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I work as a web developer in the US. My company recently hired on someone with the intent of having them get us swapped over to using a new technology that I have no experience with. This new team member can be quoted as saying "It's not upon your employer to give you time to learn" and that we should all be doing this in our spare time at home. He even went so far as to suggesting that we all create GitHub projects and submit them to him for code review.

Is this normal? I understand that companies can and do introduce new technologies/frameworks/etc, but is it really on me to spend my non-work hours to learn these? I should indicate that I'm not against learning the new stuff, and honestly, in my free time (which, I have a spouse and a teenage daughter, so its rare) I probably will play around and see what I can learn. I just feel that the onus is on the employer to give some time to learn and adapt.

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    What power does this person have in your organization exactly? Do they actually have the power, to make their expectations of learning this new technology in your free time, something that will impact your performance review in the future? – Donald Mar 28 at 14:20
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    Yes, I agree. But, I live and work in Germany; cultural norms and legislation might be different where you work. – Roland Mar 28 at 14:21
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    It's not upon your employer to give you time to learn Sure, and is not my trouble if the system goes down while I'm at home, want me to study on my free time? Pay me. – William-H-M Mar 28 at 15:30
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    Are you salaried or hourly? – EJoshuaS Mar 28 at 15:58
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    Who is this "someone"? Do they have any actual power? They will be hard-pressed to force an entire team to switch technology if they don't plan on supporting the transition properly. – MonkeyZeus Mar 28 at 17:57

13 Answers 13

205

Is this normal?

In my experience, this is not normal.

What typically happens is your employer would work with you in the transition by supporting you with training. Or alternatively, you employer could allow you a bit more time to do tasks in this new technology to account for the learning curve.

I will say however, as a developer myself, it is on me to stay current in my chosen stack and to not become out dated.

I would also suggest you talk to you manager about a cooperative training effort to move towards this new technology that would include some of your time, the companies time, and maybe even a bit of paid training (instructor lead or online).

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    For me an easy rule of thumb is: If I want to learn something, it's on my time and dime. If the company needs me to learn something, it's on their time and dime. – Stig Tore Mar 28 at 14:49
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    Also it's a good hint about the job itself. With myriad of things you can choose as your stack it should be understandable that YOUR thing is not the one company have chosen. So it's your thing or company thing that you would need to put your time into. And company should somehow reimburse you or pay for the help for forfeiting your own thing. – SZCZERZO KŁY Mar 28 at 14:55
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    @StigTore Sadly the employer may think it's easier to just hire new staff which are versed in the new technology. Their ill-guided perspective could lead them to think "Well if a new employee already knows this stuff because they did it in their spare time then my current employees should be able to follow suit if they wish to keep their job." Even further sadly is that when a new employee is undoubtedly hired in the near future then the employer will wonder "Why the heck is this guy so much better than my guys? I paid for their training for crying out loud!" – MonkeyZeus Mar 28 at 17:55
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    @MonkeyZeus The employer had a product before the switch. The knowledge that the dev's acquired over time working on the previous iterations is extremely valuable. They should have a better understanding of the direction the product is going and what unique challenges the industry their coding for brings. Old staff might not code as fast but I would never replace someone unless I felt that they were regressing or stagnating in their professional development. You stop learning and I'll stop considering you for better positions. (Sending employees on good training courses is usually a win win) – Tolure Mar 28 at 18:10
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    An industry sets expectations, and it's important for people to reset those expectations when they become unreasonable and/or inconsistent w/ other professions. I previously worked as an actuary--a job where you take professional exams over the course of many (10+) years, increasing knowledge, status, & position--and folks received about 1-2 weeks off (scheduled at their own preference), per exam (about 1 exam per year), for uninterrupted study--e.g. 2-4 hours per week, culminating in maybe 3-5 days off just before the exam. This seems to me a reasonable baseline also for software dev. – michael Mar 29 at 3:40
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This new team member can be quoted as saying "It's not upon your employer to give you time to learn" and that we should all be doing this in our spare time at home.

This new team member is confused.

And unless this new team member is your boss, or is funding your paycheck, then this new team member can be safely ignored.

If an employer wants you to learn something new, then your employer should be happy to pay for that learning on company time.

Of course if the new technology interests you or hold long term promise for your career, you may wish to augment that with your own learning in your own time - that's just good career advice. And that's your personal choice to make.

Is this normal?

Sadly, there are some confused people we all get to work with.

That doesn't make any of them right.

