18

We're a small team of around 15-20 people. Around 70% of them are really passionate in what they're doing, visit conferences, spend even their weekends on hackathons and have a big progress in their skills. It's really fun to spend time with them and seeing how they evolve, which again also pushes me to keep up to date.

But there are also some guys (the other 30%) who don't have that will to go outside and even when we tell them how great an event was, they don't want to visit them. The company is paying hotel, transfer and so on, and there are also also events on weekdays, so they don't even have to spend their free time. No chance, we trief it several times and don't know how we can motivate them. These guys are currently doing great jobs, but there might be problems in the future when all other still get better and better and they loose the connection to the group. Also personally I think even, if you're already great you can always get better and it's also a great feeling to show other people what you're doing and exchange your knowledge.

When we ask them why they don't wish to attend, their response is that they are "just not interested."

So what can we do to encourage these people? We don't want to force them, I don't think that will lead to something efficient, they have to be willing themselves to visit events and improve their skills.

Edit: Thanks all for your great answers and you're right, we need to ask them more directly and work together to improve their skills, even on their own ways.

  • 3
    How do you know that these people aren't passionate? Maybe they spend their weekends coding on their own? Or maybe they like to spend their weekends recovering, so that they can do a good job every day during the week? Doesn't make them less passionate than you. – pdr May 2 '13 at 11:19
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    Are kids and families a factor for these people by any chance? – MrFox May 2 '13 at 12:20
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    I think you should just be glad that the majority of developers on your team are wiling to go the extra mile like this. That's the exception, rather than the rule! – Amy Blankenship May 2 '13 at 13:58
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    No-one's mentioned that it could just be that the expenses process is just too darn painful. I've been on a couple of trips for my current workplace and vowed never to do it again, because the expenses software was designed as a torture device. – JohnL May 2 '13 at 21:43
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    This entire post is based on an untested assumption that actually going to conferences and workshops is more productive - will push someone forward faster - than sitting at your desk, communicating with your peers through email and gchat/hangouts, etc., and solving problems with Google+StackOverflow. – Clayton Stanley May 2 '13 at 23:46
34

I don't think you can do much for people who aren't interested, short of paying them extra for doing so or making it mandatory.

But I don't think that that's a good idea, and here is why:

All people learn differently. Back in university days there were kids who skipped classes and aced tests. Some need to have learning be part of competitive games or class discussions while for others all those things are a distraction.

Speaking for myself, I don't attend any conferences/meetups/hackathons because I don't feel that the "bang for the buck" is there. When I need to learn something the best way to go about it is to do it on my own terms with a computer. Also, for me, the best time to learn things is when I actually need to do them, and not pre-emptively while listening to some tech talk about where the future might be. As for interacting with peers & experts it's pretty much usefullness(google + stackoverflow) >= usefullness(any_conference).

Life is short, and there are simply better and more efficient ways to spend one's time. Coding in general, if you think about it, is the act of finding the most efficient and elegant solution to get from where you are now to where you want to be.

Frankly, I think your assumption about people 'falling behind' and not improving their skills is false. Do they actually have a problem about performing or are you worried that it will just manifest down the road?

  • 7
    +1. I've been to many conferences over the years, and while I've enjoyed some more than others, I can't point to very much that I've actually learned from attending that's impacted my daily work. Of course, some people mix well in those situations and thrive on meeting new people. Those people will often learn more from the inevitable hallway conversations at a conference than the actual talks. Some, including me, just don't. – calum_b May 3 '13 at 10:00
21

I wouldn't worry about them at all. How someone else manages his or her career is up to them. If they are doing their jobs well now and have been able to make changes when new technologies came up, then they are fine. Wanting everyone to be like you is a pipe dream. Some of us understand that human beings actually are more productive when they leave thier work at work and do other things at home. Many of us have other responsibilities outside work that do no allow us the time to do things like hackathons and weekend conferences or out of town trips. Some of us have children and some of us have part-time jobs and some of us are caring for sick relatives and some of us have spouses who get upset if we leave town and some of us are shy and hate to be in crowds of people. Some of them might very muich want to do these things and it hurts them greatly when you push and they have to say no because there is no one to watch thier sick wife.

These events are not suited to everyone and to expect everyone to attend them is ridiculous. They are not the problem, you are because you have unrealistic expectations of others. If you make them feel excluded becasue they aren't like you and don't want to do the same things you do, then you become even more of a problem, so watch your own behavior and stop worrying about theirs.

21

For overnight conferences/training, even if the company is paying the hotel they are not getting me home to my family at the end of the day. The company is not feeding my pets, making sure my kids homework is done, mowing the lawn, shoveling the sidewalk, or any other chores we have at home. I am not there to see my kid get his first home run, or help her learn to ride a bike.

When I go to an overnight conference someone has to take care of my chores, or I have to do them when I get home. So a week long conference means that there are 5 days worth of chores that my wife either has to hire a handyman for, do herself, or wait for me to get home at the end of the week. Some things can't wait for me to get home so my leaving is an extra burden.

Now when I get home after my week at a conference I have a week full of chores to accomplish... so much for my weekend. Despite the fact that my bed at home is way more comfortable than the beds at the hotel that will mean I get a couple visits to the chiro over the next few weeks, I get to get up early and work all weekend. Then Monday I get to hear from my boss how I had a week off work so I should be ready to buckle down and make up for the work we missed. I do not dare complain about this since it will look like I am ungrateful for the opportunity.

