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Its Friday afternoon and I've literally done everything expected of me. I'm thinking I should spend this productively, and fancy running through the asp.net mvc tutorial (since we've got nothing MVC here) - is this a bad thing? I don't want to feel like I'm wasting company time.

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Or go grab a beer ... –  Job Feb 25 '11 at 15:07

13 Answers 13

First off, taking some downtime to learn something is never a waste.

If you feel like you're wasting company time head over to your boss, let them know you have nothing to do and that you're going to take some R&D time for the rest of the day. You could even ask if there is something they would like you to look at.

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Tekpub is doing an open house today. For the next 24 hours you can watch any/all of their videos. While this information won't help every Friday, today you can keep yourself busy.

Discloser: I don't work for tekpub but I have purchased a few of their series and they are awesome.

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Thanks for that, I'm checking them out now :) –  Stephen Orr Feb 25 '11 at 17:32

I use Feedly each morning about 5-10 minutes to keep up to date, on all technologies I am interested in. I personally think non-stop learning and practice in very small increments, really opens your horizon's.

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No. I've spent the morning: cleaning my desk, deleting old files, reading a book on refactoring, and hanging out at SO. Nothing is past due. Maybe I am wasting 'company' time, but it's not like they've never wasted mine.

I just deleted 1200 email messages (Sept - Nov) from my Deleted Items. The admin can thank me later.

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What are your alternatives? You have got no work to do, is it better to stare at the wall or to actually learn something you could have use for?

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One thing you can do is send an email round the team asking about various pain points in an application that the team hasn't got round to fixing because the never had the time. You may have some of your own ideas, but I'd still run it past the team. For example, the last time I wasn't busy, I improved the searching of our Buzilla system to use Sphinx as developers were complaining about the default search engine. I also installed a few table gui editors to save some time building tabular data.

Other things to do are:

If you have a dedicated test team, ask them about ways you can improve the test process to make life easier for them (I've always done this in every software house I've worked and it's a good way to build yourself up).

Look at your release process. Is it fast or is it a pain to work with? Just take a look around your environment and make sure you ask your team and consult them as I've angered a few people in the past by taking the initiative. It's possible your team mates may have ideas to contribute or some useful information.

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That's what I am planning to do today. This exercise led me to learn Shell scripting (I am still learning it). It's fun to solve real life problems, than creating them, just to solve. –  Sid Feb 25 '11 at 16:11
If your company rewards it's developers, that attitude will pay off when it comes to reviews :) –  Desolate Planet Feb 25 '11 at 16:14

If it's something that could be used by the company, and will expand the skill set you have to offer to your job, I see no problem with that. Better than reading Dilbert :).

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Oh, and it's a great time to check the "we'll do it later" list, the one nobody's supposed to have but everybody does. You could also learn some management, it looks like your company needs managers able to keep their staff busy. (Mine too, by the way, or I wouldn't be writing this answer !).

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Go and get some rest (as in get a beer) - you could use it, and it will do you good on monday mornin ;)

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Ya fridays are usually pretty slow. I usually read Dev books when theirs downtime like that. At least it's learning something new.

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I had a manager for a while who would schedule research days between projects for us. It was great we could look at what ever we wanted to. Then we would do brown bag lunches where we would give a brief talk about what ever it was that we looked into. The time to put together the material for the brown bags was also put into our schedules. It was fantastic.

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It's friday afternoon, I'm alone in the office. I'm getting more work done now than all of this week combined when it was crowded with people demanding attention constantly...

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Its Friday afternoon and I've literally done everything expected of me.

You're almost in the clear then. To totally be good with doing what you want, it's best to run it through your boss though. Just approach your boss and say:

"listen, I think I've done everything in my queue for this iteration. Either I start going ahead with the next iteation's tasks (if any), or bug reports (if any). Otherwise, I think it could be nice if I could experiment and research X and see what's in it for us, because LIST_OF_REASONS_WHY_X_IS_POTENTIALLY_INTERESTING_HERE".

Of course you can go the black-ops route, sit around and start experimenting. But if something goes bad with what you did during the week, then it won't look too good. Not that it makes a difference what you're doing NOW while all hell breaks loose, but it just looks worse than if you had your management's approval.

Usually, I also offer to do a write-up on new stuff for the rest of the team, so everybody can get a checklist of what was interesting about cool new tech X, and pointers to learn more. If it looks like you do some legwork to support the team, your manager usually appreciates that.

Also, you could do 2 things in parallel. Usually I dedicate Friday afternoons to code cleanups, refactorings, and code quality violations cleanup. It's become sort of a routine, and we've adopted it at work with part of my current team as well. Allows everybody to relax a bit, take it easy and churn through some old code. You get a better understanding of your codebase, have some harmless fun (as long as you keep it civil and impersonal) poking fun at past mistakes and oddities (the stuff you unearth, sometimes...), and improve the overall quality of your software product bit by bit. And while builds of such a cleanup are running, you can experiment with your own stuff. Or better yet, create a branch of your codebase and experiment with X if it can fit within your product. Possibly, you not only learn something but also managed to bring something to the product.

Or, as some put it, go get a drink (not necessarily beer, though), or even just go home. If you have no reason to sit around, no doc to write, no tests to write, no code to clean, you might as well, and it's in your manager's interest to not have you get bored and bug your colleagues. Though I doubt you can't work on a doc or test somewhere:)

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