Home/Blog/Why Developer Training is Broken - and how to fix it

Why Developer Training is Broken - and how to fix it

Jul 07, 2020 - 13 min read
Amanda Fawcett
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Around the world, corporate training programs for software developers seek to educate and upskill their employees, but evidence shows time and time again that training is not working.

In fact, in 2018, $87.6 billion was spent on corporate training in the US, but developers at big tech companies still report feeling inadequate on the job. Training isn’t translating into performance, and billions of dollars are being wasted on faulty training programs.

Organizations often put their own barriers. But with the COVID lockdowns, there is no better time to reimagine how we approach training programs. Best practices created years ago are no longer keeping up with the current state of the world. In fact, due to COVID lockdowns, nearly 60% of companies are looking to spend more on online learning rather than traditional L&D programs.

It’s time to reassess how we invest in ongoing developer training. In my article on building a transformative learning program, we discussed ways that L&D teams can build effective programs that truly benefit your company and employees.

Today, we want to take that discussion one step further and look at why developer training is broken and talk about some practical ways to fix it.

We’ll go over:



Issue 1: One-off learning events delay learning

Many companies spend thousands of dollars on developer learning events. This could be anything: a meeting, presentation, conference, or a guest speaker. These events are a one-off learning experience, intended to shower developers with the knowledge they need to upskill.

Learning events may seem like a good idea, especially because they are so pervasive for L&D programs, but evidence shows that one-off learning events aren’t working. In fact, they delay learning. Developers often walk away from one-off learning events with little tangible growth or follow-up training.

In fact, a study by Dr. Brent Peterson shows that learning effectiveness is due to three intersecting factors:

  • 25% of learning is from the learning event itself
  • 25% is from individual preparedness
  • 50% of learning is from follow-up activities and application.

Yet, Peterson’s research reveals that companies invest 10% of training budgets on pre-learning event activities, 85% on the actual event, and only 5% on post-learning event activities. This means that 80% of training dollars are being wasted.

Some researchers refer to one-off learning events as the “spray and pray” approach to developer training: L&D teams spray developers with knowledge and pray that the event was worth it.

There’s little follow up, little practical application, and developers can walk away feeling even more dissatisfied. Many developers may come back from a learning event energized and eager to apply their learning, but they do not get support, making it far too easy to resort back to old behaviors.

Clearly, this one-off approach to developer learning is broken. It assumes that all developers share the same needs and learning styles, and it floods developers with information in the least effective way. In fact, many developers have become disenchanted with continued education because one-off learning events simply check a corporate box rather than provide valuable training.

We need a new approach. Talent should be treated as capital. This refers both to cognitive talent (soft skills) and technical talent (hard skills). Developer training is vital to the scaling, efficiency, and longevity of any tech company, but we need to train developers in a way that is actually beneficial to their day-to-day work lives. So, what’s the solution? Personalized, integrated learning that grows and expands beyond an individual learning event.


Personalized learning

Every person learns differently. Different departments require different skill sets or topics, and each learner requires unique approaches, both in and out of the office. Personalized learning is not just about being ethical or nice to employees; it’s actually a best business practice.

An organization that accommodates different learning needs saves money, effort, and time by thinking about ongoing development as capital. And when trainings are more personalized to help employees advance their careers, employees feel that a company is invested in them.

Personalized learning manifests itself differently depending on the organization and training in questions. This could mean strategic online courses for differing departments, reasonable deadlines for learning programs, 1:1 learning sessions, or even weekly follow-up meetings after a presentation.


Integrated learning

Personalized learning also means a training that is integrated with the real-world, day-to-day of your developers. There’s little use in training that doesn’t apply to the work lives of your learners. The real measure of training success is whether or not learners can apply their training into their actual jobs.

Integrated learning requires forethought. What are the skills that developers in this department actually use? What tools, libraries, or frameworks are already in place? What are the long-term goals of particular teams? If 50% of learning comes from follow-up activities, then 50% of L&D efforts should be directed towards practical application.

Reinforcing skills, habits, or principles in a specific work environment makes training more effective and beneficial. This could look like team coaching or post-meeting activities using codebases from your team. These action plans help everyone progress towards shared, organizational goals.

To summarize: Developer training cannot be treated as a one-off event. By integrating personalized learning into that journey, you are empowering developers to take control of their education and apply their knowledge.



Issue 2: Responsibility to learn is falling on the wrong people

Responsibility plays a huge role in the limitations of developer training. Organizations generally assume that it is the responsibility of L&D to provide developers with continuous training. Ongoing education, however it may look, is left to teams of people who have little insight into the needs of the very people they are trying to serve.

The responsibility for building and implementing developer training programs educating developers should fall on anyone invested in the health of a company, especially those most closely related to the day-to-day needs of developers.

Otherwise, training programs will always remain an after-thought and will always fail to miss the mark. So, how does each person fit in? What responsibilities should we all assume for developer training?


HR and L&D

HR and L&D cannot be wholly responsible for developer training; they do not have the intimate knowledge of developer needs or technologies. They may know the goals of a particular department, but how can an HR team know the specifics of how to get there?

It cannot fall on HR to strategize all aspects of that training process. Instead, HR should focus on:

  • Setting up the practical aspects of training programs (i.e. funding, emailing, scheduling)
  • Looking for partnerships
  • Thinking critically about stakeholders
  • Driving strategies

Managers and Leaders

Employees learn from managers and leaders in their organizations, so managers and business leaders are also responsible for developer training. Their role is guidance:

  • Instructing HR on the practicals of how they need to reach their business goals
  • Giving directional guidance on things like architecture and technologies
  • Training developers on business direction

Developer training should always be connected to business outcomes, so it falls on those in positions of power to educate developers on the business objectives that relate to their work life. Developers need to know the goals of their training and what expectations a company has from them.

Leaders and managers need to foster that connection, instruct HR on their strategies, and encourage developers to learn in conjunction with their department goals.


Developers and Peers

Developers and their peers are ultimately responsible for their own learning. At the end of the day, it is up to each person to learn at their own pace. Developers don’t just learn from training programs; they also learn from each other.

We’re no longer at the point where it is the role of a company to tell employees what to do in their own roles. By encouraging employees to teach each other, you are utilizing their talent as capital to its fullest potential.

Many healthy companies have found success in building directories of employee skills or specialties. This enables employers to locate who knows what and where resources are available to them.

This could look like a literal spreadsheet, improved onboarding that outlines “go-to people”, or even regular Brown Bag events where employees can share their knowledge and experiences.

To summarize: There is nobody in the company who doesn’t have a role or responsibility in relation to developer training. Think critically about who to hold accountable.


Issue 3: Education isn’t built into a corporate ecosystem

Ongoing developer training isn’t commonly built into the ecosystem of an organization. Rather, it is seen as a side or “extracurricular” investment. This is a huge mistake. Think of your organization as a scaffolding. Your goal is to continue growing, to add floors and levels that make the structure stronger and more durable.

Developer training is one of the essential tools that allow everyone to keep climbing and building. If those tools aren’t provided or are not accessible, the structure will not grow appropriately. Developer training that isn’t built into a corporate ecosystem will remain foreign and isolated to structural goals and strategies.

We need to view developer training as foundational to the health of an organization and strategically build a system where learning is accessible, applicable, and efficient.

A learning ecosystem helps an organization strategize, achieve goals, all while empowering developers to take ownership of their own roles. A learning ecosystem refers to many facets of any organization: it is a system of people, technology, strategy, and training content.

If learning truly is an ongoing process, then building an agile, nimble ecosystem at the heart of an organization ensures that developer training will not be wasted. You won’t have to “spray and pray” that learning sticks; it will be foundational to the work lives of all individuals involved.

So, how do you manage a learning ecosystem? Building a learning ecosystem requires intentionality, strategy, and active management. The goal is to build developer training into the grassroots of an organization. You need to put tools in place so associates and employees can access what they need and know how these tools apply to their jobs. A continuous learning ecosystem is a living, breathing plan that requires investment at multiple levels.


People

People are the heart of a learning ecosystem. These are the developers that want ongoing training. Developers don’t just learn from formal instructors; they also learn from their own research, veteran employees, third parties, managers, and peers. A learning ecosystem accommodates these vectors.

Similarly, managers and team leaders set the tone and goals for ongoing learning. By viewing managerial efforts as a form of mentorship, investments will trickle down into the ecosystem. It’s important to hire and train managers who are invested in developer training, not those who encourage competitive talent or culture of hyper-perfection.

We need to hire managers who support developers and see learning as a journey. One way for managers to set this tone is by giving time for developers to learn during the workday. With an online learning platform, leaders and managers must schedule a time for developers to take courses during work hours.

By expecting developers to learn during off-hours, you will see poor engagement and fail to accommodate the complexities of your employees’ lives, such as those with family responsibilities, health issues, or part-time work.


Technology

Any learning ecosystem requires a technology infrastructure to support ongoing learning. Strategic uses of technology create opportunities for delivering, sharing, and improving developer training content. Investing in reliable technology for developer training aims to build a healthy ecosystem that accommodates personalized, blended learning.

Technology for developer training should meet the needs of developers where they are at. During the time of COVID, this means online education. But lengthy videos and excess software dissuade developers from getting started on their own.

The goal here is to build a scalable ecosystem, not to bog down your employees with bulky tools. Programs like Educative provide companies large and small with reliable developer training that is personalized to a learner’s needs and a department’s goals without the unwanted hassle.

The training tool is fully integrated on the Educative site, so companies can purchase and get started right away. Platforms like Educative make it possible to utilize the technologies already at your disposal and get developers immediately started on training on what matters.


Content

Content for developer training is often where L&D teams go awry. Many teams spend money purchasing materials to supplement internal training programs, but they don’t think critically about the content needs of their learners. Many online learning tools, like LinkedIn Learning, make it challenging to identify the content needs of your target groups.

These tools try to encompass all topics and miss the mark or make it challenging to get to essential instruction. Generalized learning platforms slow down the learning process. They are the “spray and pray” of online learning.

The goal here isn’t simply to purchase external content for the sake of it. The goal is to empower developers to make their own decisions about what they need to learn. It’s vital to invest in platforms that empower the needs of your target audience.

Many large online learning tools for corporate learning teams only offer large, company-wide subscriptions, so developers are only learning a new technology once or twice a year. But sites like Educative, designed specifically for developers, offers rotating licenses, so you get more value and empower employees to learn the content they really need.

To summarize: A healthy organization needs to build a strategic learning ecosystem by leveraging people, technology, and content. You should think deeply about developer needs and purchase external content that is tailored to your target audience.


Wrapping up

Developer training programs are vital to the health and success of your company. Investing in powerful learning tools will make it easier for managers to strategize, for HR to meet needs, and for developers to get started with practical, personalized learning. There is no better time to reimagine how we approach training programs. Best practices from years past are not effective for the current state of the world. It’s time to reassess and rebuild how we invest in ongoing developer training.


Get started with Educative’s developer-specific learning platform. Our rotating licenses, corporate packages, and career-centric courses make it easy to fix broken developer training programs. Talk to us about how we can meet your corporate training needs.

Curious how Educative has helped businesses reach their learning goals? Check out our case study with CodeBreakers.


WRITTEN BYAmanda Fawcett

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