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I consider myself a Software Craftsman. I like to attend local user groups and events to learn about new technologies as well as network with other software craftsman. We love to talk about what we're doing, what we're learning, and in general how to get better at the things we like. Some of these meetups and events are free, others are not and sometimes take place during working hours (9am - 5pm).

My work generally did not allow me to attend events during office hours unless it directly had something to do with what we were currently implementing/using. Nor did they provide any support to any software resources/plugins that could help boost productivity. For the most part, I've been in charge of educating myself and actually purchasing my own software tools (example: Resharper).

My question is: How involved should our employers be in providing software developers with tools, resources, and general education on up and coming technologies?

Should they provide MSDN subscriptions for their developers to install software at home? Should they pay for conference fees to learn about new technologies?

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Partly related: Should Professional Development occur on company time? –  rwong Oct 25 '10 at 9:53

9 Answers 9

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I think that a developer's career is ultimately not the company's responsibility. That said, if there are things that the company requires, such as certification (I've seen companies who require you to get certified in X within a year or two of being hired, for example), then the company should foot the bill.

Or if there's a conference directly related to the company's line of business, it'd be nice if the company sprung for attendance for one or two of the developers, with the assumption that they'd come back and teach the rest what they've learned. I find that there are events I'd gladly go to (and even spend vacation time on), but just can't afford the entry fee.

Beyond that, it's up to the developer to buy books, attend classes, practice programming, seek out local groups or events that'd advance their career, etc.

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"A developer's career is ultimately not the company's responsibility." Definitely true, but this attitude also definitely describes the high turnover rate in our industry (and possibly many others). –  Kevin McCormick Aug 27 '12 at 17:31

I can tell you my experience. I've worked for a bunch of companies that provided nothing in the way of training or support and now work for a company that supplies everything. They will buy nearly any tool/aid (as long as you can remotely justify why it is useful) and actaully require you to attend some sort of formal training at their expense.

Needless to say I like having everything supplied. :-)

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I would love to work for a company that showed interest in helping me improve my career. –  spong Sep 17 '10 at 21:38

I consider myself responsible for my own education. It's an investment that I reap the rewards from, so it stands to reason that I should have to make it myself.

I definitely appreciate when a company pays for education and training, but I don't expect it.

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If you're a consultant then yeah. But if I were an employee, then it is unlikely I will be happy if my company doesn't show any interest in my career. It's not only an investment for you but (more or less) for your company. –  Apprentice Queue Mar 28 '11 at 8:45
    
@ApprenticeQueue At which point you are able to leave and find a company that does show an interest in your career. You don't just compete with other developers for work, companies also compete withe each other for talent. –  R0MANARMY Aug 27 '12 at 14:31

Your job belongs to your employer, your career belongs to you.

If your employer is happy to subsidise your education, great, but I wouldn't expect them to other than for short training courses that might be necessary for their immediate requirements.

Tools are really a separate issue. If there is a compelling business case for purchasing a particular tool then it probably makes sense to do so, assuming the money is available.

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If they have the money to pay for training, certification, conferences, etc., they could just increase your salary and you'd spend it as you see fit. All the recommendations to take control of you career should be heeded.

They may want to pay for a class on the latest version of Visual Studio (easy to justify to the CFO because you 'have' to upgrade), but you'd rather figure it out on your own and take a class for Python.

But the company can possibly declare this as an expense and avoid taxes. This way, you get more for your money. Ideally, tell them to keep their money, give you 5 days off uninterupted with pay and you'll come back knowing more than you could learn in any classroom. And a heck of a lot of software for your new open source project ;)

Edit: I also think that companies that require things and not pay for them are asking employees to start looking for a better job now that they have the qualifications.

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If it is new technology being driven by a company decision, they should provide the training and not at a "Lunch and Learn".

If you want to learn something on your own, then you should do that on your time.

If there is a conference or day class on something you want to learn, but not currently pertinent to the company needs, that's iffy. I'd be likely to say that I would happily approve your leave day for that unless we were close to a major deadline. If you have worked alot of unpaid overtime, I would likely find a way to let you go without taking leave. If it was pertinent to your job and I couldn't afford to pay for it, I definelty would let you go without leave if you wanted to take it and pay on your own. If I could afford to pay for it, I probably would in that case. I might make you do a presentation to thte others who didn't get to go as well if I paid for it.

All this would also depend on fairness to others. If you had gotten the last paid training and three of you wanted to go and I could only pay for one, it probably wouldn't be you. Maybe I feel strongly about that because at one place I worked the same three people got to go to a specific conference every year, but anyone else who put in for it got it denied because we were sending them and there was no more money. Needless to say that caused a lot of resentment.

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Should they? Absolutely yes. I wouldn't suggest that it's an ethical obligation as much as a smart move.

I get hired because of my skillset which is X level of awesome, under the assumption that I'll remain there for some period of time. If my skills are stagnating -- or worse, declining -- during my employment, then the salary had better be incredibly high to compensate me for the erosion of my employability. Quite frankly: I want more money, a lot more.

This is on my mind when I negotiate my compensation package with a new employer:

  • If book-buying isn't trivial, I'm not getting paid enough to begin with. However, I see an O'Reilly Safari subscription as a nice fringe benefit -- it essentially gives me all the books I'll reference for a week then never use again, which I wouldn't want to invest in buying. (That's not to say I don't buy O'Reilly books; I often do buy the ones I'll use more than a week.)

  • I should make it out to a conference every now and then (1-2/year). This must not count as my time off, and I may expect my employer to foot part or all of the bill depending on the position. Of course, I'm referring to something that makes me better at the job I'm doing, not any random conference that sounds fun.

  • I must be free to interact with and contribute to the open source software I use as part of my job.

  • If I'm not free to pursue random side projects at will, then (depending on the level of restriction) my price and the extensiveness of my educational requirements goes up.

I think that too many companies grossly underestimate the cost of skill depreciation -- both in terms of opportunity/productivity, and in terms of what they'll have to pay a savvy coder to offset that depreciation. You can't stay a rock-star/ninja/metaphor-of-choice if you don't keep learning and growing, so anyone interested in keeping their employees for more than a year or two should be supporting that learning -- just like anyone planning on staying in their office long-term should be making sure it receives regular maintenance.

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I haven't had the pleasure of working somewhere that would provide or purchase useful tools, software, or on-topic education... so maybe I'm just used to it, but I've come to see the reason why. The requests would never end, and then the arguments would start. Basically, if so-and-so can have X, why can't I have Y?

Since I also do development other than just at my day job, I don't mind picking up some expenses. I purchased Directory Opus (An absolute necessity for me,) and a TechNet subscription.. ReSharper is next on my list, since my trial just expired and I found it very helpful.

I wouldn't want the employer to start expecting a return value for every expenditure either, and that alone is worth the money I'm spending.

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Most companies see training and education as being solely the responsibility of the worker, and they will spend a great deal of time, money, and resources into recruiting a worker who already has training and education. I have been reading a bit about the state of the job market recently, and experts are saying that there is a "mismatch" crisis where there are a lot of unemployed people, but companies are unable to fill positions because the unemployed don't have the relevant skills.

Whether or not an employer ethically should take partial responsibility for employees' training isn't a debate I want to get into. However, it seems to me that it would greatly advantage a company to hire smart and dedicated, but uneducated workers in order to provide them with education themselves. This would go along with an initial lower salary and could work out cheaper in the end.

I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who could be great programmers, but don't have the resources to get the education they need. Employers could take advantage of that.

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