The kids want my time but I do not have enough time to spend with them, I get to work late the first half of the week to make for the week where I did not get to do work. And now my wife is looking at the neighbor and asking wistfully when the next time I have a conference.

So just because it I am "paid" for going to a conference or training, and even if my at conference expenses are picked up by the company, there is still a real cost to me, that often can not be expressed in dollars, and can not be replaced by them.

  • Is an "overnight conference" a euphemism for a conference in Vegas? – Deer Hunter May 2 '13 at 20:11
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    Ha, my husband is living/working on the opposite side of the continent, but none of my neighbors is inspiring in that way. Wrong neighborhood I guess :) – Amy Blankenship May 3 '13 at 2:04
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    I think I like this answer more than my own. It might actually get through to some people. – MrFox May 7 '13 at 14:17
  • This post reminds me of a certain Penny Arcade Comic – Chris Pitman May 7 '13 at 17:28
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    @Ape-inago There is no reason for a non-startup white collar position to be one of them though. I get that with startups there is an increased expectation of workload. But in an established business there is no reason for it on a regular basis. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 8 '13 at 13:13
11

So what can we do to encourage these people? We don't want to force them, I don't think that will lead to something efficient, they have to be willing themselves to visit events and improve their skills.

In my experience, the biggest reason people don't do things like this is because it almost always comes as additional work.

  • Will project deadlines get pushed back to attend a conference instead of work?
  • Are project timelines increased by 5-10% to include this time?
  • Will performance expectations be adjusted to account for lost work time?

The answer is generally "no" to those questions.

So, make sure you change them all to be "yes" so there is actually not an impact to attending. People still may choose not to go, that's fine, but if you capture it effectively in expectations and make clear you are adjusting workload such that expectations are appropriate, it makes it harder for people to turn down.

Some people won't be interested regardless though. But it's a lot easier to make something mandatory when you build time into schedules for it.

The company is paying hotel, transfer and so on, and there als also events on weekdays, so they don't even have to spend their free time

This is an incorrect assumption. If you are expecting work to be completed on a fixed timeline, you are effectively taking on additional work or pressure each time you go to a conference.

Same thing happens with advanced degrees or other extra, free training. Management is confused. It's free! Why don't people flock to taking on additional responsibilities with no reduction in workload? Everyone wants to spend their free time doing work, right!?

This sort of things is more appealing to some young people. This generally decreases with age, personal responsibilities (kids, spouse, home, etc), and professional obligations.

  • 2
    I'm pretty old, and I'm thrilled to live in an area where there are so many relevant free events that I couldn't go to all of them even if I wanted to. – Amy Blankenship May 3 '13 at 2:02
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    +1: In my experience, the biggest reason people don't do things like this is because it almost always comes as additional work. – Jim G. May 9 '13 at 2:02
8

Premature optimisation is not a good thing. You are trying to solve a problem that is not yet there as you stated they are doing great work. As a company I would start worrying if you in fact see the decline in skill you are afraid of. A that stage you could talk with those people and start a process with them in dealing with this lack of skill.

Everyone is different, and there can be any number of reasons that people make different choices. For example, having a family can be a reason not to want to spend much time at conferences, away from the family. Another reason could be that people are just not that comfortable in big crowds.

6

Generally employees don't attend training and conferences for several reasons:

  • Registration costs not covered
  • Hotel and transportation not covered
  • Can't bill the company or customer for the hours spent at the event.
  • Time crunched on current projects and deadlines
  • Don't see any benefit, regardless of the costs.
  • Can't be out of town due to non-work responsibilities.

Management needs to make it part of the goals for the group. They need to make it part of their expected performance. That means that the hours will be covered and all the costs. That means that management will not ask them to work unscheduled overtime, or on a weekend to makeup for the lost hours. I have seen companies only partially cover the costs, and then wonder why nobody wanted to go.

Management has to negotiate the exact events, so that the non-work issues can be addressed. The employee may have taken the position specifically because expected travel was 0%.

Employees also want to see a connection to their current tasks, or a task they will be starting within a few weeks of the training. Employees with enough years of experience have memories of training classes they never used, or were so shallow they could have learned everything by skimming through a 10 page pdf. Not all training is created equal. The amount of learning is not related to the amount of cool swag gathered at a conference.

0

First, it's difficult to answer the question if you haven't told us why they don't go (Kids, fear of flying, hobbies, don't care, etc.).

If this is as important as you say, then the company needs to make it mandatory. Paid travel and required training are parts of many jobs.

This still may not work for some people, so look for alternatives to get training and socialize with the group. You can have lunch together, subscribe to online training, do something after work, purchase materials, etc.

Yes, I don't understand why they wouldn't want to go, but until you find out, I would assume they just don't care.

  • Thanks for you answer. The problem is not about socializing, the team is very well socialized, all of them. It's only about the problem to push everyone forward and always try to get better. – user8932 May 2 '13 at 17:27
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    @TobiasZander - I can see a need to want them to progress, but how do you think they got to the level they are at right now? Maybe they are good at focusing on what they need now and will adapt when necessary? – user8365 May 3 '13 at 0:15

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