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Learning at Evermade

Jaakko Alajoki, April 17, 2018

The industries of web design & development move forward rapidly all the time. In order to cope with the competition, a web agency like Evermade needs to keep learning new tricks and improving in the old ones.

Companies have perhaps the biggest responsibility of  the team’s skillset – the organization needs to support learning. But how and when can this be done in a way that doesn’t ask too much of the team nor has a negative effect on project work?

Evermade learning practices, Jaakko reading a book about web design

TBH, the book in my hands is no longer in active learning use. But sometimes it’s good to return to your roots for a moment to see how far you’ve come.

There are many ways to learn

Natural curiosity and willingness to try new stuff help a lot, while learning by doing is probably the most effective method. Being free to experiment when working on projects. That’s a very practical and hands on way to learn and works in some cases. Unfortunately, budget and schedule limitations don’t usually allow you to go crazy with your design or code. Getting new learning material like books, online courses or even conference tickets is another method that we are very open-minded about.

But it’s unfair for a company to expect people to spend their evenings and weekends for learning and experimenting. Most of the people do it and enjoy it anyway, but we can not assume that. So the core problem persists: how do we find time for learning?

Introducing learning days

To solve this, we introduced a concept of learning days. The idea is simple. Developers can pick one day in a month for learning and agree this as a “day off” with their project teams. On the learning day they stay away from the office. (If you come to the office you will most likely get involved in some project, so better to stay at home.) People can choose their topics freely as long as it’s at least loosely related to our work. As I wrote to our learning day guidelines: “Learning oil painting is not what we are looking for”.

After the learning day we strongly recommend people to share any findings with the team in some format, like a blog post, Slack message, Codepen link or repository url. We don’t expect a formal report, but for everyone’s benefit, sharing the findings and learning outcomes is strongly advised.

Feedback from the team

We kicked off learning days as an experiment in November 2017 and tried it for four months. I’ve gathered some key feedback we received during the period:

  • Focusing a full day on something completely new without any project pressure can be very refreshing.
  • Great opportunity to widen own skillset, which will eventually benefit both the individual and the company.
  • Effective way to gain confidence for assessing and discussing the pros and cons of different methods, technologies etc.
  • The learning day is a good way to break habits, which is something inherently difficult for the human brain.
  • From a resourcing perspective, it’s sometimes difficult to find a free one day slot. Especially during rush periods.
  • Equality can be an issue because some people might have fewer opportunities for a learning day than others.

The experiment is now over and we are evaluating our options to move forward. Most likely, we won’t continue the experiment exactly as described here. But since learning is one of our key values, we will definitely come up with some refined solution and try that out. 

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