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Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Learning

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Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Learning
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Tuft & Needle is a bootstrapped, Phoenix-based company that pioneered the disruption of a the mattress industry using a software startup’s mindset when it was founded in 2012 and has grown to over 100 million in annual revenue. A commitment to skill acquisition has led to a happier and more productive team, and is a core to the company’s success. In this session, learn how to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and skill acquisition through apprenticeships and group learning sessions.
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the end of the human
and a good morning everyone thank you of mines Davison business uh before rails can't show of hands who knew it test and anybody thanks OK and for those that don't know so that the newly is a mattress company on we need have a presence here in intervals count this year because the offices here of in uh that the needle some has some interesting elements about in 1 of it is our cultural learning and that's kind of what we want to talk to you about today on the so what is it mean to cultivate learning and why is it important it's sort of easy to say that growth and learning important tenants but but like what is that actually mean how you actually carried out in your business and how do you take that to your team as investments in them and their sort of collective and individual brain trusts I In and why do it right so like when we're thinking about this and thinking about the kind of culture we want to create their own business uh 3 things sort of came to mind it gives people purpose it allows them Ptolemy and it provides them with growth an all that kind of leads back to happen this rate in happy this is kind of hard to quantify a but we sort of think of it in ways like this if you're working on a problem you get stuff that's a bad feeling right and you want to feel like you have a place to go to get unstuck I we feel like underscoring this culture of learning helps people to realize that it's OK to ask for help you know as a software developer as a designer you can't know everything right now it's OK if you're here if you're working with us we have already have confidence in you like we already assessed that you I have the skills that you need to to work with us so from there it's really about empowering you to know more and to share more with the people that you work with so said were data
Dennis were from tougher needle are a little bit
about me this is my newest daughter Rory she's 9 months I have 4 kids don't pray for me I've been actually working with rails for around 10 years I I found it so right beginning hands the my story with rails another programmer as I thought about it is kind of relevant to this action very relevant to this talk and I was on my own for a long time and I had been some some work with the military and then I was kind of basically doing that if it's insulting and and I was really looking for a job and I stumbled upon some guys uh at this company called have struck at a coffee shop there would go to work and he hands I think at the time like I felt like it was doing OK but I didn't really know that I added know that I needed something more right like ourselves a pipe proteins rooster things refined I and I had this chance encounter in they invite me down to the office and through and sort of other weird situation and involved policies of all things of anyway if and and the highest I don't think I was really qualified to work at the time you know I had some rails experience uh and then you Ruby and all that but I think that that have struck it was sort of the 1st place rank counted this culture and it was it was uh they took a chance on the right like they saw something in me that they thought that they could cultivate and they take a chance on me and the that and so you know 10 years later I'm still working with with real full-time the new and the I'm so like Dave said my name is Dennis arm a I know that
pictures incredibly Asian but they feel like have a relatively similar kind of experience they've I'm actually met David hatch rocket on as designer it's a little weird that I am more later people technology field and the traditional like like band posters and CDs and all that type of design but it's it's always been in adjusting culture they're going to be a part of the have been designing for a a little over 16 years I kind of started off with a lot of people like salt taught and 1 of the reasons that I like creating cultural learning and like trying to you know make that a core part of our culture is important to me is that I'm a lot of you the like for a lot of us that the pathway to worry alright now is not very straighter clear right there's probably a lotta you that had a history degree or something or an English degree or something completely off you tell yourself or you went the school for some completely different but i'm without those straighten clear has it is much more important to have people along the way that will and the guide you give you break and is gonna take you the weighing whether it's for 1 project for a day or years on those people or pretty crucial may have helped me get to the point or I am my career and so part of that part of why I like doing this is coming giving back and giving some other people opportunities to to grow and hopefully you know surpassing go much further than the me so
