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How to upskill your engineering team

We look at how companies can stop their engineers from getting bored

By Anisah Osman Britton

Tomas Vocetka thinks upskilling as a software engineer is the responsibility of both the individual and the employer. He would know: he’s been an engineer for over 30 years and has had several senior technical leadership roles at places like IT giant Hewlett Packard and Skype (once it was acquired by Microsoft.) Now, he’s CTO at Berlin-based travel comparison booking app Omio, leading a team of 140 engineers.

As an employer, you can’t just hire superstars and expect them to get on with it. You need to develop them so they remain top of their game and work in a way that matches the company’s needs. In our Startup Life newsletter,  we asked Tomas for his top tips for how to upskill your team — and stop them getting bored: 

Create a formal learning and development programme

Dedicate part of your budget to creating a learning menu of tools, courses and other resources. Create a framework on how to use the resources to reach different goals and objectives. In the early days, you could provide access to online learning platforms like Pluralsight or Udemy. These platforms are great at putting together training plans, testing engineering skills and keeping track of what’s being learnt.

Bring in engaging specialists

If you’re bringing in a new tool or technology or need to get everyone on the same page with a particular methodology, bring in external specialists to help. If the training is mandatory, make sure it’s engaging. 

Lean on peer-to-peer learning

Find opportunities for engineers and leaders to present their learnings to the wider team — maybe they discuss a technology they’re using in an interesting way or a process they’ve improved. At Omio, presentations and showcases are recorded for the internal wiki. 

Use one on ones to create a learning plan

Ask engineers in their performance reviews where they want their career to go, what they need to progress and how the company and its leaders can support them to make that happen. Flag the formal learning and development programmes that could be beneficial to them — a big part of making internal L&D programmes successful is internally marketing them. On a case by case basis, you may need to offer access to specific training courses — like in person courses, online training, workshops — which are not provided by the company because an engineer is working on something new or niche.

Focus on soft skills just as much as the hard, technical ones

To reach senior engineering positions, you need to have excellent soft skills — the ability to explain how things work, manage stakeholders and collaborate across the company. Books like Never Split the Difference can help. Offer programmes that focus on the psychology of thinking like Myers-Briggs and Insights Discovery colours. Being a good leader is understanding that having different ways of approaching problems on the team is advantageous.

Don’t expect people to stay just because your training is good

Yes, training and upskilling helps with retention but people always leave. It’s not a waste of time to have trained them for three reasons: 

  1. If every company trained developers well, then the entire industry would benefit as they moved around. 
  2. Your company benefited from it while they were there.
  3. They would have left quicker if you didn’t have it in place. 

Don’t get a leaver to pay for their learning. In rare cases where someone has asked to do something outside of the standard programme — say, go to a conference in Australia for two weeks — implementing some kind of clawback could be an option. The clawback could state an X period of employment is expected or the employee will have to pay something back.

On the subject of… upgrading your engineering team

🇦🇫Hire developers from Afghanistan. As infrastructure — like home WiFi — improves around the world, it will be easier to hire talent from anywhere. 

🖥️ Tech talent shortage. Here’s how to attract developer talent to your startup.

🎓 How to keep your team learning constantly. Having a personal development plan for each person is key.

🙋🏽‍♀️Create a learning community. Get together with colleagues who have similar work interests and needs — either on Slack or in person — to learn something new together. 

👋 They’re leaving because they’re not growing — here’s how to encourage your developers to stay.

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter, which comes out weekly on Wednesdays. Sign up here.

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