Saturday, 11 May 2019

Cross-training to grow your Perl team

Expanding a company’s Perl operations can be a headache for HR and tech teams alike. Hiring more staff is not always an option and even when it is, finding a Perl developer to walk straight into a new role is hard. A more viable approach for many companies is to offer cross-training into Perl for staff already employed. The problem is that while your developer is cross-training, there’s work which they aren’t doing. Geekuni has been working closely with companies for several years and we’ve gained valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t. The good news is that you can in fact facilitate the smooth running of existing operations while seamlessly growing your Perl talent through cross-training. Here’s what you need to know.




What is cross-training and who is it for?


Cross-training is about the acquisition of skills which enable a worker to perform tasks beyond the scope of their initial job description. Cross-training gives a broader overview of the company, widening experience of other business areas and therefore helps improve company processes. Job satisfaction can significantly increase and the new skills give staff greater career mobility.

In the context of Perl, cross-training can be applied in a number of different ways. Examples include cases where front-end developers, system administrators or data-analysts learn Perl in order to take on some of the tasks performed by full-time Perl developers. Trainees continue in their current roles while at the same time contributing to the Perl codebase. This frees up resources for full-time Perl developers, allowing them to focus their attention on more complex and demanding Perl operations.

But cross-training also enables individuals to transition towards full-time Perl positions if and when the opportunity or business need arises. Perl developers recruited in this way come with first hand experience and knowledge of the company – qualities which external new recruits just don’t have.

What could possibly go wrong?


The biggest challenge is to make sure that the regular duties of trainees are not neglected during the actual training. There’s a serious risk of operations in any given business area slowing down or reaching gridlock if too many team members are out of action for any length of time. What’s more, the effectiveness of the training is easily compromised if business emergencies cause interruptions during the learning process.

Team leads are among those who won’t be happy to see their work put on hold, especially if the reason for this is (on the face of it) to further the objectives of another business area. The aggravation of managers could be compounded if they are not equipped to maintain an overview of the progress or effectiveness of their team’s training.

Where multiple team members are being cross-trained, some will inevitably excel more than others. In such cases, those who feel less confident at the end of training may defer to colleagues with a much better grasp of Perl. These more able coders can quickly become burdened with the Perl tasks of the whole team, resulting in bottlenecks in the workflow, unfair workload distribution and yet more frustration all round.

Avoiding the pitfalls


With a bit of forward planning, it is possible to avoid the pitfalls of cross-training. The exact approach you take depends entirely on the scale and nature of the team’s operations and the number of people to be cross-trained.

When an entire team needs to be trained it’s important not to do this all in one go. Geekuni has found that training up to 20% of a team at any one time works well, as it allows productivity to continue. Obviously, the remaining 80% of the team will be stretched temporarily, but as long as it adopts a similar attitude and approach to when colleagues are on annual leave, the mechanisms and infrastructure should be there for things to run smoothly.

Time needs to be formally allocated, and the training can be done either full-time - where the trainee is removed from day-to-day responsibilities - or part-time in a limited time-frame so that they don’t lose momentum with large gaps between training sessions. Whichever approach is taken, the success of cross training depends on keeping team leads in the loop. A system needs to be in place to allow team leads to track progress and ensure the trainee’s time is allocated correctly.

Geekuni’s online approach helps overcome many of the challenges of corporate Perl cross-training. Team members with different levels of knowledge can work independently at their own pace. The task-based nature of Geekuni’s online method not only makes it a practical, hands-on experience for the trainee, but also means training can be completed in bite-sized chunks which are easier to juggle with the existing workload. Automated code review, unit tests  and instant feedback mean trainees don’t need to depend on others in order to progress, yet at the same time Geekuni is on call for any questions, further reducing the burden on teams.

Through standardized reporting updated hourly team leads and other stakeholders can measure the progress of trainees objectively, helping to identify which team members are up to scratch and which require further support.

Conclusion


Love it or loathe it, Perl is here to stay. Any company whose operations depend on it needs to be able to scale up its Perl activities if it wants to stand any chance of growing the business. In the current market, Perl developers are among the most difficult to find and any new recruits will take time to assimilate. Cross-training can provide both a quick and lasting solution as long as the required learning environment and framework is established from the start. With the right approach, cross-training can rapidly expand your company’s Perl capacity and output by spreading tasks across different teams. What’s more, it can future-proof your Perl operations with a pool of talent ready to spring into action as full-time Perl developers should the business need arise.


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