no 1 of the 1 of the ways that we kind of handle like growth the better company is we use on like to differ methods which are a master programs in apprenticeship solid Dave gonna talk a little bit about the apprenticeships yes so pretty ships and so on and don't think that word is of this something that's new to a lot of people in our community and you know it's some it's something that we bought the from other other industries and it but I think what's important for us is that it's sort of start to the language right but so across the board whether you are a software developer or work in our customer service area or in a way that we just saw whatever but we use this language so it's not you know your junior developer your a senior developer like we don't put people in this book it's it's you know that you know your Prentice your journeyman uh your master that kind of stuff side note and then is a personal pet heave I don't think you can call yourself a master I think that's kind of something that somebody says about and I know like for me that's you know uh that it's it's it speaks to like you know the life lived incidents of the like attain and in that in that helps me think about like you know continuous growth and learning and how to prioritize myself instead of like thinking about how we get to the next level and you know how I get to the next conversation bracket that kind of stuff you know it's we focus on learning and growth in personal growth and that affect my happiness right and because if I'm not worried about getting to that next letter in unit that mixed up on the latter you know it's it's just when this thing to worry about so binding town is hard
I read a statistic recently that last year there were overturned 23 thousand vacant jobs in our industry and then there's not enough people coming out of computer science programs to fill the spaces right so hiring is always a problem when you see it here at rails count every year that's why that people were you know uh sponsoring and you know trying to get here attention and trying to get should come work with them I but I think there's other ways and 1 of them is to be on the lookout for people better right in front of you right people that you're already in your organization they already have the values that that you have maybe don't have that exact skill set but I think if you pay attention and you listen you'll find people that you can cultivate and bring into other departments right bringing this suffer development bring design you so the only like I said you know this is this is something that I I don't know if I don't know how widespread it is it's something that we really care about and you know I think it's going back to previous jobs that i've been and I wish there were people that were sort of paying attention to that like and just starting out you know maybe I'm just doing this this thing over here and you know if if there was somebody there that like just see that you know that could be a spark for some so on and so guidelines how we actually do it how do we know how to read approach operation programs and so this is something that's like constantly changing something worth thinking about and working on every time and and iterating on that's you kind what we do a suffer developers also we did that the newer products that read meet quarterly usually have that and talk about it but this treason weaknesses and we set milestones we think the goals are really important especially the beginning uh to get people on the right track so we set the right expectations from the beginning um which I think uh you really need to consider and because if you set analytic unrealistic expectations it can really through the whole thing off to get there is and no wanna quit and you know this always i and then how we actually compensate people based on this so when they meet their goals and they meet their milestones we pay a more right and and we think that makes sense because you know the more you learn the more value you know you can add and then we were recognize that the
stomach we have only we have a large customer experience group uh at test and you and we have something other something 150 employees and we have about 10 developers I know some designers and a lot a lot of the people the er in this group pressure experience right and that's what time it was finally alone has a has a cool background I he was a schoolteacher before can tough the needle of middle school which I imagine is like crazy stressful in hard-hit visiting them no right now have of and he his can have interested in technology and and that is you know he he does after couple years of being a teacher he decided that it wasn't for him you need to do something else and and so he was kind of exploring HTML and things like that of and then he got a job right at the needle in the captain PES-rich prince department you using out and retail stores and helping customers and you're helping people you e-mail accounts of the do and and he was working on this you know this stuff and for learning a lot schools that the cat think on his own and he's you know kind of started asking us questions and kinda rose count for this last year and and at some point it was like OK like this is this is happening like we need when you take this guy and are willing willing to develop him like he's obviously got that aptitude for it super-smart already knows the business but you know but that make embrittlement Inc so I that's that's what we did we actually have in 1 of the guys the rights course for large school that out of course is the machine Riley and he works at that the New York and uh we're super lucky to have him I think he's like top-tier from and developer crazy did um but you know Tommy had access to to to Shane and we have his material to use so I think that's a uh it's awesome for Tommy hours it doesn't for us but like I I think you know this kind of formal of learning experiences a good and you should encourages employers to you and your coworkers to use them and pay for them in and you take care so that people can have that training and like I said
