Professional development can seem like a buzzword that companies just throw around. Some companies make budgets for their employees to go to conferences, buy books, and subscribe to learning websites. Other companies scoff at the idea of developers not being at their desks working on projects. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is convincing developers themselves to do any professional development, as it can seem like "wasted" time.
Professional development is important and extremely valuable.
What is professional development?
Professional development can be anything that will help you with your career. It comes in many forms.
- Attending conferences or Meetups
- Being in a mentorship
- Writing blog posts
- Reading articles & books
- Watching tutorials & conference videos
- Practicing Code Katas
- Working on sample projects
- Contributing to open source projects
Why is it important?
Professional development is your chance to stretch and grow your skills as a developer. It is taking the time to step back and look at what you need or want to learn instead of what is needed this instant. It is also practicing or donating your existing skills to others.
Remember you are often expected to do professional development. It is needed to keep up with current technologies and best practices in software development. There are legacy software and languages that are still getting updates; for example, COBOL has been updated in the past five years.
Talking with other developers in similar fields is still professional development. Many software problems are not new, learning how others solved the same issue can bring to light new answers and solutions. Building and maintaining those personal networks and mentorships can be vital to advancing in your career.
Making the case to management
Not everyone can do professional development only on their own time nor should they be expected to! People have many obligations outside of work and doing professional development shouldn't block them. Making the case for professional development is easier if you are prepared.
Tie professional development to personal goals mentioned in your annual review.
Professional development is your time to hone your skills and become a better developer and person. Becoming a better developer will help you and the company. Many professional development activities are low cost.
Tie professional development to team or department goals & initiatives.
Some groups need to bill all of their time back to a project, and professional development may not fit nicely into any of the current projects. Try tying it to bigger goals and initiatives.
Have a plan.
Demonstrate that you are looking ahead to improve skills needed for current and future projects. This often works in tandem with tip #1. If you don't have a plan, you can work with your manager or senior developers to build one.
A defined hour a week or every other week can be a good starting point if your company doesn't explicitly allow for professional development time.
Do defensive calendaring.
Schedule an appropriate block of time on your calendar to prevent meetings taking over it. If possible, book a room so you are away from your desk to minimize distractions and interruptions.
Actually do it.
Professional development time is only as useful as you make it.
I keep a list of articles, tutorials, and videos to choose from each week. When Wednesday afternoon comes around, I pick something from my list and do it. I also use this time to write blog posts (like this one!) and mentor other developers.
Protect your professional development time and treat it as the important meeting it is. Your career may depend upon it.
Cover photo from #WOCinTechChat
Top comments (5)
Great article Jenn! Sadly there are too many in management who don't see this as the no-brainer that it is.
If you are not successful as an individual to get buy-in/setup time for this, one approach is to take a lesson from unions and try to do it as a group.
If the whole team comes together and says they need time for this you might have a better chance of convincing management than doing it on your own. In the coordinated 'learn time' the team could each be learning the same thing, or different things - learning individually or in groups. People focusing on different areas could be used as a 'divide and conquer' strategy where afterwards people can document/report back to the team on what they learned so that more people can gain the benefit of their learning. Having to document/report is also a great motivator to actually do it and treat it seriously too 😁
Thank you for bring up doing professional development in a group. I have been part of teams that have done that and it can be quite effective. The divide and conquer strategy is excellent and reporting back to the group can help with practicing public speaking!
Awesome article. The only extra hurdle my management sees is that "professional development should be something the employee owns as part of their own initiative to grow their own career." They see it as my responsibility to use my own time to improve my performance at work.
Awesome and helpful article.
A really useful article, thank you.
I have a question though. What would you think if your doctor would give you a bill including charges for reading or going to conferences, etc?