Continuous Learning and Improvement

Without having a large enough team to warrant having a specialist for everything, you’ll need to at least be agile in picking up new skills to cover the gaps as they come up. You and your team should be in the habit of learning all the time.

You should be learning or working on some sort of improvement project with approximately 10-20% of your work time. At face value, no one will really argue with this, including your boss (hopefully). If you’ve learned 20% of the time you are at your job, that sounds fair.

That is until they realize that 20% is a decent amount of time. Let’s do the math! 🔢

Let’s assume you typically have a 40 hour work week:

40 * .20 = 8

This means that a full work day is the upper limit of how much you should be learning in a week. You shouldn’t be doing any less than half a work day.

How much time are you spending on improvement projects and learning week to week? I bet it’s not enough. Remember, the improvement of daily work is more important than completing daily work.

Learning a Skill Alone

A skill I’ve had to develop is learning how to develop new skills with little outside help other than Google. In larger organizations, you can rely on your seniors or others in each specialization to show you the ropes and avoid common traps. If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t have such a luxury.

It’s easy to get comfortable and fall out of the habit of learning. Learning how to learn is a skill. Here are some things I’ve learned that will help you along the way.

Accept That You Won’t Do Well

It really sucks having to pick up a new skill, especially when you are already really good at other things. You might have a bit of an advantage picking up a skill in a field somewhat related to your current one, but sometimes you have to start from the beginning anyway.

It feels like you’re no longer good at your job, because you’re legitimately not, lol. Accept that you’re bad and that the work you’re doing is bad. This is fine. Everyone has to start somewhere, including yourself in the areas you are good in to this day.

Once you lower your expectations for yourself, it’s a lot easier to enjoy how far you’ve come and all the small wins you gain as you learn a new skill.

Promote Experimentation

Ever been in a situation where something is too high risk and unknown to touch? I myself know very little about databases, so I’m extremely hesitant to even login to a production database. I’m aware of how little I know there and I’m concerned that I would turn any situation from bad to worse.

It’s hard to learn when you don’t have enough space to make mistakes. Create that space by creating a safe or low-risk area where you can FAFO (if you know you know lol). Sure, you could do a ton of reading, but sometimes FAFO is the fastest way to learn.

Ways you can do this would be to:

  1. Build a lab environment to run tests and develop the skill in.
  2. Apply the skill in a low-risk area, like an internal IT tool such as monitoring.
  3. Minimize the risk by either mitigating it, or reducing the surface area of the possible failure.

Running Experiments

A lot of your earlier learning will come from making observations. As you make observations, you should be building a mental model of how you think the system works. When you learn things that conflict with that mental model, ask why that’s the case and get to the bottom of that why. Otherwise, you’re missing an opportunity to improve that mental model and thus learn.

When you’re not sure how something works, or if you’re not sure if something will work, it’ll make sense to try an experiment. For a successful experiment, you need a mental model, and the results of that experiment should confirm or invalidate a piece of that mental model. If your experiment doesn’t have either, you’re just troubleshooting blindly.

Experiment Example

I’m not sure why this server has issues when it has over 30 days of uptime.

Blind Troubleshooting – Well, let’s just reboot it every 25 days. I get paid by the hour anyways.

Proper Experimentation and Learning – I’m thinking it’s either the process getting too old or something taking up the memory over time. I’ll try restarting the process on day 25 to see what happens.

If it resolves the issue for another 30 days, I know it’s something on the application side. If it doesn’t resolve it, I know it might be another process or a part of the operating system that is causing the issue.

Never Give Up

Sometimes I like to watch this Youtube video for inspiration.

Balance being hard headed and trying relentlessly with taking your time. You need to be relentless enough to push through the difficult parts and gain major breakthroughs. At the same time, you need to pace yourself so you don’t burn out. The work isn’t going anywhere.

Thank you for checking this out. I hope you learned something new or enjoyed reading this. If you had any comments, questions, or just wanted to share your thoughts on this article, you can contact me at

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