5 Ways to Stay on the 'Right Side' of the Digital Divide With Continuous Education
There are two kinds of people: those who understand technology and those who don’t. People who understand technology can design and control the very structure of the world around them. People who don’t understand it are controlled by those who do. As an entrepreneur, you need to be in that first group.
Learning about new tools and services and staying current on tech trends means constantly educating yourself and knowing what resources are available. It can also mean studying the technology that competitors are using. It’s survival of the fittest -- the company with the best tech can potentially outlast companies that struggle to stay current.
Continuing tech ed for startup success
Larger companies often have trouble staying technologically current because it’s time-consuming or expensive. As a startup, you have an advantage when it comes to adapting to new technology. Because of your smaller size, testing different tech tools and figuring out which ones work best is often easier and cheaper.
You also have more freedom to play around with analytics and tracking tools such as Mixpanel and RJMetrics. You can experiment with process management tools such as Asana and Trello. You can also compare and contrast different coding frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Django.
Staying up-to-date on the latest and greatest in tech will help you understand and speak the language of developers. When you’re ready to hire one, you’ll be able to discuss your development needs and ascertain whether he or she can give you what you need.
But it isn’t just you as the startup leader who needs to be in the know about current technology. To do their best work, all employees need access to the best tools. Think about your employees like a sports team. If you give them shoddy, worn-out equipment, they won’t be able to compete as well against an equally talented team with better resources.
When employees don’t understand technology, the process of creating good work can be inefficient and sometimes impossible. That’s why startups should encourage a culture of continuous learning, especially tech education. .
There's good reason for this: One study showed that companies that promote innovative tech outperform their peers by being 26 percent more profitable. Here are five ways that you too can do this:
1. Cover the cost.
Fully or partially cover the cost of technology training. At my company, we provide free access for all of our employees to training tools such as Code School, Treehouse and lynda.com. We also encourage employees to find workshops they’d like to attend and propose reimbursement for from their managers.
2. Host workshops.
Find thought leaders and experts to come in and give training on important skills. You can often do this by reaching out to representatives of the tools and services you use. For example, my company reached out to Pivotal Labs to have a representative come to our office to teach us about its development process.
3. Provide support.
Give each employee a personal-development leader separate from his or her typical project lead, and make that person responsible for challenging the employee to learn something new. The personal-development leader should be responsible for checking in every month to see how things are going.
4. Start group-based initiatives.
Think about designating a “learn to code month” in your workplace. It can be optional, but encourage people to stay late and learn by ordering pizza for them or organizing a weekend hackathon.
5. Encourage sharing.
Have people share what they’ve learned via an internal blog or a weekly meeting in which everyone is encouraged to share something new. Or, empower people to pass on their learning to others by giving every employee an "apprentice."
Everything we interact with -- from cars to smartphones -- qualifies as “technology.” So, make technology education a primary focus at your startup to enable your employees to use their up-to-date knowledge to propel your business forward.