Let's start with a situation that's familiar to me working with SEP as a recruiter. I've woken up at five-thirty in the morning so that I can make it to a college campus by seven-thirty. We expect our first student candidates to meet us at eight. We're a bit early so we need to wait. This is all happening before I would usually be waking up to make it into work by nine. Some time passes and the candidate comes to join us. It does not always happen this way, but this candidate has questions prepared for the start of the interview. They ask: “I went to your website and it looks like professional development is pretty important to you. What is that like at SEP?” So, before my brain has even finished the boot-up cycle, I'm trying to find a way to explain Professional Development (PD) as something other than extra work.
It is Important to Acknowledge it is Extra Work
The confusing part is that it is extra work, but not extra 'work work'. In this case, when we are talking about work, we are referring to something requiring an expenditure of time, effort, and focus. We are not talking about work work, which is what many of us do for a defined period of hours, on a defined number of days a week, for a certain number of weeks out of the year. If you're curious about that what looks like for us at a software consultancy you can find that here. PD is investing those same resources during free time, instead of taking the time to recover. Since SEP as a company highly values work/life balance, it feels a bit strange for us to be looking to hire candidates who are expending effort outside of their time at school. We should have some good reasons for that.
Reason: It is Important to Know About a Candidate
There are several reasons we look for PD when hiring. First and foremost, is that it helps us learn more about the candidate. One of my personal favorite things is to discuss personal side projects with candidates. The best thing that can happen for me is when someone pulls up an app they made on their phone. PD can say several things about a candidate. It can demonstrate a passion for the craft. It can demonstrate an attitude of getting things accomplished. It can demonstrate high technical competency. It can demonstrate a firm grasp of understanding and building a solution for a specific problem. It could demonstrate a practiced approach to learning.
Reason: It is Important to Develop Learning as a Skill
Or at least, it does to us. Unfortunately, there's some in-depth theory of knowledge stuff around this. To start dealing with that, we'd need a working definition for what we mean by knowledge. (Don't worry, I'm skipping those parts). To us, it is an important skill involved in what we do. We often find ourselves needing to learn as part of work work. There is a wide variety of possible tech, and no engineer can gain meaningful knowledge with all of them. Beyond that, there is a wide ecosystem of packages out there for each piece of main tech. Call it a tree. The truth is, we may still end up needing to draw on any of these technologies for what we do. So it's best that we know how to pick them up quickly.
Reason: It is Important to What We Do
As engineers at SEP, it is our job to work on hard problems for our clients. This means that an engineer may know that the best tool for a job is one that they haven't worked with before. In that case, it's beneficial to have other people at your organization that have worked with a piece of technology. For that to be true, we need people to be using technologies outside of what we use on our projects. It's quite possible the problem an engineer is trying to solve is one that hasn't been encountered here before. It is invaluable to be able to speak with someone who has used it. They can help evaluate if the tool is correct for a problem and help you with resources on how to learn to use it. We call this process of experimenting with other technology so the organization can have access to it PD. Leveraging this knowledge, we are able to help our clients build solutions.
Reason: It is Important to Our Clients
Our clients are hiring SEP so that some of our engineers can solve problems for them. This process of being able to reach into different kinds of tech can be highly beneficial. Sometimes, a client may want to have confidence that we can work in their tech. It's important that we meet that confidence. To me, the process of PD at SEP is one of the core ways we meet this confidence. In fact, we invest heavily in PD. It also creates meaningful outcomes when we join a project. We're comfortable and practiced at working with unfamiliar tech, wrapping our minds around it, and learning how to use it. It's a way to solve hard problems.
I'll leave you with this last idea. Out of my own curiosity, I did a quick google search for “if your organization is not learning it is dying”. As it turns out, it yields years worth of articles on the concept. Does that sound scary? Yep, but it's also worth considering.