this is sort of a constant thing that we are trying to carry on and we're making mistakes and failures with um some of the lessons that we're learning a all our you know it's really important to get people at press ships on 2 real-world projects as soon as possible we think it you know that helps build confidence from a gives them in ways to apply what they're learning in real ways uh you know we all taken those tutorials and you know it's the end thank you made this thing that have you actually translate that into something real world the so it stretches them and so it creates structure and trends that you know and I have some transition Ch I Ch they add Tommy is part of the frontier and he's likable whether there are many built you projects release it just the last week 1st like big projects awesome the he did a great job and I am know it feels like supergravity it it cool so
I'm monitored talk from the design side of things and i Rachel actually came from a very similar experience to she was on Barbara customer experience team and she was she actually didn't have any formal training in design she knew of like programs they could kind of do stuff the like shouldn't go to school for you know for a graphic designer and anything colleagues somewhere that thing was designed history was a degree and so on like but 1 of the big things that we can learn with her is that like a lot of students yourself type from tend to do like
tutorials do things where it's like you know users 1 to you learn 1 technique that technique allows you do 1 thing right and and that's all you really common elements you know you don't really understand a lot the fundamentals words like biography a greater pacing rhythm are all that stuff is kind of like left alone and hopefully you get on word you know maybe you down on and scarlet each into 1 of its a perfect metaphor it's like someone just knew ladies rails along Quicken wrote right any review from scratch at all so that's basically the kind of situation O shoes in on student she had a couple teachers are helping her out but not anarchists is by consistent level in a lot a more like high-level like they get the slide on versus like and I hope you like learn how to lay out a grid and how that's like helpful for future projects so a lot of the time and we didn't get it just like with lignin timeout think we really got a perfect but 1st get up I think we tried to kind of like loader with a bunch of work and tried to you I'm just gonna have is pretty brutal retain were really like set up a curriculum in every week she would basically with me and overstuffed but on I think I it's it's kind of a sign of poor teacher you blame receiving for like they're like further them not really getting a word meaning to go so as to the 2nd to reassess the situation head down a curriculum to a point where it was more constraining on fundamentals and like the basics of visual design before light so she was trying to learn like from encoding it and design and stuff about Web and so is just like too many things at once so I think 1 of the biggest lesson learned is discussed setting realistic in clear goal so that I do not just throwing someone water and hoping that they can make it work on land and setting expectations and timelines is also big guilty like for her arm I think there was a lot of looseness around nearly working on this project whenever saying hey this is you know you need to finish this pilot 2 weeks from now like whether it's done or not like to come to a point where on you kind of get there because the projects before they were given sir often like just open timelines like they weren't very important so they will last for like 4 or 5 months something and like theory no clear point and the thing about design and ensure the same thing with development is that you British tinker on anything for ever and until someone gives you like a stopping point so it's really important to kind get that idea on 2 younger designers to make sure that they understand that you need that you have donors better in perfect if you will I'm so the next like I shows like the progress that she made of I so designers this was a big deal with this untie biography is like a very big tell of like how mature you are as designer and from where she started to now although albeit these be very simple pieces her ability layout stuff in like do it on our own without much guidance is dramatically improved in light of she's become a very you know a very important member a design team that can help us on accomplish all the things that we need to do so like I said there's 2 parts
to it and will we do tough needle for the culture of learning and on the 2nd part is master programs alleged they've go from here
so back to happiness you know continues growth and we think it's key to increasing happiness and it's you know it it works for everybody works for the person this learning it work for the person that's teaching and you know if you've ever tried to teach me thing uh you realize quickly that don't know anything about at it's just a really great way to sort of solidify years years of the knowledge about a subject and so we have this thing called master programs but after Edo and it's uh again it's across the board is not just himself for development and design and we use in in every aspect of business and so basically how it works is as little different from the 19 and but this sort of so some guidelines and across the board the you know again we meet with everybody every quarter of search of a figure out what the individual in learning path looks like so but we also try to do things as a group so um we tried a few different things but for what we're doing right now is a carving out a specific date n time during the week of that we can you know