November 9, 2010

Training Software Engineers

As I mentioned in my last post about hiring software engineers, I generally categorize software developers as either programmers or software engineers. Programmers have the basic skills to get the job done, but software engineers truly understand and apply all of the techniques and ideas that come with their craft.

Given the fact that no one is a perfect software engineer; how can we help train and educate team members to reach their full potential? Here are some of the techniques that I have used, but I would love to see what successes others have had as well.

1) PowerPoint Presentation Training

This is probably one of the most straightforward techniques, but one that I have the most mixed feelings about. I believe that this type of training is necessary and important. It can be very useful to get a group of people together to review, learn, and/or discuss something. But I also think that it can have the least overall impact of the different training ideas I have used. People tend to not participate much, so the presentation is very one sided, which means it's hard for attendees to focus.

2) One-on-one training

Sitting down with someone to review something specific, or explain something can be very powerful. Since the target audience is one, it is much easier to tailor the training to the individual, and they are much more likely to provide feedback and ask questions than in a group setting. This can happen formally as code reviews, targeted training, etc., or even informally as a brief discussion based on a question or comment. Sometimes I think the informal training, even though it is generally spontaneous, can be more effective than any preplanned training. With one-on-one interaction I find that the effect can be more dramatic than in group settings.

3) Training by Example

Another approach I use is to show developers good examples of how to be a software engineer. This can be including people in design discussions, reviewing "good" code, or asking them questions to help you work through a problem. This approach also works well, and is probably the least obvious form of training from the trainees standpoint. They may never know that they were being "trained."

Overall it seems to be one of the most difficult and important parts of my job: helping people reach their potential. It's a slow and time consuming process, but it can also be very rewarding for everyone involved.

Does anyone have any other techniques they use, or more ideas on how to improve or refine the ideas I already have? Also has anyone read any good books (or other resources) about how to manage software developers? I'm always looking for new ideas.

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