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    Indeed, simply continue to work hard, and politely ignore these "rantings" from new employee. – Fattie Mar 28 at 16:09
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    ^ this. Your boss asks you to do something. That means it's your job. – xyious Mar 28 at 17:16
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    @Joe Strazzere, I like your answer, but would make 2 improvements (IMHO). First, "confused" is too forgiving. The new team member is mistaken. Second, while it's true that he could be safely ignored, I'd take that a step further and correct him, so he knows not to make similar attempts in the future. – donjuedo Mar 28 at 20:56
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    it is normal for developers to work at home to further their knowledge, however a good firm invests in staff and gives them time to learn new technologies, especially if those technologies have been mandated by the business. So whilst it is absolutely true you should be doing self learning at home as that is just what developers do, it is NOT true your employer should expect the entirety of this to be done at home unpaid. – krystan honour Mar 29 at 13:18
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    Before ignoring the new team member make sure to check with your boss for clarification of roles if you're not certain that this team member isn't over you in some way. Sometimes roles are not communicated as explicitly as they should be, and sometimes a team member wedges themselves into a leadership role, and while this isn't "fair", it can wind up giving them authority. So it's only safe to ignore them if you're sure neither of these situations has occurred or is occurring. Otherwise you can find yourself labeled "not a team player". But definitely don't follow orders from a true peer. – bob Mar 29 at 13:30
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Good companies invest in their staff.

Technology is a rapidly changing industry - there is always something new to learn. It is much cheaper to keep a current member of staff up to standard than to replace them with a new hire, which costs time and money in recruitment and getting up to speed. Good companies recognize this, and provide their staff with training in whatever technologies they use. It is therefore reasonable for you to hope that your employer will give you time and resources to learn new technologies during work hours.

Not every employer realizes this, they see the obvious cost of providing training and do not recognize the hidden costs of failing to do that. Sadly this is common.

However...

Your employer won't care more about your career than you do - it's your career.

When you first got a developer job, you (probably) didn't turn up on their doorstep saying, "I know nothing about development, pay me while I learn, then eventually I'll do some work for you!". You probably learned how to develop on your own time, maybe as part of full-time education, maybe getting some qualifications (which may have included a degree), before you got the job. You chose your career, and invested in it.

Now, some time later, your current knowledge is not enough. You need to learn more. Although a good employer will help you with this... ultimately, it's you that needs to learn it. This may involve learning on your own time, putting your own energy and resources (time/money/etc.) into it. It is your career, after all. If you don't want to keep up to date with new technologies, your employer may decide to replace you with someone who will. Then, when you are looking for a new job, you may be competing with other candidates who have already learned those new technologies, while you will be left explaining that your former employer didn't give you training so you never did.

Therefore, while both employer and employee should invest in ongoing professional development and learning, whether the employer does this or not, the employee must, or else they will find themselves lacking skills and knowledge that are needed in modern development.

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    For me, this is the right response. It's an odd middle ground. Yes, we should learn. Yes, an employer should provide training. But assuming worst case, you have to take responsibility and keep up to date and stay sharp on your skills because your employer WILL replace you. That's the nature of the beast. – ShinEmperor Mar 28 at 15:15
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    There's a big difference between failing to keep up with the state of the art and not feeling compelled to jump on the bandwagon of every "monster of the week" JS framework your project lead digs up. What if what the company picked isn't career advancing, would you still recommend to learn it in your free time? – Ruther Rendommeleigh Mar 28 at 15:25
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    @BittermanAndy "What will help my career in this company?" is certainly a valid question to ask yourself, but, personally, I wouldn't feel compelled to bind myself too tightly to a company that demands unpaid overtime just so I may keep my job. I might decide to learn the skills that I consider more useful / in demand instead and look for a place that respects their developers more. Free time is a rather limited resource, after all. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Mar 28 at 15:39
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    Agreed. Hence why I specifically mentioned that good employers will provide training. But not all employers are good employers, and not everyone can afford to leave a bad employer at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, "what's best for my job" is the right question. Other times, "what's best for my career" is the right question. It changes per person, and over time. – BittermanAndy Mar 28 at 15:45
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    There is a huge difference in learning something to get hired and learning something to do your job. So you learn java, get a job as a java dev and then your company switches to erlang. Does that mean that you should now go out and learn erlang in your own time ? no. Why ? You're an employee, you need to learn erlang to do your job. That means it's work time. This is not a grey area. You learn for work, you're doing something your employer asked you to do. It's clearly work time. – xyious Mar 28 at 17:14
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As a rule of thumb, what you do in your free time is none of your employer's business. Their right to assign tasks is limited to work hours. They hired you for a specific position, presumably after interviewing you for that position, and the skill set that you had at that time. They have since then changed their mind and decided they want a different skill set. Whether that means hiring someone else or training existing employees, it is a strategic decision the business made and any expenses related to that are theirs to cover.

