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Our company is a small SaaS shop with a small team of in-house software developers.

We take professional growth very seriously. I talk to each of the developers that I manage about personal learning objectives and push each one of them to continue to study and improve themselves. We even have a (modest) budget to purchase books and video courses to help employees stay sharp.

However, whenever I bring up professional development with one of our software developers, she insists that she would like to develop skills in areas outside of programming. She has asked that we allow her to work on graphic design and marketing projects during work hours in addition to her duties as a developer. I have tried to explain that we hired her to do one kind job and not other random tasks to no avail.

Since she is a fairly productive employee this isn't really a reason to let her go. I can't see how we would be able to have her work as a programmer and a designer simultaneously.

What, if anything, can I do to help this employee find what she's looking for?

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    I work in data science and we often get contacted by developers within the company who are interested in learning about and working on ds projects. As we almost always have plenty of work to go around, we're usually happy to oblige. Is there a reason you don't want her working on design or marketing projects? – AffableAmbler Jan 24 at 3:13
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    If you want to "help this employee find what she's looking for", you should start by listening to what she's saying. She is looking for a way to develop skills in marketing and graphic design. She told you that. That's what she's looking for. You can choose to either allow it and she'll change roles, or not allow it and she'll change company. Either way sooner or later you'll have to find another software developer. – ChatterOne Jan 24 at 9:58
  • The real question is whether or not your company could benefit from having a hybrid developer/graphic design/marketing person. If so, then letting her slowly transition to that might not be a bad thing (if she's good at it) and gives you a nice long window to be picky about finding a replacement on the development side. Cross-disciplinary people can be useful. In particular, having someone who has a foot in marketing, and also has a developer's-eye understanding of the codebase could have real value. – Ben Barden Jan 24 at 16:55
  • Having multiple interests is part of being a human, and it sounds like you don't have anyone doing graphic design right now. Steve Jobs has said his calligraphy course was incredibly influential to designing the Mac: youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc – user90809 Jan 25 at 16:31
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whenever I bring up professional development with one of our software developers

So, don't bring it up, she's not interested in doing things that directly benefit her existing role and therefore potentially the company, so rather than talk to a brick wall, focus on those who are.

I train people in things I don't need them to do, but in the full knowledge that they will leave and apply those skills elsewhere. It's not a potential danger, it will happen. So in terms of retaining staff it's not good for the company. I do it for other reasons and don't want to retain those staff.

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    I completely disagree. A company that doesn't allow for personal development is a dead end. If the company treats me like I am on my way out of the door - I bet you I am. Graphic design and frontend development is not far from eachother. The company has decided the roles of the employees. - If you have an opportunity to get a more hybrid employee, then why not? Developers can know a thing or 2 about marketing and the other way around, there is no reason that everyone is in their own box and doesn't give a f* about what happens in other departments. – Jonas Praem Jan 24 at 11:29
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    @JonasPraem feel free to downvote, nothing wrong with disagreeing, in some cases a hybrid is an asset, not in all, but training always costs time and money. In a small business quite often this is a big deal. – Kilisi Jan 24 at 12:15
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    Companies should provide for professional development. It's not clear why it should be the company's responsibility to provide for personal development. The employee can do that on their own time. – BittermanAndy Jan 24 at 14:00
  • Yep, I want to spend half the day learning macrame while being employed as an engineer – Kilisi Jan 24 at 14:06
  • At least marketing is something that I had to learn in vocational school in Germany when I trained as a software developer. As soon as you work in, say an e-commerce environment, you will very likely have to learn about certain aspects anyway. Or if you are a front-end developer working on anything customer-facing. SEO and such are all marketing skills. And a front-end developer with graphic design skills is a more well-rounded employee. Neither of these two are non-professional in my opinion. – simbabque Jan 25 at 9:16
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Since she is a fairly productive employee this isn't really a reason to let her go. I can't see how we would be able to have her work as a programmer and a designer simultaneously.

Then don’t let her do both during work hours. A company pays its employees to make it money, so pay her for what makes the company money.

That said, could graphic design be helpful to the company in future? I am an embedded programmer, so it would be no good to me.. But I can certainly see potential future value in front-end web work, or just about anything requiring a GUI.

