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One common thing in the software/web development world is that you never stop to learn.

So I spend most of my time in my company studying and researching a lot of things (which language to use in web applications, c++ lessons, general software architecture, UX matters, webdev news, etc.) but I sense that I am not doing what I am paid to do—programming—and I don't know if in a workplace studying at the office is a bad practice or not.

I have a lot of free time and so far I have never was told to do something in haste and in that case I purely concentrate on that task until it is finished.

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  • Why are you studying? For example, if you're doing a task that requires you to look up some information about X, then studying X is reasonable. If you're on a break and studying Y, which is not related to your tasks, maybe that is reasonable too. But if you're studying Y all day with nothing to do, see workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/2644/…
    – Brandin
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:05
  • Well; the fact is that to do what i have to do i have to study a lot of things. I am asked to do a task for a very skilled person, which i am not. But my boss is not putting any haste, but at the same time, i am managing my time as i please and i don't know if this is umprofessional or not, because in the meantime i am not producing anything...
    – MarkWuji
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:07
  • It sounds like you need to look at that link I posted, the question entitled "What can I do at work when I have no work?"
    – Brandin
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:12
  • Yes i took a look but that's not really the case because i am asking about the behaviour of studying while in office while maybe i should do that at home :)
    – MarkWuji
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:21
  • You should study something that supports your work tasks. For example, you said "which language to use in web applications". Well, if your boss assigned you a task "make a web application" and you decided to research which language would be best for that application, that makes sense. OTOH if you're studying web applications even though you've never been asked to build one, I don't see how you would explain that in a reasonable way to your boss.
    – Brandin
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:31
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Most software engineering professionals spend some part of their at work time studying. Many also spend additional personal hours at it.

There's no perfect metric - some jobs will be slow enough that you can spend whole days studying between work task assignments. Others will be so busy that you won't have much time beyond the immediate research focused on "what's the right way to do the thing I'm trying to do right now???"

Estimation

As you say - the assignments come first - and it's always worth it to get a sense for how fast you are expected to get something done. When estimating a task - do provide a buffer for the unknown in a given task, but don't pad time for open ended research that doesn't relate to the task. However, if you need to learn something to do the work, plan on the time spent learning as part of the work. That time shouldn't be huge, or there's a real skills gap between the expected skills of the job and your skills - but I'm not surprised if in a 2 weeks task, an engineer occasionally needs 2 days to learn new stuff... depending on the work.

Daily learning

Another metric I've respected is that many of my colleagues spend 1 hour a day learning something new in engineering that's not necessarily directly connected to their regular work. Things like new languages, new messaging protocols, new design patterns, new things in networking, new security vulnerabilities - stuff that fits into closing the inevitable hole of "we didn't know what we didn't know". The tough part is that almost no one I know works as specific number of hours - so some days it's 7 hours, some days it's 10... and they end up fitting in the learning around the long hours. I do think that the time box of 1 hour is particularly good - it makes you focus on something, without getting totally lost in it. It gets you through some depth, but not so much that you know everything about a topic - it makes a good index that may trigger a memory right when you need it.

More than an hour to spare?

If you've ended up with more than an hour a day to spare for learning, you're in a rare position. My impression and personal experience is that the industry is pretty hot and the need for engineers is so urgent that most are paid well and given high expectations on delivery. Most are expected to learn very quickly and to be constantly improving in efficiency with new tools and processes whenever possible.

If you have the time - great... but if it seems like you can spend the majority of the day, most days, learning - you may want to check in with your manager on whether your rate of efficiency is what's expected.

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  • I forgot to mention: i am working on 2 different projects. One involves embedded software - and i need to study A LOT -, the other web - where i need to study less. On webdev i have stuff to do and i'm doing it while for the embedded part i don't know nothing. I am expected to do something incredible but i can't but doing small things (at least for me) seems ok for him, so i take a lot of time studying rather then random trying something. I was feeling like an impostor but again, i am not.
    – MarkWuji
    Mar 1 '16 at 14:17
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So i spend most of my time in my company studying and researching a lot of things but i sense that i am not doing what i am paid for and i don't know if in a workplace studying when in office is a bad practice or not.

If you aren't sure that you are doing what you are being paid for, then ask the only one that matters - your boss!

You need to understand your job expectations, and understand what you are supposed to do when you have "free" time.

It doesn't matter what a bunch of people on the internet say is a good practice or bad practice. It only matters what the people who write your paycheck think.

Talk to your boss.

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