Thursday, October 9, 2008

Out of Training Budget? WTF?!!!?!

Good training, or investing in the skills of one's employees is one of the best investments a software development organization can make. Next to getting excellent people, training those people should be a no brainer. If you are reading this and you have the ability to allocate a budget for training your people, allocate a generous budget. Make it easy for people to use that money to receive training. Your people will thank you. 

By providing training, you're adding a benefit to the position that will attract the types of people you want. People who are interested in what they do and interested in investing the time to learing how to do it better. 

I will confess that my professional opinion of people is affected adversely by those who refuse training. I understand that people have obligations outside of work that doesn't allow them to easily receive training. Nothing is free in the world though. Everyone must sacrifice something to train. If you only get to spend so much time with your kids, I really don't fault someone for choosing their kids over their careers. 

There are opportunity costs with the time it takes to get training. I'm more apt to think less of people who choose rewatching a Battlestar Galactica marathon over training. It's not that they are bad people, their choices of priorities are just telling to me about where their profession stands.

In short, training is important to me.

It's confession time. One of the driving factors behind my decision to leave my last job was the way the company handled, or failed to handle, training. I don't want to dwell on the past, but I recently learned that they are continuing their ways.

The company in question is financially very sound. They are seated comfortably north of 150 on the Fortune 500. The company is flush with resources, but they are disciplined in managing expenses, no they're stingy. One would be hard pressed to accuse the company of wasting money on snap decisions. I would say that they are guilty of wasting money through their reluctance to spend money. Below is an example of my experience.

The department that I used to work in emphasized training as an initiative for the year. They kind of had to because many of their software developers didn't keep up with what's going on outside of the company. Skill set stagnation could easily be attributed to shaky engineering and ultimately system downtime and other defects. 

As part of the initiative, all software engineers in my department were required to spend at least 20 hours in training for the year. Here's the catch, they don't count attending user group meetings, which are free, as training. They also don't have enough room in their training budget to accommodate 20 hours of training. 

My own experience was around No Fluff Just Stuff. In my opinion, NFJS is an outstanding value. For around $700-$1000 they offer 11 90-minute presentations over the course of a 3 day weekend. 

The speakers are excellent. Every time I've gone to a NFJS I've learned things that have made me better at my job. It's also a great networking experience. They arrange the conference so people have the opportunity to network. I personally payed for the conference that I will attend this weekend.

Back to the company. They royally messed up in the Spring conference with me. The managers in  my department, and our director, and our VP were all on board with sending as many engineers as possible to NFJS. 

I knew that attendance is limited and that they offer early bird discounts. About eight weeks before the conference I was tasked with getting a list of people in two different cities who are interested in attending. I did and submitted it. 

The training was quickly approved through our department, though we heard nothing about it. The deadline for the early bird discount approached. People came to me asking about the conference. I, in turn, asked the managers. They believed that the arrangements had been made. Since I hadn't heard anything I emailed Jay Zimmerman, the conference organizer to see if everything was cool. Jay, promptly replied to let me know that only the people from the first conference had been registered.

I explained the situation to the managers around me, they tried to escalate the situation, but our contact in finance refused to reply to any of our emails or answer the phone when we called. She also refused the emails and calls of our director. She finally did reply to all of the people who wanted to attend the conference telling them that, as punishment, they would need to write a report on everything that they learned and have it ready the following Monday for the CIO. She ended her communication by offering them an out, do you still want to go?

The communication seemed petty and intended to discourage people from getting training. More accurately, it was intended to discourage people from costing the company about $18,000 to get over twenty people training.

For less than the price of sending a few people to Java One, we were going to be able to send more than twenty people to quality training.

They did register us for the second conference. They also mistakenly registered one of the people in both events. They wasted about $5000 by not just registering people in one group early.

I believe that had I not persisted and insisted that the registration be done that it never would have. It got worse, the company stiffed No Fluff with the bill for a while. Or they never disclosed that they were going to pay net 30 from the time of the last event. So I got a really alarming, yet polite, email from the organizers.

I made two replies, one reply was to all explaining who the proper contact is. The second reply was directly to the person in finance who failed to acknowledge our emails or phone calls and a few people within my department. This is the same person in finance who told us that we'd need to write a book report. I asked her to deal with this issue. I also stated that I was uncomfortable having my name associated with financial delinquency.

Her reply, which copied a few additional directors and VPs, was that if I didn't like having financial delinquency associated with my name that I should deal with these people myself. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for me.

There was no apology for her unacceptable behavior. Nobody thanked any of the attendees for spending their weekends getting training. No, it was a big up yours, where's your book report!

Fast forward to my exit interviews I made certain to candidly explain that the events I just explained heavily contributed to my decision to leave the company. There were other things, but to me, the way they handled training for me personally was utterly unacceptable.

My hope in explaining those experiences was that they would accommodate training requests more seriously and give their software engineers training needs more consideration.

I recently learned that they dropped the ball on the fall conference and didn't register a few people who wanted to attend. They were told that they'd be able to go, however they learned that the company didn't have enough room in the training budget to send them. This was communicated after the last discount price had expired. 

What the hell is wrong with them as a company? On one hand they tell their people that they want them to get training and that the company wants to invest in their skill sets. On the other hand, when the employees try to take them up on the offer, they're met with resistance, hostility, and incompetence. What are people to think?

The message that I received is that they are disingenuous about valuing their employees and their careers. How frustrating is it to have a manager tell you that you need to do something, but they won't support it? They have no problem giving the employees more work than can be done, but they aren't willing to give them training or tools. They lie. 

There are only so many times when you can lie to people before your words cease to have any meaning and the credibility of management ceases to exist.

I'm very happy with my own decision to leave after those events, I wouldn't be surprised if others chose to leave after they experience similar events.

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