schule@synyx – the self-training company

The training issue

One issue that every company has to deal with is the training of its employees. I encountered different attitudes regarding this subject in different companies and wondered what is a healthy approach for a software project company to pursue.
In software development it is not sufficient to offer one workshop per year and call it a “training program”. It is also not enough to have one or two R&D dudes per 50 developers that keep ahead of new technologies and tell the worker drones from time to time what to use for their projects. The result of half-assed concepts like this will be that motivated, willing-to-learn developers look for other jobs and you will eventually remain with a bunch of static by-the-book workers who have no interest in learning. Relying solely on this can lead a company into deprecation within few years.
A more healthy approach is to maintain a constant mindset of learning and innovation and you have to pull all of your developers into it. The progress should come from them and out of their own motivation, it must not be dictated by management. Sadly that is a very rare condition. It requires not only an open-minded management but also employees that are eager to learn new things and are curious about new ways of solving problems – traits that every good developer should have in this fast-moving industry.

The synyx approach

Here at synyx we have pretty good prerequisites to maintain this condition. Our bosses encourage us to spend work time on our own education and the general mentality among the employees is that learning new stuff is cool. Among other things we have one important tool here at synyx to keep this mindset alive. It is called “schule@synyx” and is essentially an employee self-training program, that works like this:
Every Friday afternoon there is a reserved time slot of 1-2 hours in our largest meeting room. One employee voluntarily gives a talk about a specific work-related topic, that he chooses himself, and all other employees are free to attend. The talk can have tutorial-, workshop- or just informational character. The subjects spread out on a wide variety of software development related fields. Examples from the recent time are talks about systemd, JavaScript linting, system architecture, Puppet, Android development, NoSQL modeling, UX, Spring security, Docker. These talks touch the topics operations, application development, GUI design, software quality, mobile and persistence from different angles on different expert levels. During and after the talk discussions arise about different aspects of the subject, that are sometimes continued into after hours beer time.
Neither the speaker nor the attendees have to spend money or their free time on this – the preparation and attendance belong to the 20% part of synyx’s 80/20 work time model.
I can not emphasize enough how valuable this is to us! Just think about how everyone benefits from it:
The company benefits from …

  • … expert knowledge spread throughout the company
  • … new methods and technologies introduced into the company’s knowledge pool
  • … maintaining a high level of knowledge diversity among the developers
  • … a huge motivation boost among the employees
  • … a growing and up-to-date pool of potentially quality talks for conferences, customers and external educational purposes like universities or user groups

The employees …

  • … as project developers have to deal with all of those fields anyway and gain a wider knowledge portfolio just by attending the talks
  • … get to learn cool new things every week presented in a convenient way
  • … get a chance to self-dependently shape their training and education
  • … can exchange different opinions on the subjects in the subsequent discussions
  • … have no pressure or obligation to deliver something. No boss will ever order employee X to do a talk about Y on day Z

The speaker (who imo is the major beneficiary) …

  • … gains speaking experience in front of a small, familiar crowd
  • … gets the chance to aquire deep knowledge in one subject that he is interested in
  • … receives feedback and discussion input about his subject from the attendees
  • … introduces himself as know-how holder, maybe even expert on the subject

I would call that a solid win-win-win situation. And it greatly helps to establish the vital learning and innovation mindset mentioned in the introduction. Incomprehensibly self-dependent training elements like this seem to be the exception in the industry, so I consider us synyx employees pretty lucky about our situation 🙂