Best Practices for Upskilling Your Software Development Team

Having a skilled software development team on board is not only the result of a successful recruitment process. That’s only the beginning of the story. To make it more interesting, you need to help hired talents flourish within your organization.

Working on good practices for upskilling your software development team will help you with that. 

Scalac, as a software house, has gathered enough experience in this field over the course of several years. If you are looking for some ideas about how to build an upskilling program, you are in the right place.

However, before we get to the point, let’s explain the importance of such an initiative, particularly in software houses and the IT industry in general. 

Why is upskilling so crucial in software development teams? 

Upskilling team members is sometimes treated like another employee benefit offered to attract the top talents. Instead, business owners should perceive it as a factor that ensures lower employee turnover rates, and therefore higher quality projects.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, let’s present some key numbers. According to research carried out in 2017 by LinkedIn, the IT industry saw a 13.2% employee turnover rate. It’s worth mentioning they have analyzed half a billion professionals, and this was the highest result of all industries.

This only confirms how competitive the tech job market is, and how easily we can lose top talents.

Such high turnover rates imply further costs on recruitment and training for newcomers. The Society for Human Resource Management has estimated that the possible replacement cost is the equivalent of from six to nine months of an employee’s salary. Let’s translate that into numbers.

We have an employee who earns $60,000 annually. The cost of recruiting and training this person will generate from $30,000 to $45,000 spendings. Those figures are astonishing and worth consideration. 

This simply means we should try a bit harder to keep our employees. To improve them, you may want to provide a great upskilling program that will be perceived as an exceptional added value of staying in your particular organization.

What skills should your software development team learn?

Becoming a better software developer is not as easy as some may say. Of course, many courses help with learning a given language or some basics. But a skilled programmer is also able to effectively collaborate with the team and solve any problems that arise. 

Becoming a successful software engineer is a process shaped by new projects and gaining knowledge from more experienced colleagues. 

But what skills are particularly appreciated on the job market?

Problem-solving 

According to HackerRank, problem-solving is the most desirable skill for employers. It’s even more valuable than programming languages, debugging, or designing systems. 

source: HackerRank, 2019 HackerRank Developer Skills Report

But when can developers call themselves problem-solvers? When they:

  • understand problems and can explain them
  • can plan exact steps to solve problems
  • can resolve a complex problem by dividing it into smaller ones that are resolving one by one and  then gluing all of them together
  • have practiced long enough and worked out many solutions in various projects.

Knowing the essentials 

Do you remember learning Mathematics? If you missed some material and didn’t know the basics, further learning was much more complicated and you had to go back to previous lessons. The same is true with programming.

Knowing the whole science behind created languages is essential for understanding why something happens and what makes your work more effective.

Such an essential skillset includes: 

  • knowing common frameworks
  • being familiar with algorithms and data structures
  • a good knowledge of a source control repository.

Soft skills and teamwork 

All developers need to achieve a common goal. When someone from the group doesn’t collaborate or communicate their problems and doubts, the project is at a huge risk. That’s why open communication is so crucial when working in the tech sector. 

Being a good communicator is also necessary for explaining technical issues to non-technical workers or clients. Otherwise, even the best tech minds may not resolve problems in ways that meet expectations.

Accuracy and attention to detail 

Having this skill suggests that an engineer will be able to write a higher-quality code. 

This ability may be incredibly necessary when preparing edge cases or writing unit tests, when some extreme conditions may be added. It also helps with finding mistakes in the codes of developers or their colleagues.  

Being up to date with changes in their leading technology 

Programming languages are updated quite frequently. Once new versions of Java, Python, or Scala are released, developers should catch up with the changes. 

Companies move forward and want to implement the latest technologies to bring business value. That’s why keeping up with the news about languages lets them stay competitive on the market.

Methods of a successful upskilling software development team 

Nowadays, we have plenty of options to ensure employee upskilling. Each company should adjust them to business resources, current needs, and developers’ ambitions.  

But we should bear in mind that any new knowledge should be applied in real life. This is the only way to satisfy employees and bring value to the business. 

That’s why choosing the right upskilling methods is so crucial. Which should we consider then?

Internal training

First, you should look for initiatives that could take place in your organization. You can get very creative here, and adjust the learning options to your business needs. These could, for example, be: 

  • Internal workshops – organize a meeting every week during which someone from your team shares their best practices for how they resolved some problems. This would require preparing a presentation and some exercises at the end to confirm the developers understand the explained solution.
  • Internal boot camps – design business-specific bootcamps to transfer new knowledge to your team. You should make sure the material is aligned to your business and new projects. 

