that is your learning opportunity. But if you're trying to learn three new things and something goes wrong, you may not know which new thing that particular error is coming from. So limit the number of things that you try to incorporate, especially on the job. And that will give you that low-stakes environment. Now, the last tip is perhaps the most important tip for you today. And that is to spend as much time as you can with someone who already knows more than you do. This sounds simpler than it is. When you shadow someone or when you are mentored, you have to be very intentional about their relationship and about how you treat that person in every single interaction you have with them. For example, you don't want to ask that person for help constantly with small bugs or things that may just as easily be solved with a few extra minutes of effort on your part. Because if you're asking them for that kind of help, then you're exhausting their energy to connect with you in other arenas and more valuable things that you can learn more from them if you were to wait and connect with them on those things. Spending time with someone you can learn from is a fantastic way to learn because it gives you things that you can't manufacture on your own. The communication with a person like this can be invaluable because you have another person who has learned some of the things that you want to learn and they know your situation. They know how you respond to different things. They can give you, for example, metaphors with other parts of your job. They can use examples that you are familiar with. They can use real life things that you are familiar with to help teach you. And this is an incredibly powerful and nuanced thing about learning with a mentor that you can't really manufacture in other environments. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea today. I hope you've enjoyed the discussion on learning on the job. And I hope that you have the opportunity to learn more and more every day as you do work in this industry. It is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to learn as you work. So I hope that this this episode has inspired you to try a few new things if you feel like you've stagnated. And if you are a lifelong learner, I hope that this has resounded with you as things that you have practiced already. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode and thank you again to today's sponsor Digital Ocean. Digital Ocean is the fastest growing cloud infrastructure provider because they are super focused on creating incredible products for developers just like you. Of course, they have a a promo code that you can find in the show notes at spec.fm that will give you access to a full month of a free droplet, a one gigabyte droplet on Digital Ocean servers. Go and check out those show notes. Spec.fm. Of course, all of the other episodes of Developer Teacan be found at spec.fm. Thank you again to Digital Ocean. Thank you for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. You can find me on Twitter at at Developer Tea. And of course, you can always send questions to me directly at developertea@gmail.com. Another way that you can get a hold of me and any other show host on a spec show is by joining the spec Slack community. Spec.fm slash Slack. That Slack community is free and it always will be for you. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea.