Making the new hotness work

There are challenges with businesses supporting engineerings quest for the latest technologies. A key one is the lack of experienced developers on the market with knowledge of those technologies.

So what can a business do about the lack of qualified developers with that new language, platform or tool? The business doesn’t need new developers. They need to give the good ones they already have time to learn. This is ~not~ done by sending them to expensive classes, but by finding small sub projects and giving them just a little extra time to do it. Work with them to define it as a learning project. Does this mean it should be fake? Absolutely not. It needs to be a real piece of software. Perhaps one which extends or tests the core project.

There is a very real chance of failure (in the sense of marginally useful results) with this approach. This is why experimenting with a core technology on a tight deadline is a mistake. Even failures need to be understood and appreciated as uncovering critical limitations and fostering a deeper understanding of the platform in question.

Ideally these “training” projects can be used as an incentive. You should put your best developers on them as rewards. Not only will they be motivated by the challenge, but they are the most likely to be capable of making good use of the technology and drive its adoption if appropriate. If you don’t have a lead developer capable. You are also probably underestimating your team.

I can hear the objections now “I can’t afford my lead developer to go off on a wild goose chase, we have deadlines!” This may be true in some short term way, but if its continually the case then short term thinking is over ruling the more important long term needs. That lead developer can’t be in the line of fire on old technology month after month, year after year, without getting worn down or considering moving on. Give them the chance to try a training project and not only will that get results but their productivity will go way up for months after that project is done. Long term it ~will~ pay off.

The effects of a motivated and energized lead developer(s) can’t be underestimated. Lots of pundits go on and on about “stars” being ten times more productive than “average” programmers. I think this may be somewhat exaggerated, but only somewhat. Often one of the key things those “stars” have is a well of motivation and a love of learning the next thing. By helping more and more of your team find that motivation you can help more of them reach into that star category.

Other long term benefits will also come to the group and company. Hiring and retention will become easier, the team can get a positive reputation in various developer groups and the companies core technologies are less likely to become stale.


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