Irrespective of whether it might help the company or not, if that’s what she wants to do, then encourage her to learning her free time.

There are plenty of free courses, plus instructional videos. I have taken a few courses with Coursera which offers free courses from universities some of them world class. Some courses have a timetable and some are learn at your own pace. Take a look – there’s something for everyone.

They offer quite a few courses related to [Graphic Design](https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=graphic design)

  • Why the downvote? Just the usal S.E drive by downvote with no explanation. Way to help others learn how to contribute – Mawg Jan 26 at 9:30
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Some very good points are being made here. Just want to add a couple of quick thoughts.

First, you should find out why she wants to explore other areas. Is there anything that's making her unhappy? It might be a distress signal in disguise, e.g. being bullied by a coworker, too much workload for her to handle, too much pressure, etc. Note that she might not want to raise specific issues, especially if it would mean talking negatively about some of her coworkers (or even you), so if she gives a bland, half-hearted answer, take it as a potential red flag.

Second, ask her how she views her future in the company, if you haven't already done so. That might clear up things a bit more.

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It is good that you are prepared to invest in your employees' futures. Not many companies seem to do that, which is baffling to me, so I am always pleased to hear of employers that do.

With that said, there is a tacit understanding in employer-provided training that the training ought to be something related to the job. Training your developers to become better developers - great. Training your developers to become graphic designers - maybe, if you have (or might one day have) graphic design roles at your company. Training your developers to become teachers, lawyers, or police officers so they don't have to be developers any more - no. That's not your responsibility as an employer. If an employee wants to change career, they do that in their own time, by their own efforts; in the meantime they're being paid to work for you. Use your best judgement as to where on that scale this request lies.

If an employee is worth keeping, though, there are a couple of options I've not seen mentioned yet:

  • Consider paying for the training, but not allow it to be done on work time. This lets her learn new skills; but the cost to the company is minimal (training courses are cheap, and you're not losing her time).
  • Consider providing the training, but with a contract requiring her to repay the cost if she leaves within a certain length of time. If she just wants to learn new skills, great. If she's using it as a platform to leave the company, at least she's not going to be ripping you off on her way out.
  • Consider offering her the chance to work fewer days in a week (for proportionally less pay, of course). You're still getting at least some of her time and skills, which might be better than losing her completely; and she gets to do whatever learning she wants in the extra time off.

Those options, alone or in combination, might be more flexible than simply refusing to provide training at all (which might cause bad feeling on her part) or spending company time and money on something that may never benefit the company (which might reasonably cause bad feeling on your part).

Either way, it sounds like this person has plans to change her career. You may want to prepare for hiring a replacement - whether she moves into a new role at the same company, or leaves the company altogether.

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You have a productive employee that you trust, that you know the work ethic of, and that would like to change her career. She is clearly not entirely happy being a developer. There is already a chance she might think about leaving. Maybe she'd like a less stressful role as a marketing or design person who is not required to fix things with long hours, or maybe there's some other reason.

If you want to hang on to this person in your company, you should allow not only allow her to train on marketing stuff, but actually offer her to work part time in the marketing department, and part time in development. One of two things will happen.

  • She likes marketing and you can transition her there.
  • She doesn't like marketing and will stay in development.

If she enjoys marketing and wants to switch, you know who you are going to get. She knows she might take a pay-cut because she goes from being in an experienced role to a more junior role in a different field. Your marketing department gets an employee the company already knows. In addition (and the benefit of this depends on what your company does), your marketing department now has someone who thinks like a developer. That means she will start teaching her coworkers how not to do things that make IT unhappy, because she will hate those too. That, in turn, will make improve the relationship between IT and marketing, and the company will save money on less time wasted.

On the other hand, if she doesn't like being in marketing, you've not really lost much. Maybe the hours she's spent there. But she's not going to leave to pursuit a career in marketing somewhere else, just to end up being unhappy, leave there again and find a different developer job because she feels bad about coming back.

So in conclusion, allowing her to explore these other fields will help you retain a trusted, well-known employee. Those are hard to find, regardless of what role they fill.

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