DOP 56: What Happens When You Just Don't Have the Time to Learn?

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Show Notes

#56: We have a conversation with one of our listeners who challenges us on some previous comments that we’ve made on the necessity of growing your skills.


Joost van der Griendt


Darin Pope

Darin Pope

Darin Pope is a developer advocate for CloudBees.

Viktor Farcic

Viktor Farcic

Viktor Farcic is a member of the Google Developer Experts and Docker Captains groups, and published author.

His big passions are DevOps, Containers, Kubernetes, Microservices, Continuous Integration, Delivery and Deployment (CI/CD) and Test-Driven Development (TDD).

He often speaks at community gatherings and conferences (latest can be found here).

He has published The DevOps Toolkit Series, DevOps Paradox and Test-Driven Java Development.

His random thoughts and tutorials can be found in his blog

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Darin Pope 0:00
This is episode number 56 of DevOps Paradox with Darin Pope and Viktor Farcic. I am Darin.

Viktor Farcic 0:06
And I'm Viktor.

Darin Pope 0:08
And today we have a guest with us. Viktor, will you please introduce our guest?

Viktor Farcic 0:13
Yeah, our guest is a person whose name I never learned how to pronounce. Joost. Joost. Joost. Something that ends with oost.

Joost van der Griendt 0:24
Almost, almost.

Darin Pope 0:29
Are you going to even attempt his last name?

Viktor Farcic 0:31
Oh, no, no, that's that's out of the scope of this discussion. We depends. Are we still having less than an hour? Yes, then then we don't have enough time for me to try the rest. Anyways, Joost is working with us at CloudBees and he pinged me a couple of days ago with some comments on on one of the discussions. So, as we already did once or twice before I my answer was let's discuss it in public instead of through Slack. So here he is. He's going to explain it all.

Darin Pope 1:13
By the way, just to make life easier, we will refer to him as J.

Viktor Farcic 1:17
Yes, J Exactly. Okay.

Darin Pope 1:21
Because that's okay. Right.

Joost van der Griendt 1:22
That's okay. That's okay. I haven't. I have a name that's not pronounceable in English and a lot of international colleagues. The the amount of times my name gets butchered, is more than enough. Thank you.

Darin Pope 1:35
Okay, so, just for the record, why don't you say your name the way it said.

Joost van der Griendt 1:40
Alright. Joost van der Griendt.

Viktor Farcic 1:43
Now Darin, you try to you try to say that again. Darin.

Darin Pope 1:48
No. There's no way I can. Now you're Dutch, correct?

Joost van der Griendt 1:52
Yes. I'm Dutch.

Darin Pope 1:53
it's a proper Dutch.

Joost van der Griendt 1:55
It's a proper Dutch name. Yes.

Darin Pope 1:57
Okay. So let's let's set this up a little bit. The the comment that J is now going to bring forward it was around us rambling, or potentially ranting about people not continuing to learn. Is that a fair summary? Because we talk about that a lot.

Joost van der Griendt 2:17
Yeah, yeah.

Darin Pope 2:19
You stopped learning you're dead effectively.

Joost van der Griendt 2:21
Right and and right, so so my personal point on that was was that I agree with almost everything that was said on the course of a various episodes that you touched on this on this subject. Right. So yet, like the career advice episode, and all that, and I think that that's all fine. What what struck me a bit was like, last time I we had like the AMA session on Friday, and I sort of mentioned that right so like, what about what about people that are mediocre and have a don't have enough time or capability to learn to keep up and, and and stay how to say stay competitive in this market? And the answer sort of was, Well, you've got to this point now. So, then it's your choice to stop learning and that that's really we're so had Well, I think that's true for. Right. So sort of like my point there is that I think that's true for quite a lot of people. But not everyone. There's a lot of, I think, is a significant group of people for which that typically isn't true. They did come to a certain point in their lives, right? They were able to go to university, everything's nice, they get married, something happens. Life happens. They get suddenly get, I don't know they get triplets. They get one kid sick or parent dies or right. Lots of things can happen that life Before and after that life changing event is not the same. And you now suddenly see yourself with not having all that time not having the capability of catching up or not doing, being able to spend as much time as you would like to be able to do that. So there's like, at that point in time and say, That's not, it's no longer your choice. It's that, you know, a choice that's forced upon you. It's not in your hands to say, Well, I want to learn more. I want to spend more time but honestly, I have more important responsibilities right now. And I know is going to hurt me in the long run. But what do I do with that? How do I right` How do I get that balance? Because I have more important responsibilities than just trying to improve my career.