structures learning time and I think this is really important you have to be intentional about it if it's always ad hoc and just kind of whenever you see you see you're never going to get to it and so we block out that part of the calendar every single week on and we use it uh you know to to learning to grow the design thing that on wednesdays we do it Thursday's use the around lunch I but where we can talk a week but whether that's the working in a work of the changes if we need to I mom programming anybody this anybody the mob mind this is really fun for us I know personally I so what we do is work were mostly remote team so we get together uh you know on a hangout ends uh we use we got a couple things we mostly use them mostly no effect so that which at again the may something like that and pull the terminal and we work on a problem together um and we ought to state and we you know even if we try to make a kind of a disciplinary so that like books there's writing just build a can spend time folks the you know writing revealed you know we can work on problems together in this it leads to some really interesting things like I think when you when you're working individually you don't you know you don't see other perspectives of the team and I think when you get together and work on something it really enriches yourself and it reaches the team because you're passing little to that something little things like what was that then command press I do that units that can be really of really valuable times somebody another thing we do is book club and think you know this is something that the other jobs and I like it I always want to read but kind of never make time to do it at home because I have 4 kids but it works you know we set aside time to get together and talk about uh a book that we choose and uh you know it it helps us to sharpen our technical skills um sometimes we the cantata that we do soft skill and have a book break it up yeah the expert the yeah so on some of those things the design team does stuff that's kind of like a parallel that are more the things that we do is not do critiques of some so it's got a bottle of from design school where an animal health monitors some you guys are from it like so there's user like 20 20 stands in class and you basically work online day on a project for about 2 weeks and then you presented from all these people and then they basically reside you for about 20 minutes and it's about is painful and terrifying is as imagine that a lot of people arousals in college so how did not but we tried to do something similar without the other aspect of justly people goes coming anyway and a lot of it is is geared towards on some kind of comment or feedback that drives your design 1 step further right so constructive comments something like have you tried this this isn't as clear as I think you're making out to be your like are you achieving like the goal that you're trying to do with this layout or this interaction all those things on hopefully give them ideas of where to go from there to the worst thing to happen for designer and for anybody really is to be like I don't know what to do next on stock it feels like it's wrong I don't know how to fix it so having the entirety income share that share that experience presenter on work help other people but not only makes our designs better but also makes on us better designers because we're sharing knowledge like the technique that I suggest as someone go check out to to help with this particular you know sigh might help someone on another side the future so all those things really really important for shared learning because like you don't make the group means get better as a as a as a group or you're just gonna have a lot of issues were only 1 person can do the task force's like everybody can come a jump in and ship and where is needed on 1 other kind of program that is kind of related to live like some as we spoke to me for is the quarterly skill plans on we actually treat these like first-class citizens like projects so on there is a very easy tendency to be liked by you know songwriter no book and like good luck will will talk a little later but which I and is basically like track these things in the home of we use a program called sonah so some people of me but on it so that we basically put milestones we say deadlines of when you're gonna basically accomplish the specific goals and then the biggest thing is Om setting realistic goal Selig are example of bad goal would be like I wanna get better jobs script like cool everybody honestly that's going like but like saying like I wanna write right maybe I notice something so that's much more tangible arm and it's much more attainable and it's much more realistic to say that person's like I'm when a master an entire aspect of self self on those treating those like like and having and like show up alongside like get this project out with I need a learn this this week has been like really on important make sure that it's baked into everybody's everyday life I it it is made a huge difference I think for me compared to other environments where we try to do the same thing but didn't have that level of on and at that level of like checks and balances if you will so again the arm 1 thing we
