Learning communties – damn, they’re hard to grow

In many ways, the essence of my role at work is to foster a learning community. This is more than just a “learning environment” – all a learning environment does is to supply resources for learning. Essentially, it’s passive, just like any environment is.

A learning community, however, is active. The people in the community (in this case, developers working for my employer) partake of it, join it, and experience it. They recognise for themselves that they are responsible for their own education, and come together with others to learn and progress.

This is all very touchy-feely stuff, as you can imagine. A lot of corp-speak, to put it bluntly. However, it is also something I’m extremely passionate about. The essence here is empowerment and enablement; helping people develop and grow by themselves. The problem is that it’s so bloody hard.

I get disgruntled by my job a lot. I took on a challenge when I accepted the position, and I realised that there would be aspects about it I would absolutely loathe (like the fact I don’t get to write code anywhere near as much as I would like). However, the flip side was the chance to help foster the rather immature learning community at work. Whenever I get pissed off at my job, I take the time to remind myself of this. Of course, the times I get really seriously pissed off, it’s because I realise how little progress I’ve managed to date, compared with what still needs to be done.

If there’s a company that epitomises what I would like to achieve, it’s ThoughtWorks We’ve got a number of Thoughtworkers working with us, and their attitude to “sharpening the saw” is incredible. It’s not that the Thoughtworks staff are exceptional (they are good, however), it’s the way they constantly try to improve and encourage others to do the same. Now, I’m sure that there are a lot of other companies that do this, but ThoughtWorks is the best one I’ve encountered through _my_ experience, and the only one that seems to have this value throughout. I’ve met lots of people with this attitude (including myself), but to have an entire organisation believe in this fashion is amazing, and an excellent testimony to the effectiveness of their job applicant filtering process.

My real problem, of course, is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I can work hard at creating a learning community, but I can’t force people to join it. Nor would I want to force them; enabling and empowering people isn’t about forcing people to do things. All I can do is keep plugging away at it, and take some satisfaction in the people who have joined it already.

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Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 18 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 16 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

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