Viktor Farcic 4:50
I agree with that. But the problem is that not in our business, and this is not i'm not saying better this is just or not that we can talk about that as well. But in in our industry, basically not improving career is going backwards. mean on the knowledge on the skills, right? Because everything, everything moves forward very fast. So, if you stay in the same place, you're effectively so if if you imagine our industry being a train right The moment you you get off the train, it continues moving forward and you are effectively going backwards relative to train. Now that is what is a real question here is whether that learning so we're not talking about inability to learn, but simply not not willingness to invest additional private time to learn, which is a completely valid, valid thing to do. We shouldn't be working outside office hours to get up to speed. And the real question is, why do companies not allow learning as part of work life? Right, kind of? Shouldn't that be part of those of eight hours in the office?

Joost van der Griendt 6:19
Right. And I think this is ready to be sort of unraveling this question a bit more just this topic a bit further is that I see there are multiple things that happen, at least what different companies that I've worked for that there's more or less, I'll say, willingness from the organization to investing in their employees, right. And so, I've worked in the last few years prior to working for CloudBees. I was working at a small firm, myself and then as an external contractor at a bank, and the constrast was gigantic. So at the small firm where I worked, we had, you could spend up to 10% of your official work hours per week on like side projects. And then the side projects could be almost anything, not literally anything, if you want to learn crochet that sort of in your own time, but if you think well, we might want to do something with Kotlin in the future, that is a valid subject. And you can spend that in your own time and if you have issues with your with your assignment you're on or with your manager, you you there's things you can do about that. And one thing we did there as well, we had some some people that spend more time on that. So that was one I was one of those people. And our responsibility was that look, you're you're allowed to spend a bit more time of company time on this app. But as a something that you have to do in return is to In How to say take all the things you've learned and bring them back into your organization, bring the other people that are not able to spend as much time that have other responsibilities in or outside of work and help them up to speed faster. So maybe I would spend 80 hours learning a certain topic, and then spend five hours trying to teach them to others to get them to the same speed. And what I've seen at the bank is we really had an issue that okay, we want to get some of the team learning things related to Docker things related to Kubernetes because we wanted to bring the CI tool stack to Kubernetes. And literally the answer we got from the VA, how to say the vendor of the not vendor, service provider, that from who to pop, how to say to the team members were working for, they said, Well, well, if we're going to train them , then everybody wants that training. So no we can't do that. And then the bank said, well but they are not our employees, we cannot do that. So we have to sort of force it into our own work week to teach other people as part of our sprint because they were not allowed to get any training.

Darin Pope 9:17
Well, that's just dumb. I'll say it. But although it's dumb, it's normal. It's a very normal practice that companies will not allow for time or especially in that case, oh, you're not an employee? Well, we're not gonna pay for your training. Or the other side. Well, if you want the people that were providing you to have this knowledge you need to pay for you know, it's it's a circular argument that nobody ever wins.

Viktor Farcic 9:47
You know, if let me know if you don't agree, but if you assume that, not improving your skills means that basically your value is diminishing over time, then the only two options preferably, you would be where you would be improving your skills on company time of preferable option if not in your private time. And I can understand that is in many companies, company time is not an option. And for many people private time is not a good idea because there is life outside office. And I can understand fully that you might not want to take away, let's say time from your kids in order to learn after hours. And those are all valid reasons, but that still does not change, at least in my head. The fact that if neither of the two options are taken, then your value in the market is diminishing. And I think it's important that I'm stressing the value on the market, not inside of your company, right? So in your company, your value might stay the same, because if if company is not moving forward, and you're not moving forward the status quo is, is what is really happening. But on the market, which is moving forward, you're effectively going back and understand that those things are happening. But I don't have a third solution, right? Kind of it's almost inevitable then that your value in the market is going down, and that is unjust. And, and I think that we should be greatly disappointed that companies do not see the value in us improving skills. But then that's simply almost the simple problem that then there is no solution in those situations, at least not that I know. Assuming that the solution is not all sorry, I must stress this, I'm assuming all the time that switching to a different company is not an option either.

