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Author's profile photo Ian Thain

Keeping your Developer Skills & Team Strong

I saw a tweet this week… “It’s your responsibility as a programmer to keep yourself educated and up to date, not some employer’s” and I thought, I could agree partially, but why?

As a Developer you are skilled and care about your craft… Programming. You are also aware of the business your company works within and in addition, that technology is always changing and evolving. So it’s right that you as a developer, should care enough to keep up to date as well. The problem I have with the initial statement is that you are the new King Makers (thanks to James Governor and the team at RedMonk for that thought) and in that way your company should also take at least a equal share in the stake, to keep you at the top of your game. It’s in their best interest, as any cut or lack of keeping developers current, could substantially weaken the foundations and future of any business. So at least it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Also as an idea, I think that at some companies, developers should be allocated some free R&D time. This could be on a rotational basis in short bursts or in longer sections of time, either individually on small R&D teams. Keeping abreast of new developments in for example mobile & in memory computing etc, will allow companies to reap the reward of a motivated team as well as to identify areas for new investment. These areas can be in team knowledge as well as product directions and features.

Software companies like SAP are tying to facilitate such ideas and freedom, through the SAP Developer Program, that enables software to be investigated with for example, cloud instances on AWS with free developer licences. Thus removing the overhead of locating a physical machine and installing etc. We are also enabling initial awareness & skills transfer though blogs, videos etc… For example in Mobile the and the SAP Developer Center

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Ian,

      Some interesting thoughts here.  I'll quote the over-used analogy that is probably relevant to this:-

      "CFO - 'What if we train all of our people and they leave?'

      CIO - 'What if we don't and they stay?'"

      It sums up my feelings in this area well but I'd agree it isn't 100% the responsibility of the individual developers.  Their employers need to take a hand in motivating them - of course if you are an independant consultant then there's a feedback loop in place there!

      I think you've hit the nail on the head with "As a Developer you are skilled and care about your craft... " If a developer doesn't care, why should their employer?  Vice-versa, if the employer doesn't care, why should the developer?  Like many things it is all about balance, employers won't typically go out of their way to enable employees who show no interest or passion, conversely I usually find an employer will do anything they reasonably can to support an employee who is eager, keen and enthusiastic.  As you say, it's in the best interests of both sides.

      When I first started as an apprentice programmer, there was a guy in the team who had obviously been a really great, dynamic programmer at some point but it was obvious he no longer cared.  As a result, management were reluctant to invest (time, money, resources, etc.) in him.  This in turn made him more reluctant to try and a vicious circle was in place.  At that point, just starting my career, I decided that the day I woke up with his attitude, my career was over and I just had "a job."  16+ years later and I'm still doing well, learning new stuff and getting lots of support from my employer.

      I'm also a big proponent of the personal R&D time approach - I think the companies that do really well are those who enable their staff to take time out and meddle, knowing that as a long term investment it should pay off at some point.  I understand this takes investment, ultimately in raw cash, but it's a short-term strategy to only focus on earning money in the here and now - what happens next year when you have no in-memory, mobile, etc. knowledge?  You can guarantee your competitors will.

      The SAP Developer Program has been a massive bonus for many of us in the developer community and was long overdue.



      Author's profile photo Ian Thain
      Ian Thain
      Blog Post Author


      Appreciate your great comments... I think we are on the same wavelength here.

      Love the over-use analogy 🙂

      You have to invest in interesting and mind expanding projects etc (including new development phases) as well as the development staff with the business skills & development knowledge.

      Good to hear about your experience with the SAP Developer Program