“If you give the developer the ability to choose the right tools, they’ll not only be happier but also more productive”
One of the hardest things when going down the DevOps path is getting people on board with change but what happens when a company wants to create and/or promote a culture of learning? How can one get people excited about change? We talked to Jody Bailey, CTO of Pluralsight about all this and more.
JAXenter: How is Pluralsight promoting a culture of learning? Why do companies need such a culture? What are the benefits?
Jody Bailey: Pluralsight hires learners. We intentionally look for lifelong learners to be part of our team. Our mission to democratize technology skills attracts them. To support a culture of learning, we do a number of things—starting with leading by example.
As a leadership team, we frequently host book clubs; we use our own product; and we share articles, blogs, videos, etc. with the entire team. When the team sees that we are committed to learning, they want to be a part of it.
With as fast as technology changes, having a thriving culture of learning is especially important to our technology organization. We foster learning and keep our team members at the top of their field by encouraging them to attend and speak at conferences. We give them time at work to learn at their own pace. We also create an environment—through our guilds—where like-minded people organize their own meetings to share things they have or are in the process of learning. Our team members also regularly share information (articles, books, interesting learnings) with the rest of the org via Slack.
We also reinforce our culture of learning by playing an active role in our local tech community. As a company, and even as individuals, we host and sponsor several Meetups. Because of our strong belief in our mission, we volunteer at local schools to help introduce technology to students of all ages.
Technology, and I’d add the ability to master the latest technology, is today’s competitive advantage. To compete—and survive, companies need to embrace a culture of learning.
JAXenter: Has it made your company more successful? How?
Jody Bailey: Our culture of learning has made our company successful. With a learner’s mindset, employees are much more open to new ideas and, as a rapidly growing technology organization, it’s imperative that we are open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Because of our learner’s mindset, we’ve been able to architect and scale our platform quickly and efficiently to meet the demands of our customers.
JAXenter: One of the hardest things when going down the DevOps path is getting people on board with change – I assume it’s the same with the culture of learning. How did you manage to get people excited about change?
Technology, and I’d add the ability to master the latest technology, is today’s competitive advantage.
Jody Bailey: Getting people excited about change can be hard. If a culture of learning is new to an organization, having evangelists—people who are really passionate about learning or maybe more importantly about sharing what they’ve learned—is helpful. A learning culture can only exist if people want to share what they’ve learned. Once people see the benefit of learning and sharing what they’ve learned, it becomes contagious.
It’s also important to ensure that employees have the time to learn. As a leadership team, we work really hard to create a work environment that doesn’t demand more than 40 hours of work a week from our team members. We believe that tech pros need to invest their own time to be really great at their craft—or even to stay current—and if they are spending too much time working, they won’t have time to develop their skills beyond what they are now.
JAXenter: Sometimes, if you pay enough attention, people will tell you exactly what technologies they want to work with. Let’s take Java, for example. A lot of people are using Java 8, not necessarily because they prefer it but because they have to. Is Pluralsight listening to its employees and offering them the chance to use technologies that they actually like? If yes, how is that helping the overall productivity?
Jody Bailey: At Pluralsight, we give our teams the autonomy to choose the technology stack that best serves the problem set they are trying to address, and we try to accommodate their personal preference. Our architecture supports a polyglot approach, and we have several different languages within our platform. There are some inefficiencies associated with supporting different stacks and we work to keep those to a minimum. Fundamentally, however, we believe that if you give the developer the ability to choose the right tools, they’ll not only be happier, they’ll also be more productive.
In the tech industry, it can be hard to measure productivity precisely. Our delivery rate of value to our customers, however, is higher than I have seen anywhere else. Additionally, allowing our engineers to choose the technologies they use has the added benefit of making them happier, which also helps with recruiting and retention. It also creates a positive reputation for our organization, and it allows us to tap into multiple markets of developers. We’re not limited to just hiring Java developers, for example. We can hire developers who are experts with Node.js, Python, C#, etc.
JAXenter: Could you dive deeper into the culture of learning topic and perhaps share some stories in which you listened to your employees, stopped using a certain technology and chose something else instead?
Jody Bailey: There have been several instances where we have introduced new technologies to our environment based upon what our engineers have learned. And, that goes beyond just technologies; it also includes how we work together.
Other examples include moving to a lean process using Kanban instead of other agile methodologies and moving to Salt Stack and Terraform for our deployment pipeline. We went from delivering a dozen or so times per month to production to several hundred times per month. With the ability to deliver reliably to our customers so frequently, we have changed the way we think about designing and delivering products; we can respond to customer feedback faster than ever before.
JAXenter: There are a lot of technologies gaining momentum but just because they are new and popular doesn’t mean they are suitable for the company’s needs. How do you decide when a technology is worth a try or not?
Jody Bailey: Using the framework produced by ThoughtWorks, we created our own technology radar. The concentric circles of the radar help us list technologies from “preferred” to “avoid” and includes other categories like “current practice,” “limited use” and “investigate.” We defined and implemented a process for getting technologies listed on the radar and for moving them between categories.
JAXenter: A lot of companies have a tech skills gap but few have a plan to actually fix it and even fewer have actually identified the source of the problem. Have you identified the skills gap among your workforce?
Tech pros need to invest their own time to be really great at their craft and if they are spending too much time working, they won’t have time to develop their skills beyond what they are now.
Jody Bailey: The tech skills gap is always changing, and because technology changes so frequently, the gaps you identify today may be different a month from now. To address it, we constantly evaluate our team members’ skills (with skill IQ), the demand for those skills and provide a way (through our platform) for our engineers to acquire the skills they need to be successful in their roles.
Sometimes, the skills gap within an organization is so wide that the only way to address it in a timely manner is to fill it with a new hire that already has the skills you need. Filling that role won’t be easy if you haven’t created a culture of learning or a great place to work that attracts that caliber of talent. So, create a great place to work. Create a culture of learning—and give all your team members the tools and resources that will empower them to continually close those gaps.
JAXenter: How can we fix the tech skills gap? What are you doing to fix the problem?
Jody Bailey: Closing the technology skills gap is our primary goal as a company. We do this by creating a great learning platform that allows technology professionals and leaders to identify their skill gaps and increase their skill proficiency by learning directly from world-renown technology experts. We are constantly striving to improve our platform to shorten the time to effective applied learning. Learning is important, but learning the right things at the right time and understanding how to apply them is critical.
To help our users close skills gaps and shorten the time to effective applied learning, we’re focused on making our learning platform more intelligent with IRIS. We are also committed to really understanding what our customers need to be successful and investing in our own learning so we can deliver a platform that helps them keep pace with technology.