Joost van der Griendt 12:06
Right. Because I can imagine that if you're in such a company for a significant amount of time, as I said, if your market value has gone down, it might be that the place where you're working now you can get a good salary, you're sort of Okay, things are good. If you now go outside and look for other jobs, you find that, the cool jobs you can't do because you're missing the experience, you're missing the knowledge. Jobs that are equivalent. Well, since you're having five year old skills, you're not going to earn more than what you already have. So you're sort of like well, I can jump ship, but I might have to take a dent in my paycheck in order to learn more things. And again, for some people, that's okay for other people say you have it, I have a mortgage, I've kids, the I can't earn less and then potentially earn more in the future. That's a risk I that's hard to take And right. So I think that that sort of compounds the problem you described there. So I don't see a easy solution, I do see a way to reduce the problem. So I so in my comment to you, I sort of mentioned that as well. Right? So how do I see that we can reduce the problem or make it a less of a negative thing is make day. So I would say it's a two part thing. One side is some of the tools, some of the technologies, they're very difficult to understand because they've been built by people who already know who are not how to say necessarily building them to be easier to use. So that's one thing that we maybe should be bringing more of those experiences from, let's say, the people on the other side of the chasm, right? To get more of that, that user friendliness into more tools, into more of technology. And a second part is having other people build up better experience related to training to learning, better learning materials, so that learning does not take 40 hours. But if it takes only five hours or 10 hours, that's then then that insurmountable thing that you say, Well, I don't have I don't have 80 hours of time in the next few months to learn this in my own time. And your boss is not going to tell you well, you can take two weeks off. But if you could say, well, it's Oh, it's like two hours for four weeks, two hours a week that might like be something you can get away with. And so I think those are two parts of not a solution, but a way to reduce the problem.

Viktor Farcic 14:52
I would actually say that that's a valid argument not for those situations that we're describing, but actually for any situation in the sense that the the speed with which the industry is moving means that nobody can actually learn everything, not even everything that you might consider you need. So it is imperative whether you have two hours to spend or 30 hours to spend on learning a week. It is very important to be able to choose well what to learn. But let's put it that way, right? Because somethings are easier to learn than others, some things are more valuable to learn than others, and so on and so forth. So, in other words, I fully agree. The only note from my side is that I think that that's equally valid for everybody. Not equally. Valid for everybody. It's just that the less time you have, the more important it is to choose right what to learn in a way right. To me one of the I have similar conversations which are not really coming from the same angle but I think came come to the same point when people asked me about Docker Swarm, how can they learn it and stuff like that? And my answer is don't waste your time. It is it is not a worthwhile investment in learning because many different reasons. But yeah, you need to choose what to focus on. Right?

Joost van der Griendt 16:22
That as well, that as well. So, so that's where we're, for one, right. So that was literally part of my role, my previous company, that part of my role was really figure out where's the market going? Which of these things are going to be interesting to us? Right, we were a small shop, we had about 60 developers spread over a few different technologies. So like the Java group was like 25 people. So it's sort of like for us to be able to, you know, if we, if we train, let's say, 15 people for certain technology, we need to be sure we're going to recuperate on that right? Because otherwise that that's That's going to be quite a big cost to us. So part of my role was to Okay, I spent more time, alright. For say, right, I'm married, but I don't have kids. So I have more time than than most of my colleagues who did have kids. So it's like, I take the front, I take some leadership there to figure out okay, what are all the different technologies that are coming? What are all the different things that are interesting? Or we're working with or that is interesting for customers we are working with? And then how far are they along? I try out a few things, combine a few things, work out some demos, some examples. And then we take we evaluate half a year later, we evaluate Is this still relevant? is this still moving? Is this something we should invest in and then we we figure out how do we get that knowledge into the team? And I think that that's, I think for most organizations or maybe industries or branches of industries, they need some of those like champions that that do that work that go through the weeds that figure out what are things that are going to stick right. And I think there's significant amount of people that are doing that. And but I think the biggest problem there is that it's sometimes it's very difficult to figure out which people are doing that from, well, I'm working for this company, and we're promoting our stuff. Or, hey, look, I'm working for a consultancy company company. And this is what we see in the market. And we think this is valuable for you to learn. And it i think that that area is sort of conflated right now. So, yeah, I would say it probably would make sense for most companies to have a few people that that test out the water so to speak, that go a little bit ahead of everybody else. But for companies that can't do that or small shops or people that are contractors or whatever. They need to rely on other people to do that or parts of industry to do that, and I think there our industry is, is failing.