Now, learning new technologies is part of the job, and your employer would have reason to complain if you refused to learn the new tech stack at all. Considering the resources available today, one could also argue that it is reasonable to expect an experienced software developer to familiarize themself with a new language or framework without the employer providing extensive training. However, the key difference between training that you do of your own accord and training mandated by your employer is who gets to decide if, what, when and how much you learn. If they pay for it, they get to choose. If not, it's your time to do with as you will.

Personally, if I consider the tech in question worthwhile and the company is otherwise decent, I don't mind "throwing them a bone" and picking that language or framework for my next hobby project, but to demand this kind of unpaid overtime raises all sorts of red flags.

In my experience, the generally accepted practice is to factor learning time into the estimates of any project that requires employees to learn a new technology. Adding a team member with the desired skill set is a good way to speed up that process, but it will still delay the project. Whether or not that's worth it is up to the business to decide.

7

Broadly speaking, I feel like the responses to these sorts of questions don't consider the reality of the market.

In short, being a developer is all about knowledge and experience and often knowing more means you can experience more which then reinforces what you know. It makes you extraordinarily valuable if you can do this.

That said, consider your options. Ok, fine your employer won't train you. Are you ready to bust your quotes? Are you ready to be slower than other team members who went ahead and DID do the learning on their own time.

My issue with the responses here is they're not pragmatic. If I were told "Learn this tech in your spare time." and I overheard another dev saying "I'm not going to do that. It's MY time.", I'm learning that tech in my free time. Because I'm ambitious and I know I'll perform more effectively if I do so.

This is the REALITY of things. If you don't, someone else will. I'm not saying it's right or fair, I'm saying that's how this goes. But my perspective is: To be a developer, you must ALWAYS be learning. ALWAYS. It never stops, not even a little. Put in the time and you'll get a comfortable job and good money.

In a perfect world, we would be trained and taken care of and all would be well.But the world is an imperfect place. But more basically, the way I see it is: I'm a dev, I should be learning in my free time anyways because my career depends on it.

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    Would you say that this line of reasoning still applies if e.g. you consider the new tech stack the company picked to be a dead end? There are more options than just "learn what the company picked" and "learn nothing at all". – Ruther Rendommeleigh Mar 28 at 15:31
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    A particular tech might be a career dead end, but not learning it might be a dead end in the current job. It then becomes a strategic question of whether the employee's job or career is more important to them, at that time of their life. (For most people the answer to that question varies over time). – BittermanAndy Mar 28 at 15:43
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    This answer lambastes the other answers as not being "practical", but I think this answer is one of the least practical here - it's far too absolute, and makes absolutely no distinction between "Technology we need and that will be useful to your career" and "Programming Smalltalk-80 to interface with MinoIta printers over Token Ring." Seriously. If your boss said, "Hey, I need you to spend your weekends learning Pascal so that you can maintain the fax software" your response should not be "I'm learning that tech on my own time because I'm ambitious." – Kevin Mar 28 at 21:25
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    There's a big difference between "I have decided to swat up on some new technologies on a Sunday night for the benefit of my career", and "I am swatting up on some new technologies on a Sunday night because a new colleague ordered me to". You may end up swatting up on new technologies on a Sunday night, but at least do it for the right reasons... and don't let the colleague continue to believe that his suggested reason is valid, because it's not. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 29 at 11:48
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    I think, your comment doesn't consider reality of life. One simply has other stuff to do than work and learn for work. If the employer doesn't pay the learning, than it will have to go on the fly. Good devs learn new technologies while doing them, only tasks will be done slower. – kap Mar 29 at 12:18
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Totally not. Not even worth discussing it. Your free time is yours. If they want you to spend extra time - they have to pay overtime. If you agree to study for free for them next time they may ask you to do accounting for them on your spare time.

3

The new guy is almost right, the following statement is true in general:

"It's not upon your employer to give you time to learn"
and we should all be [learning] in our spare time at home.

Although this is correct from a certain perspective, it is not correct in your circumstance.

In general:

  1. It is actually on you to be familiar with new things.
    This is a part of having a long career in IT. I don't mean that you should know all the new stuff, just that a web developer should be aware of anything big that comes out of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

By "aware" I mean that you should know approximately what it is and what the supposed advantages are (why people are choosing it).
I do not mean that you should learn each thing that comes out (that's not even possible).

