Leveling up Core Skills: A Pattern for Launching an Internal Training Initiative

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Today we have a guest editorial from Julia Hayward as Steve is away on his sabbatical.

In a world of constant technical change, it is critical for organizations to help team members advance their core skills. With this in mind, Redgate’s Lead Software Engineers (LSEs) have begun an internal Engineering Academy as one of several initiatives to level up core skills used by engineers in their day-to-day jobs.

The LSEs chose Git as a topic for our first training session. Git has become the dominant tool for version control in recent years and is used by all our development teams. We felt that Git is an integral part of the day-to-day toolset of an engineer here at Redgate, and that having a good understanding of how to use it is vital to using it effectively.

To launch the first course, the team organized it in the following lightweight manner:

  • Put out a call for attendees on Slack
  • Created a brief questionnaire so that attendees could self-evaluate and baseline their skills with Git against five different pieces of criteria
  • Collated useful exercises and resources from existing material relevant to the goals of the workshop
  • Found a volunteer who is quite knowledgeable about Git to lead the session

The training session itself was a two-hour session of intense practice held in a meeting room. We challenged each attendee to commit to using Git on the command line exclusively for the next two weeks following the session. Some attendees even uninstalled their UI tools during the session! We also created a Slack channel for the group to share tips and to ask for help.

Feedback from the attendees on the day was very positive, with all of them saying that they'd learned something new.

Two weeks after the session, we asked attendees to self-evaluate again to see if they felt they had improved. The majority rated themselves at least one point higher, even though the categories were quite broad, and the average rating moved up more than a whole point.

We also asked attendees for their feedback. Everyone still felt enthusiastic about having done the training and would recommend it to others. Some were very positive about their new skills; some found giving up some features of their favorite GUI annoying, at least at first, but no one found serious difficulty.

One very interesting observation was that using the command line tends to push you towards doing smaller pieces of work in each commit; it can only be a positive thing when good practice is reinforced by a relatively frictionless experience!

After this first experience, we plan to continue and grow our Engineering Academy within Redgate. If you are looking for a lightweight pattern with which to launch a similar effort for your own teams, we found this approach gave us a promising start at Redgate.

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