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It’s Time to Share What You’ve Learned

Adam Goucher posted this last week on Twitter:
notion; if your 'engineering' team is not doing enough interesting things for 1 blog post a week, you likely have a problem.

I think it’s certainly worth considering – I mean, how’s the old saying go, something about learning something new every day? In our day and age, and especially in the software development arena in which I work, there’s always something new going on, a new challenge to overcome. Dan Pink, author of Drive, talks about our desire for Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose — Mastery is the urge to get better and better at something that matters. I hope you’re not stuck in a position where you’re not learning, where you don’t have an opportunity to improve your skills.

So, assuming that you’re learning something at least once a week, what are you doing with that knowledge? Are you sharing it with your co-workers, with your peers, with others in the industry?

There are plenty of reasons why some people don’t blog publicly. Some ideas are considered proprietary; sharing them outside of your company is frowned upon or may even be a fireable offense. Consider though, are you at least sharing your learning with others inside your company – via an internal Wiki, blog, or newsletter? Does your team get together for lunch and talk about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it? If not, what does this say about the investment you and your company are making?

Once you walk out of the office at the end of the day, your brain (hopefully) doesn’t stop working, and neither does your opportunity to learn and to help others. During my time as a leader in a Boy Scout troop, one of our ongoing philosophies was that we learn best by teaching. When a boy said they didn’t know how to do something, we’d get them some instruction and ask them to be ready to teach a few other boys at the next campout.

So when you’ve just overcome a problem that’s been bugging you for a few hours, learned a new programming pattern, or discovered a new tool that saves you some time, it’s time to teach someone else. Generalize the challenge, so you’re not giving away any of your company’s trade secrets. Start by explaining it to your favorite rubber duck, then get your explanation down on paper – or at least in a text editor. Send it out to a few trusted colleagues, or start a simple blog. You don’t have to advertise it widely if you don’t want – just the act of writing it will solidify the concepts and lead you to learn it more in-depth. This is also a really great confidence-builder: As you keep doing this, you’ll start to realize that you are becoming an expert, that people are looking to you for answers, and that your boss should realize what a valued employee you really are.

Here’s an advanced step. When you’re ready — or even better, before you think you really are — stand up. Give a talk on the subject at your office. Get involved with a tech meetup in your area and offer to present it there. People aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for you to share what you know and how you’ve learned it (including the stumbles along the way).

Of course, to circle back to Adam’s point (or what I believe it to have been), perhaps the lack of blogging from your team is pointing to a lack of challenge, a lack of learning. Then yea, “you likely have a problem.”

Agree? Disagree? Add your thoughts to the comments here or join the discussion over on Twitter.

Updated: June 18, 2013 — 8:55 am
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