Darin Pope 19:12
Well, I'm gonna jump in here because one of the roles you just called out was a contractor. If you're a contractor or a consultant, those are two very different things but both start with C just like cookie, Sesame Street reference in case you're not getting it. Cookie Monster? Anybody? okay. nevermind, contractor or consultant. As far as I'm concerned, I don't care if you work for a consulting company, or you work for a body shop. It's neither of their responsibilities to take care of teaching you how to do something because they're not making money unless you're sitting at a company. Now there is such a thing as just in time training, but to say because this was this was one of the classics back in the 90s. It's like, Oh, yeah, send us to a five day training course. Or what? What are we going to get out of it as a company? Well, we might get a gig out of it. companies say No way, man, I'm going to spend 2000 5000, however much that week long course was. And this, this just also comes back. You know, I'm just because of my age. I've been through these cycles. I have worked for one company that actually invested in their employees. What I would consider investing in their employees. Most of time, I never saw that. I had a kid, I had a wife. But if I wanted to get paid more, I had to suck it up. Does that mean I was away from my wife and child a lot? Yes. Do I like that? No. But it's what I had to do in order to take care of them. So sometimes you don't have a choice. Now. J, one of your responses back was you had a friend or the or the story was whether it's a friend or not a guy had a child with special needs. And fortunately, that was not my scenario. Here's the thing I do want to say. If you're put into a corner with a child with taking care of a parent extenuating circumstances is what I would call those. Don't beat yourself up. However, just realize, okay, maybe I can't do the new thing now. Maybe it's just not now. Maybe it's the future for me. But for now, I've got to do this. What do you guys think about that?

Joost van der Griendt 21:44
Well, it is complicated, right? Because in this case the kid with special needs from from what I've understood, it's gonna last a lifetime. So like there so in this case, it's actual situation. So two of my classmates there were couple while we were in studying together. After the study, they both got a job in, in tech industry and got the kid and kid has multiple disabilities. So she stopped working. He works part time. It's difficult and right so and from what I can tell like that's gonna last forever that's going to last the rest of life. So she had to drop out of the tech. And I cannot imagine someone in that position say I will ever have that time. Unless Unless we can compress the time needed. Unless we can make the new things easier to do easier to use easier to to learn and take up less time so that it's easier to to better material that is easier to jump into after X amount of time like okay, I do a block now, do a block maybe three months from now, three months from now, maybe my my grandparents will come and take care of the kid help take care of the kid for a few days, then I have a bit more time. But I can imagine at that point of time, you might want to go on a little trip with your wife and not spend it on building your career. So I think it's going to be complicated. I think there's no single answer because I'm pretty sure each of these situations will be unique. Right. But I do agree with you that that's that's a choice you will have to make. You have to make a sacrifice. And this is where I feel that the sameness as both Viktor set that's not just from the company perspective, and I do feel there's at least here we're where I live, there's definitely difference between contractor and consultant. How we feel contractors is sort of like you're on your own. You already sort of decided that you are good enough to do everything yourself because you want to take more back of the paycheck, right? You don't have to spend as give as much to your employer. And then if you're a consultant, you're part of a consultancy firm, because consultancy firm has a goal to make sure that they can keep being consultancy firm in the future. That means that they need to stay up to date. And that means they need to have enough employees in each key area of where the industry is going to be able to have a business in the future as well. So what I see there is that for contractors, they will have to make their own time. They will have to spend their own money to figure out how to to take courses and so on, Whereas the consultants, they will regularly get courses from internal usually they're tied to lots of different bonus structures or whatever. I don't want to go into the those details at least but what I've seen is that they usually take get taken care of more on that front. The company I worked for figured that it was too small to really do those things. So they will be happy to take a more personal approach and that's why we got to the setup I described earlier. So I do feel that it is it is a complicated subject with many to say possible ways to fill it in possible ways to to deal with with the issues. I just feel that in certain parts of our industry, like some technology being too complicated to use directly or it's almost the documentation and learning materials not being of a high enough quality. That we are how to say, ensuring that a large portion of the industry cannot keep up. And I think that's something we can do more about.

