TL;DR;

If learning new things is one of your priorities in your work as IT professional, you should quit your work and create a startup.

Introduction

As the co-founder of a startup active in Talent Management, I’m concerned about learning and the way people (including myself) do acquire and retain new skills. Doubly so:

  • We need this understanding to be able to equip Sybil with the proper functionalities to be able to support the skills management at our customers.
  • As a technical person myself, one of the things that attracted me in the IT sector was the possibility and necessity to always learn, unlearn and relearn.

About a job

Once you decide to leave a good, challenging, nice paying job to start your own company, you suddenly got a lot of interest about what you are doing, whether from your ex-colleagues or your friends or family. As I like discussions that goes both way, it means that I’ve been exposed to a lot of people’s opinions about their own jobs in the IT industry.

It is always about learning

From the very contrasted landscape formed by all those opinions, they are still some points that looks to draw consensus. Among those, I’ve found that many people are able and willing to cope with a lots of problems (including company bureaucracy, lack of pay raise and others), as long as their current job allows them to learn new things. This leads me to two main ideas.

First, this message is a really positive one for our industry: having a lot of people putting the learning opportunities high in their priorities is good not only for them, but also for the companies they are working in, as by pursuing this goal, they will drive the people around them to evolve, embrace new technologies, new principles, new ways of thinking. In a word, they will innovate.

Second, that if you recognize yourself in those developers, you should quit your job and create a startup.

Wait, what?

I said: if the learning opportunities are high on your priorities in a job, you should create a startup. We often talk about how having a learning process is critical for a startup (in the general principles of Customer Development and Lean startup, that emphasises learning cycles), but this is the overlooking the other side: a startup is an incredible learning machine.

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The reasons for this are multiple, but we could probably summarize them in some basic tenets:

The only blocking factor is you

This means that the solution to any problem is in you also, but that it will force you to reconsider, explore, change or evolve.

Speed

I’ve been on projects involving dozens of developers, hundreds of man-years. Projects that could be stuck for six full months, have blocking bugs for weeks. Nothing of this is even remotely possible in a startup environment. Not because it makes you intrinsically more efficient, but because you just cannot afford to spend so much time on anything. So, you find shortcuts, smart ways, simple solutions to complex problems.

One million decision a day

It is like steering a car in heavy traffic: you have to do some subtle movements each second. You do not have the time to think long about each. The problem is not exactly to take the good decision, it is to take one in a very cheap way.

The good side of “do or die”

It is what I call the “good side” of the “do or die” situation: one way or another, you just have to find something that works. It could be frustrating, but I find it to be exactly the opposite. It may be a little more difficult for more perfectionist and meticulous people, but I am firmly convinced that the situation make the (wo)man.

A simple example

As a very basic and ego-driven example, since we started 8th color seven months ago, I’ve :

  • Explained my product to anyone in five minutes - including problem, solution, business model and competition - actually I can do it in one minute.
  • Got my sales 101 - enough for our needs now.
  • Contacted 100+ people whose activities are related to what we are doing via various events or conferences.
  • Learned the language of several types of customers or users (notably HR people).

I was forgetting the technical side. Used to be a java programmer, almost never touched a server. Now I regularly:

  • Develop full applications in Ruby.
  • Use the Rails framework to create real world application.
  • Create and configure a Virtual Machine to make Sybil run on it, setting up all the stack.
  • Script the above operations.
  • Finally learned JavaScript, using several frameworks such as jQuery, d3 and Bootstrap.
  • Use Parsing techniques to analyse languages and participate to discussions on it.
  • Use Linux on a day to day basis.
  • Use a DVCS not only as I used SVN, using branches and pull request accordingly.

I still think about my old job with a very positive look. But I would have difficulties to find any period in my 10+ years in the IT industry where I did learn as much as this one. Or even half as much. And I’ve picked my own example only because it was the easiest for me to be precise on, but the story is the same for each young entrepreneur I have around me.

We’re learning.

Fast.

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