In your case:

  1. You are competent with your current work, and your employer wants to pivot in a new direction.
    In this case it is appropriate for you to expect work time to be used learning the "new thing".

I just feel that the onus is on the employer to give some time to learn and adapt

You are correct.
However, I would recommend that in the near term (until you are competent in the new tech) that you take some time from your spouse and daughter and invest it "in your career" so you will be ahead of the other people learning this, instead of the laggard.

This answer assumes that the "new thing" is (in your opinion) worth learning.
If that isn't true then the "home time away from your family" might be better spent looking for a new job (or learning something that your next job might need).

  • Why people are doing it, cause a google search result told everyone the same thing. No wonder google apis are so in vogue today... – marshal craft Mar 29 at 6:00
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    Also you are recommending to take time from family, to invest in a job, technology, which can come and go at the slightest whim. That is not responsible advice, or even necessary. – marshal craft Mar 29 at 6:03
  • Hmmm maybe wording comes off a bit weird, not terrible answer, +1 – marshal craft Mar 29 at 6:05
  • @marshalcraft Yes, I am suggesting some time from family (etc.) be taken for study at home. Enough to ensure that OP is at least in the middle of the line learning the new stuff (maybe no time at home, maybe hours). I say this because OP has a family and presumably wants a career so he can provide for them... and the truth is that (figuratively speaking) sometimes at work the tail gets cut off. – J. Chris Compton Mar 29 at 15:32
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No, it's not normal.

You're hired to job X. Job X uses techs A, B and C and frameworks M and N.

If something else is introduced, a new language or a framework (whatever really), it's up to the company to train its employee's to use it. Or, of course, take any of the following actions:

  • Allocate time (during work hours)
  • Offer courses and/or seminars to be followed
  • Offer usage of online/class courses to be followed
  • Get external experts to come and give a training to a whole department
  • Offer paid overtime hours for out-of-business-hours self-study

Simply put: you get paid for the amount of hours stipulated in your contract to do the job also stipulated there.

Anything outside of the job you were hired for and / or outside of contractual hours should be either a flat "no" or negotiated if you're open to the idea.

If you do work (or study in this case), outside of your contract for the company, without an agreement, you've freely given them your time (and possibly increased your value for the company, also for free).

2

In all the discussions, I see people debating norms concerning right and wrong. While these ideas are good compasses to keep us well regulated when nobody is looking, it rarely serves us well when another party is involved and exercising leverage against us (i.e. paycheck).

Generally speaking, what is okay and isn't okay is based on the perspective of the individual being requested action of.

In my experience, I've been asked to do things I wasn't entirely pleased with. When those things happen, I feel that the energy of being spurred to action by an overly demanding employer is to look for your next place to land at. Outwardly complaining will weaken your negotiating position as they will have time to try and replace you before you get to ultimatums. Don't tell them you're looking. Just spring it up when the opportunity is in your hands (and not kind of, but you have your first day of new work scheduled). If notice isn't possible, don't worry about it. You don't owe courtesies to people who disrespect your time.

Emotional events can really have us looking for divine justice, but here in the real world, we tend to get what we get. Don't let pride or a sense of justice weaken your position with a boss who wants off the clock work with no compensation. And if you worry about the team when you're on the way out the door and your boss asks you to stay, ask for what staying is REALLY worth (at this point) to you (and staying might now be worth it at this point, but I like putting dollar signs on things) and negotiate work conditions at that time. If negotiations fall apart, remind your boss that he has at least one employee who doesn't mind doing stuff for free. If he looks like he/she is considering it, you would have made the world a better place with a loud mouth in check.

As you consider this answer, I would like to refer you to MC Hawking, because I believe laughing is super important in stressful situations: All My Shootings Be Drivebys

0

Take a compromise approach and differentiate yourself in the process

Assuming the new technology stack is 'industry-relevant' (rather than just a specific proprietary setup in your particular company) there are likely to be benefits for both yourself and your employer in engaging with that learning process in a "proactive" sort of way. For yourself it would be opportunities in both this company, and potentially to look elsewhere in the future.

In my experience the employer would typically offer some training or at least handover of some kind (what's the role of your new team member? Implementing and handing over the new stack?) but that could just be something like access to Pluralsight or similar, rather than an actual detailed and specific training course or on-the-job training.

However... there are likely several people in your position (you described it as "getting us swapped over" and I'm assuming that's a team of at least 3-4 people who work on this stack) on a spectrum of "I'm fully responsible for my own career and being fitted to the new environment" through to "The company requires us to be fluent in Stack X so we require the company to provide training in Stack X".