Viktor Farcic 25:52
I think it's be at all more or less in agreement here, right? If you don't, if you don't go forward, you're actually effectively going behind because the industry is going forward, and then you need to make some choices. And then, to be honest, that's probably equally valid, not equally sorry, that is probably valid in almost every industry. It's just that ours is slightly special that, you know, things might be moving faster than in others. But I guess that we could if we would all be, let's say, doctors, right? We we could have the same discussion, how being up to date is important. Just that we would probably not get to the same level of importance, maybe things are not moving that fast. I don't know actually, how fast it's moving over there. But still kind of, no matter the circumstances, I still feel that you cannot not move forward if you don't if you want to stay status quo. By status quo, I mean being on the same level. And then, yes, we need to make some choices and see what matters more, I guess.

Joost van der Griendt 27:10
But but here's another thought. So my mom works in this in public schools and very at least in the Netherlands, they have for different sectors, they have like central agreements for labor. So lots of things are managed already there, right via the unions. And some of the things that are managed in there is exactly like, okay, every year, there's X amount of days that are required to be spent on learning on keeping up, etc. So every year there's a plan for people that do work with, for example, the kids in these classes or those classes or this level. This is what you need to do to keep up to date with what you know what we've learned in the last few years about how to deal with kids of this age. And I think that that what that does is it helps protect those people that would have to make this sacrifice, have to make these bad choices, right? I would say was spending personal time on your career and not being able to spend it with your wife and kid. I think that's always a bad choice one way or another. And what I think it does it these kind of agreements will protect those who are in a weaker position, right? Those who cannot easily switch a job. Who cannot easily keep up with everything. And maybe what is happened with our tech industry is that a big group of people in the tech industry is used to staying on top do used to okay things move fast. So we do done that we've sort of forgotten then. Even in the tech industry, we have people that are weaker and weaker I mean, in, in, in, in the ways of competition and ways of dealing with the power struggle with their boss right? And that there are not enough protections in there.

Darin Pope 29:13
Okay, you bring out unions at the very end. I'll see if I can. Let me see if I can sum up my thoughts of this real quick of how I feel about unions in general. In general, unions provide protections for people that aren't capable of doing things on their own. That's a very broad statement. Let me state it a little bit differently. I believe unions suppress the ability for somebody to actually make more and better money.

Viktor Farcic 29:49
That is always that. I think that we always have that problem with or without unions is kind of how to balance the need of certain individuals to move forward and at their own speed, let's see maybe faster often, and how to protect also people who cannot or do not want and so on and so forth, right? That's probably a it's a complicated subject. So I'm not myself extremely favor for unions, but also I'm probably in favor of more protection than then in some countries, and it's a hard balance to find that not necessarily relate directly with unions. But we still have the and actually now when I think about it. I don't believe I visited a company or was in contact with a company that doesn't have program for training, for learning, and all those things. Actually I don't think that I was ever in such a company. I think that the problem is more than that, that that's some people in between often prevent people from taking those advantages. So, you know, you go to typical bank and typical bank has some kind of program that says, okay, within a year you can spend, you have those courses you can take, you can spend this number of days learning and stuff like that. And then there is a typical project manager that says, Yes, but not in this quarter, because this quarter happens to be critical. And whenever and it's always this quarter. Next quarter, it will be this quarter as well. So it's not that much I feel that companies do not, do not think that it seems that that's important and don't have programs for such things, but rather that some people are preventing individuals in such companies to take advantage of that. I'm yet to find the project that is not critically delayed and where we don't need to do extra effort just this case.

Joost van der Griendt 30:04
And and I think Here we come back to a thing, to concept of what makes a team productive and how do you do that well? and if there's one thing that we've learned via The Goal from Goldratt, is that making sure that people are busy all the time, is not one of those ways of being productive as a team. And, and I agree that what I've seen as well, that there's a lot of managers that simply don't want to understand this concept. They just feel like if you just push it, all them or you're sort of back on track and and so on, and so on. And so what you described that I've seen that several times as well. And comes back to the example I said that in the bank right the people from the service provider, like, Oh, no, we can't do that. Because, right there's, there's there's programs available. There's things available material available, but we can't do that or we can't do that now. Yeah, unfortunately, I've seen that too many times.

