I could never get my employers to pay for training. Back in the beginning of my career, when I was dirt poor, even computer books were really expensive for me. However, I somehow scraped together what was (for me) an enormous amount of cash to buy the books that I needed to learn (actually paying for classes wasn’t even on the table). I had heard of the concept of employers paying for training, but the tiny start-ups where I worked could never afford that kind of thing.
That’s why I’m absolutely confounded by people who, when being presented with the opportunity to learn something new on their employer’s dime, refuse or drag their feet. These people have someone who is willing to pay them to become even more marketable than they are now. They can earn while they learn. And yet, their answer is “no thanks”.
What drives this kind of thinking? Why would someone decline to learn something new? I can think of a couple of things:
First, I think that people legitimately realize that learning new things can potentially change your worldview, making you re-evaluate the truth of things that you supposedly knew before. However, this becomes the “path to the dark side” when people reject the idea of learning new things because they’d rather maintain their existing worldview rather than having a greater comprehension of the truth. It’s willful ignorance. To avoid learning things for this reason is to choose to be stupid.
Secondly, (and I’m a bit more sympathetic to this reason) some people have been taught that a particular technology as a solution to everything. Java (where I spent a good decade of my time) has been sold as the development environment for everything from an embedded, to a desktop apps, to web apps, to mainframe computing. The message was that Java is the tool of choice for everything. So why would one learn anything else? What’s the point? (Okay, so this actually sounds a bit like laziness to me, but such is the human condition – I accept that.)
Finally, a somewhat plausible reason I’ve heard is that people only want to learn things that have a direct impact on their capacity to make money. Java developers are statistically paid the most of any developers – so again – why learn something else? What is sad about that is that the best of the development community (and the source of much technology) comes from people who actually love technology. People who are only in it for the money tend to also be mediocre programmers.
So here’s my plea to those who would choose not to learn new technology (or new things in general), whether out of fear, laziness or avarice: your brain is dying. Save it.
Learning is a habit that keeps you sharp. The more you learn, the more capable you are of learning. This is a virtuous cycle that can get you 1) a robust and well-informed (albeit still disrupt-able) worldview, 2) a deep toolkit of knowledge to take on different problem domains and 3) awesome market value, allowing you to rake in the cash. In other words – all of the stuff you care about can be accomplished to a much higher degree by learning new things. There’s work involved, sure, but if you stay ignorant you’ll only be working hard anyway: putting out fires in your career because you don’t have the knowledge to take control of the situation.
Taking every chance I’ve had to learn new things has been the engine that’s driven my career. So, please, if someone offers you a chance to learn something new, on their dime, take it. On both a personal and professional level, its keeping you alive.