Where do you want to be on that 'spectrum'?

If it benefits both yourself and the company, I'd propose taking a hybrid (compromise) approach, e.g.:

  • the company gives you 2 hours (or whatever is appropriate) per day and you spend 1 hour per day
  • the company funds relevant certifications and allows some time to study during the work day but you take the exam in your own time
  • similar "giving from both sides" approaches.

The benefits of this are:

  • you benefit to a greater degree and potentially can get employment elsewhere in the future with a more "desirable" technology stack.
  • your employer sees you as willing to develop, take on new stuff, etc
  • you "get in at the beginning" and potentially are able to become more of an expert on this and be 'senior' (in knowledge) to others.
  • you can talk about this experience in future interviews and come out of it in a positive light!
  • Not really part of the answer but I have had this argument/debate with people so many times! "If the company requires it, they need to provide the resources [including time]" vs "I need to adapt to my new environment" One has the sense of its own agency and the other is just at the mercy of external forces.... – seventyeightist Mar 28 at 21:04
  • +1 for seeking a middle ground. Black and white thinking is good for working with computers, but not for working with humans. – krubo Mar 29 at 21:32
0

To coincide with many of the answers already offered, I will point out something significant about onus. The truth is that, especially in business, there is no such thing. You are in a competitive economy where everyone is attempting to do what is in their own best interest.

That being said, your boss and this new employee are not working in their own best interest by requiring that you train yourself on your own time. Trust is an asset, which they have in you. They lose that asset and start over with a brand-spanking new employee if they require this of you and you don't comply.

You can point this out to them openly and in good faith. Tell them that your education is as much theirs as it is yours if you are to be in a mutually functional relationship with them. There is no hierarchy. Your "boss" just has a different job than you.

If this new employee wishes to let himself be taken advantage of... it's still not just on him. You also suffer from the repricussions of wasted time and increased frustration if he burns himself out.

There is always a limit to how much you could benefit from someone at their expense and still benefit overall. You just need to consider the bigger picture and remind yourself that all social interaction is pointless if there is no mutual benefit.

0

If it is as skill that the workplace requires, it is the workplaces responsibility to either hire people with that skill or train the people they have so they can acquire that skill.

Every large company has a section within HR that is responsible for training, for keeping track of the skills that people have, the skills their jobs require, and to make a plan about closing that gap.

There are even international norms which explicitly require such behaviour. For example, ISO 27002 for information security states in chapter 7.2.1 f)

Management responsibilities should include ensuring that employees and contractors: [...] continue to have the appropriate skills and qualifications and are educated on a regular basis;

Note the two key phrases: Management responsibility and are educated (not "educate themselves").

ISO 9001 for quality management has similar requirements and identifies in chapter 7.2 the responsibility of the organization to actively identify training requirements and to actively deliver training. (and document it and some other things)

Again, keywords: The responsibility is on the organisation and the organisation is the active part.

Now in IT there are a lot of intrinsically motivated people who develop their skills outside of work and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is a big difference between someone learning a new skill because they want to, because it interests them, and the company basically telling someone to do free work in their free time.


I sometimes wonder what questions people ask here, then I realize that it's because what the hell crazy people are walking around in the workplace?

To be absolutely clear: This new hire is full of shit. Expect more of the kind from him. Don't give in. Why would you do free work? The company doesn't give you free money, does it?

-1

Is it normal that a company wants to switch technology?

Yes it is, but hopefully it's not the norm. At my last company we had website written in ancient language but we eventually rewrote the entire site to a completely new language. Lots of new things to learn and it was fun.

Is it normal they want you to spend your own time to learn?

Depends on what it is. For example, if I wrote in C and we wrote a console app, and we want to port that to Win32, I would expect minimal problems adjusting and would expect the developers to learn Win32. You already know C and we hired you to write C software, not a framework or technology. So I'd expect you to adjust as needed. If a lawyer got a tough case, would you expect he only got on it 9-5 during normal hours? If a burglary police got a case, would you expect him to only work 9-5 M-F to solve your case?

Now if this was a completely new language, then yes, I would help assist that. I would expect developers to learn something on their own but would expect most of it done during working hours.

  • Your writing is a bit confusing, but I think you misunderstood the focus of the question. It was not about whether learning is normal, but about doing it in own time. – phresnel Mar 31 at 6:49
  • If a lawyer got a tough case, would you expect he only got on it 9-5 during normal hours? -> Yes, I would. If I need more lawyer time, I need to purchase more lawyer time. – phresnel Mar 31 at 6:50

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