Even though tech pros have access to a plethora of free training programs and open-source projects, finding the time to pursue professional development is easier said than done.
In fact, some experts maintain that tech pros need around 20 hours per week to practice and acquire new skills; but just try finding that kind of spare time while working. So here’s a suggestion: take a few hours out of your workweek for professional development—after getting your boss’s approval.
What types of approaches will work on your boss? Here are some ways to make a compelling argument that you need time for professional development.
Push the Right Button
Manager motivations generally fall into three categories, explained David Intersimone (also known as David “I”), VP of Developer Communities for Evans Data Corporation.
Bosses are more likely to approve training endeavors that will produce tangible improvements in things such as code quality or reductions in debugging time. “Your best chance of successfully persuading your boss is to demonstrate a hard return or improvement in a development process or business issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Most managers would be thrilled if their developers asked to spend time on something that will help them become a more valuable contributor or meet key strategic objectives. When talking with your boss, highlight the end result of training, such as your newfound ability to build automated tests or move the whole firm to a DevOps delivery model.
Many tech conferences and events post “justification templates” and performance improvement data from previous attendees, Intersimone added. If you can’t find sufficient information to substantiate your request by searching the Internet or reaching out to key project contributors or training providers, try using a simple ROI calculation.
Managers are also interested in new technologies or techniques that can help their company stay ahead of the curve. Offering to learn a new tool or language that will lead to the development of new products or features, and offering to share that knowledge with your teammates, can prove another highly effective technique.
In addition, many managers want to make their employees happy and limit turnover, so your boss may grant your request to train on company time—so long as it’s reasonable and your work doesn’t suffer.
Researching the market and sharing the policies of competitors that help employees keep their skills up-to-date may also tip the scales in your favor. For instance, some large high-tech companies offer internal sabbatical programs or bootcamps; studies show that investing in employee training and development increases profitability.
Your boss may be interested in learning how other companies are addressing their employees’ professional development needs, and you may get what you want by volunteering to guide a similar initiative at the office.
Present Creative Solutions
Of course, the problem with asking your boss for time to keep your skills sharp is that you have a job to do and there’s often no budget for adding staff or contractors. To get what you want, don’t bring problems to your manager—bring solutions (as many as possible).
“Come in with a plan that works for everyone,” suggested John Hales, president of Hales Technologies, a training and consulting firm. For instance, offer to increase your whole team’s productivity by sharing what you learn about automating the development process. Such internal training can take the form of roundtable discussions, learning sessions, or something even more informal, such as a lunch.
Bartering time spent on secondary tasks in exchange for training a junior staff member to perform them may likewise appeal to your manager. Alternatively, offer to invest a few hours of your own time for every hour of company time you spend on training; volunteer to keep track of your progress.
“Ask if you can devote more time to training between project cycles,” Intersimone suggested. “Utilizing ‘get ahead time’ to eliminate stress and increase productivity will benefit the team in the long run.”
If you want time off to attend conferences or meet-ups, volunteer to scope out new technologies or make contacts that will benefit the organization. To ease the burden on your team, offer to stay in touch while you’re gone or to put in some extra hours when you return.
“Knowledge is the secret sauce that drives change, innovation and advancement in tech,” Hales said. “Having a process or framework for systematically capturing and sharing that knowledge will benefit employees and managers.”
Who could say no to that?