One year ago we tried to formalize the hosting of technical brown bag sessions at Vertica. After a couple of run-ups this time should be the real deal. We would take turns delivering a short session for our colleagues. A list of potential topics was created and someone was selected as responsible for the scheduling.
And now as the calendar says 2008 we can mark the one year anniversary of the “Vertica Beer & Learn Sessions”. Yep, you guessed it: We switched the lunch with a beer :o)
Marking this significant day I have decided to write a little more about our way of doing things as well as our considerations.
The topics for the sessions can be anything that has relevance to our daily work. A new technology that has been used, a project that has been completed, the use of new features in a product etc. We have even had the sales director talk about sales, in relation to our work as developers and consultants.
Right from the start we set the following four guidelines for the sessions:
- We would aim for bi-weekly sessions on Friday afternoons (which hopefully sort of explains the Beer part and of the name). This would be often enough to create a flow and still not over-ambitious so we couldn’t keep up.
- The sessions should be no more than one hour. We try to aim for 45 minutes, but usually it takes a little longer as soon as the questions start coming.
- Hosting a session should not require more than two hours of preparation. More time indicates that the host needs to perform research, and that is not the purpose. Also if more than two hours are required it might be a sign that the session will take more than 45 to 60 minutes to host.
- Being a presenter is optional. Obviously it would be great if everyone would like to present, however we have to recognize that people are different, and I do not believe anything good will come from forcing anybody to present.
Obviously it is not possible to make an expert of out anybody in such a short time regardless of the topic, but that really hasn’t been the purpose. The overall purposes of hosting these sessions have been:
- General knowledge of technologies and products related to our work. A broad knowledge will help both during development as well as when talking with customers. The more possibilities you know of, the better solutions you will be able to propose.
- Increased communication skills. In our work communication skills is at least just as important as technical skills. That is one of the reasons why we hire developers and not programmers.
- Better understanding of what our colleagues work with. Getting straight to the person who is most likely to have a solution to a frustrating problem saves time for everyone.
- Hosting the sessions Friday afternoon with a beer or two obviously there is also a social aspect to the sessions.
Now, after one year, I am quite satisfied with the results. A total of 16 sessions have been held (we had a two month break during the summer vacation period) and we have talked about everything from Business Activity Monitoring to Commerce Server and from Microsoft integration technologies to new language features in C# 2.0 and 3.0. Overall I think we have succeeded in attaining our goals with the sessions and they will continue in the New Year. The first sessions have already been scheduled and I am looking forward to continuing what I believe is a success.
I have heard of several others companies hosting similar sessions. Some during breakfast, others during lunch, and still others like ours on Friday afternoons. Feel free to leave a comment about the sessions at your work. The best way to improve what is being done is to share and learn from each other.