Darin Pope 33:23
It's basically follow the money.

Viktor Farcic 33:25
I wouldn't even maybe necessarily even agree with that follow the money because I do think that companies also recognize that getting up to speed is following the money and many other things. It's rather that bigger companies have different departments. And those departments have different get different objectives that are often conflicting. But there is some HR or learning or whatever department that has the objective to push courses to people. And then there is some other department that Let's say product management that has objectives to release a new feature yesterday. And then those two are conflicting. Individually, each of those departments or group or silos are doing the right thing, considering and looking at their objectives in isolation and but in where companies are failing is to figure out how to create objectives because we cannot have one single objective for thousands of people in a company, but how to create objectives that are not conflicting with each other. And this is not kind of to blame anybody because it is really a hard problem. How do you create a hundred different objectives that don't conflict with each other?

Darin Pope 34:48
You have one person writing all the objectives.

Viktor Farcic 34:52

Darin Pope 34:53
but even then that one person is going to get conflicted.

Viktor Farcic 34:56

Darin Pope 34:57
it's like spinning 100 plates at once. You might find that one unicorn that can spin the 100 plates at once.

Joost van der Griendt 35:04
But those people are going to be few and far in between. I think that is also true, right? This this that in many organizations that when you, I've yet to find an organization where even even only the software development lifecycle groups, whatever, right? Sometimes it's a department, sometimes it's several teams, but how those are working together. I've yet to find an organization that tackles that, only that part, holistically. It's already quite a lot of islands where there's conflicts between those islands already. Now, there probably are some companies out there that can can manage these islands quite well. But most organizations struggle struggle, even on that level, let alone completely throughout the entire organization.

Darin Pope 35:58
Okay, I think it's a good place to stop, because if we start getting into islands and kingdoms, my ranting beyond will go beyond the my union rant today. So

Viktor Farcic 36:10
You just mentioned part of my favorite phrase. I don't know if you've heard that islands of happiness. One of the most ridiculous terms that became popular a while ago.

Joost van der Griendt 36:27
Islands of happiness? Like Polynesia?

Darin Pope 36:31
That's probably an island. Now, if you've listened to our past two episodes we've talked about the tech industry should never have the right to name another thing ever. Because we've just we suck at naming things.

Joost van der Griendt 36:47
100% agree there. I don't know. From my perspective, naming things is something that is something so important to our industry and so often neglected that we just leave it to happenstance.

Darin Pope 37:04
No. We come up with cool code names but then we don't actually come up with what really mean what it is

Joost van der Griendt 37:10
That's what I mean. We leave it to happenstance. Somebody just like yeah we have it we have it has a name but it doesn't explain it it doesn't help it doesn't do anything. But we can fill another hour with discussing naming schemes.

Darin Pope 37:24
Like naming drugs. Who the heck thinks of naming drugs? That's not we're talking about. All right, if you're listening via Apple podcasts, please subscribe and leave a rating and review. All of our contact information including Twitter and LinkedIn can be found at And if you'd like to be notified by email when a new episode is released, you can sign up at The signup form is at the top of every page. And finally, there are links to the Slack workspace, the Voxer account and how to leave a review in the description of this episode. We'll also have J's contact information down in the description as well. Any final thoughts?

Viktor Farcic 38:00
There is one place where you can learn well. Buy the books. Buy the courses.

Darin Pope 38:11
by the way, that's also down in the description of this episode, go buy the books and the courses. It's been interesting seeing the people buying the stuff on chaos and going through the courses.

Joost van der Griendt 38:23
And I would say it's also would also be great to learn from those people that say, Well, I'm not buying these materials. What are you looking for?

Darin Pope 38:34
Oh, yeah, yeah. Because if you're looking for something, and you can't find it, tell us and we'll decide if we want to create it or not. In all of our spare time, right. Of course, Viktor right now, I guess is the one that has a kid.

Viktor Farcic 38:49

Darin Pope 38:50
Because mine has been gone for a few years. Yes. J, thanks for hanging out with us today. Everybody, go have a fun rest of your day. And thanks again for listening to episode number 56 of DevOps Paradox.