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Developers are the most curious employees out there. It’s ingrained in the very nature of a role that works in a dynamic landscape of languages, tools, security threats and technologies. Unfortunately, companies are dropping the ball on bolstering developers’ desire to learn, grow and experiment. This failure causes them to use their limited free time for learning or even searching for other job opportunities. In fact, 58% of security and development professionals say they’re currently experiencing burnout. Additionally, 42% of those who haven’t left their jobs are considering or may consider leaving their current jobs this year. 

While many of these perpetual problem-solvers spend time developing their skills on the clock, they can feel inundated with all the seemingly high-priority or interesting learning opportunities. So how can we truly meet developers’ curiosity and desire to grow? 

This is a question I often confront in my role. It’s become apparent to me that the answer comes down to helping developers effectively use their learning time by intentionally providing space for them to explore their interests, connecting multiple modes of learning, and encouraging all the different career paths available. 

Today’s tech career path is a lattice, not a line 

While career growth was once thought of as a straightforward trajectory, today’s developer path looks more like a lattice, branching off in a variety of directions catering to one’s particular interests and talents. As technology and tools continue to evolve rapidly, new skill sets are emerging every day, paving the way for new positions like privacy engineer, cloud architect and VP of DevOps. It’s important to recognize that not all developers will even choose to remain in traditionally technical roles; product management and pre-sales also offer creative problem-solving challenges.  

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With ever-shifting career options comes the responsibility for organizations and managers to show their tech talent the diversity of paths forward. They need to help developers zero in on what they most enjoy doing, and ultimately guide them to relevant skills and learning offers to carve a path forward that suits their needs and interests. 

Don’t underestimate collaborative learning 

A crucial part of creating the space for professional learning is offering opportunities for active peer-to-peer learning. From fostering stronger employee relationships to increasing engagement, collaborative learning is essential. 

Moreover, according to Dr. Saul McLeod of the University of Manchester, there is a significant gap, called the “zone of proximal development,” between what one can learn on one’s own and what one can learn with others’ encouragement and support. Collaborative learning can help people cross this gap, vastly expanding their knowledge on any given topic. 

One way companies can increase collaborative learning is to host programs that challenge people to be creative and innovative in teams. At SAP, we host the Innovator Challenge, a global program where participants have about six months to build something new using SAP technology. Employees are matched with peers who share similar interests and skill levels, with the goal of gaining hands-on experience with our products and services. This program not only allows tech workers to learn more about technologies that they aren’t working with every day, it also offers a fun, safe environment in which employees can innovate and deepen their specialty skills. 

For more short-term collaborative learning, companies may consider learning circles, hosting a hackathon or providing incentives for teams that complete training modules together. 

Foster communities for learning 

Building a learning culture requires organizations to think beyond standalone events or annual training. Teams need a platform for continual conversation and exchange. As developers are constantly optimizing their approaches and methods, online communities can be an incredible resource for them to ask a specific coding question or just learn more about what’s out there. 

Communities of Practice provide developers the opportunity to connect with peers or mentors to exchange, troubleshoot and share more about their day-to-day challenges and successes. Hosting a community for dialogue can foster a passion for learning that brings together formal training with less-formal modes of learning like crowd-sourced book recommendations, podcasts, YouTube videos and online forums like StackOverflow. 

Developers crave learning. If leaders overlook the need to provide them with ways to feed their curiosity, employees will find ways to do it after hours or may seek new opportunities altogether. To retain top talent, focus on guiding your tech team through their unique career trajectories, encourage group learning, and provide a space for peer-to-peer exchange. This intentional approach will spread benefits throughout the company. 

Nicole Helmer is development learning leader at SAP.

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