External training 

Providing external training may cost you a bit more, but if the courses or lessons are of a higher level than you can provide internally, they’re worth every penny. 

This kind of knowledge sharing may take a few forms: 

  • Conferences – this option seems to be the most popular and readily available for developers. The range of topics is so broad that any programmer should be able find something specific for themselves. However, this option should be treated as an opportunity to get inspired by some new topics and approaches. If you want your developers to stay up to date with the latest news, it’s the way to go. 
  • Meetups – these kinds of meetings are for connecting programmers and exchanging experiences. They are free of charge at local events. In times of a pandemic, there are online options as well. The most popular website to find a topic of interest is meetup.com. There are plenty of tech meetings to join. 
  • Workshops – a more engaging form of upskilling. Workshops are usually facilitated by industry leaders and ensure hands-on experience. Software developers attending them may tackle specific issues or work on optimized solutions. By doing so, they can implement new knowledge right away. 
  • Online courses – you will find a bunch of online courses on Udemy or Coursera. Not all of them will be worth the money, but usually some agendas help to assess the usefulness of the videos. This kind of training may be used to enable the learning of new programming languages and technologies in general. We consider it the best option for transferring both theoretical and practical knowledge. That’s why we have recently started our own courses, which you can check out here. 
  • Hiring mentors or Subject Matter Experts 

Sometimes, more experienced developers struggle to find workshops or online courses that can help them to spread their wings. It’s increasingly common to instead find a mentor that can explain certain, specific cases. This upskilling method is useful especially when the developers lack some experience in given situations. Then, answers and suggestions to the problem may only be provided by a more experienced expert. 

  • Working with software houses – If a company plans to implement a tech project and they don’t have developers skilled enough in some languages, they can plan cooperation with external teams. By doing so, in-house developers can learn from more experienced colleagues who usually have more knowledge thanks to working in many projects, with different people, and in very well-organized environments. We worked with Bexio in such a model. This was not only an effective option to deploy a solution, but also an opportunity for  knowledge-sharing.

Hands-on Experience Through Projects 

Learning by doing is the most advantageous form of any training. Projects on which developers work seem to be the best upskilling program. 

  • Code reviews – you can encourage developers to check their colleagues’ codes. To make it more inviting, you can set goals and reward those who are the most engaged with providing such help.
  • Internal projects – if you want your developers to practice some new technologies, internal projects are more than useful. This requires defining a specific project to force your software development team to be creative in finding solutions. This may be a great warm-up before they get into real projects for clients.
  • Matching developers – passing experience on to less experienced developers is more than necessary if we need to have more skilled workers in our team. For this reason, we should provide an environment in which to make it possible. Better planning of project assignments is key here. For example, if we assign a junior and a senior developer to one project, we may be sure about the project’s success and knowledge transfer as well. 
  • More teamwork – try to work on a business culture by adding some communication tasks to the daily work routine. These could be “fast feedback” from colleagues, better onboarding to projects by senior programmers, or more occasions for developers to work together.
  • External consulting – to show the team that a given part of code or architecture may be written in a better way, you may also hire external consultants. Not only can it bring value to the project, but also the programmers receive more feedback. Thanks to that, you open their eyes to new perspectives and show that planning the code is also important.

How to translate best practices into a successful upskilling program?

All the aforementioned upskilling examples will be a waste of time if you don’t ensure the right environment for learning and tracking results. Fortunately, we have gathered some suggestions for how to arrange a workplace to enable a successful upskilling program. They are:

  • Ensure your software developers will have time for learning. You may define a specific time during the day or week. 
  • Arrange a learning space if some upskilling methods require them. 
  • Talk with workers about their ambitions and skills they want to develop, and create personal development plans together. 
  • Make sure that plans and upskilling options are in line with employees’ seniority levels. 
  • Find tools or platforms to track learning results. They may even be project management tools such as Trello, or dedicated learning management systems like Docebo LMS. 
  • Create a skills matrix for all employees to analyze how an upskilling program helps to develop them. Based on this, you may also assess which projects you can assign certain workers to.

Take time to plan upskilling programs carefully and involve developers in this stage too. By doing so, you may be able to count on their engagement later. 

It’s important to keep in mind that even the best plans require revisions and updates. Once you implement such changes, monitor the results, employee engagement, and job satisfaction. Also track how all the results impact turnover rates and the ability to attract top talents. Only then will you be able to see the many dimensions of upskilling your software development team.

Read also

Author

Tomasz Bogus

Tomasz Bogus, Head of Business at Scalac. Tech entrepreneur, startup co-founder. For over 15 years, he’s worked with more than 2000 successful companies helped them achieve faster growth by embracing the newest IT technologies.

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