wanna talk about like in another way to really kind of make this much more on much more ingrained in the culture and and and not like it's just like 1 group that's doing it is always skills are are are tied to compensation structure so like if you put together a still plan and a quarter and then you reach that plan we basically will give you I'm arrays based on how many of those things you've accomplished so did you question and have and yeah so I'm all use 1 of mine for example like I said all x another we use another 1 1 that was designers like I really wanna get better like writing right like is like I don't know how many does you know but like writing is designed is user interface like that is a very coarse scale that you need come so they set out a project relate iodine a ride all monitored right specific like ads are like copy for a page and then like gonna do the specific like like a project where I help generate like the layout which in the like the labels in elements and stuff like that so we'll go through and say it and then like they would basically put a deadline like I had this project will be completed by the 1st month maybe 2 weeks after that and whatever and by time I be with them again of be like I had a go how much this stuff worked and then would be like I you nodes and she did this you combustor goal you'll get like a 2 cent raise this quarter and the good news about the way that we do the structure of of the raises is that although we don't wait to end the year to give you like like arrays because you're you're already like contributing more because you've learned that skill yes yes and that the so it's more like to do is stand there so I comedy hours were not like doing at that level would just like on a judging the success of the project and what they learned that and yeah for that skill or for that person that yeah In all that that's an interesting point C like at 1st we did things were people like or learn for skills this quarter like is was not tenable like we we really folks to dance like a you need a constraint on the slide 1 thing the both could figure to almost the time people would only it wanted to like and unlike Mandarin wise it's hard to like if you have our team has started to grow and you're trying to manage like that many aspects of people's growth it's it's kind of tough so and like him and of the and I mean there has to be somewhat of a business case again be like I really like you but dazzling stuff like does not like it has not like very useful to the business probably but like like so sufferance is I mean the more practical like I really like I was in C-Leg learning more about the our stuff and I wanna do more stuff like we can really justify that like a like when we go by this 2000 already get better at this to the company because of what our goals are but you know like I focused on my cost per so this was like learning more jobs which is much more but copywriting is a lid on tangible designed to in some the guys got better at like like woodworking which is good for summer product is members and other stuff so there is a certain level judgment of like is not just whatever you wanna learn but it is kind of target toward your job the Oh no not necessarily understood I will be asked me like the deliverable could be made of project you the I think it depends but I think it depends on on the goal and I think also to the and were talking about suffer assigned but the other parts are business do this so like of a reward example from 1 of those is a the work in customer experience anyone understand more about the operations of the business and so we have a different shipping situations dark store FedEx and also the stuff but we might say that that the leader might set a goal for that person to learn about those things and then deliver and you know some right up about what they learned know that kind of thing so for instance like some workers were expense people learn how to use equal air rights equal to write queries to use to track things so they could build like their on dashboards due to some kind of monitor some aspects of of their particular daily life so on it it definitely to your pointed it doesn't always like be that directive like it's a real life project that like the this means but sometimes like the ImageNet not imaginer ones like the ones that are just like a little bit more fun stretch the personal the more so it's it's kind of like a like a but I call on both the person and like wanna lost the kind of like say hey but which 1 you think is gonna grow you more basically get you follow along that path yes well I that's a good transitioning into that that's it that's the whole thing like know we think it's important investment of we think it's great for the business of script for the people of the yeah I think
soc people so the last it is like 1 of like 1 of our founders is a developer and that's sort where a lot of this stuff commonly comes from like it was viewed in the culture from the beginning and it was very important for him to trying green environment where arm often times a lot of us shift from job to job right we go every year at a new job or something that's the only way you can kind rail and work I'll use it but I think it is vision and a lot of us in my retracted companies that if you can provide an environment where people are currently growing and you know obviously it although the marks of like you know their needs whether it comes as no stuff but on that hopefully they stay there for a long time 10 years 15 years I mean the ideas like you'd be here for a lifetime that you we would build provide you with the opportunities and maybe that's the slightly naive slightly from popular optimistic but we would preferred move with that intention and that vision verse is like the pessimistic version where we just basically don't invest people in all basically we figure the interleave whatever and just kind of like make it sort of not many just my don't that place work again and I think if you think about the job hopping is 1 that's 1 symptoms of it when the reasons why you do it is because you're bored you know if we can create a I think a environment where people don't really get bored they always feel challenged and here we have a better chance of wanting to stick around and that's true for me so that we about 2 questions to they give money on case there so if I
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