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Brown Bags at Unleashed Technologies: What They Are & Why We Do Them

DrupalCon Baltimore is over and we’re all back to our day-to-day routines. It was nice to take some time off and devote it to learning.  Unfortunately, we’re not going to be back to DrupalCon until next year in Nashville. How do we encourage a culture of continuous improvement and learning in between DrupalCons? At Unleashed Technologies, we take a practical approach and put on a series of internal Lunch and Learns we endearingly call ‘Brown Bags.’

What is a Lunch and Learn?

A Lunch and Learn is meant to be a brief session on a topic with a focus on teaching an emerging technology or getting more in depth with something applicable to the team. And, of course, we do it during lunch so it can be an informal or last-minute gathering. Everyone in the company is invited and we’ll often get someone from sales or marketing stopping in just to keep up their technical knowledge or ask a few questions. Lunch and Learn events are not mandatory trainings (we have those too), but it is great to see the room fill up with people who are passionate about keeping up with the latest trends in technology.

A Great Place to Practice

One thing we’ve noticed is that a Lunch and Learn is a great place to practice before giving a talk at a local MeetUp or conference. Every session taught by one of our staff at a conference was practiced as a Lunch and Learn to get feedback, tweak the slides, and fine tune the delivery. Our staff enjoys getting a preview and giving valuable feedback. Practicing in front of coworkers is a terrific way to gain the confidence to present in front of strangers.

Where to Start?

If you’re trying to start up a Lunch and Learn series, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Start Small – Send out an invite and announce the first one. Don’t start a committee or establish a group to plan it. Just schedule it and see who shows up.
  2. Vary the Topics – Don’t feel the need to stick to certain topics. Change it up often and adapt to what people want to learn more about. Here are a few of the topics we have covered in the last few months:
    1. Symfony App in 8 minutes – an introduction to Symfony with an emphasis on building a basic web app
    2. Design Thinking for Developers – rapid prototyping with interdisciplinary teams
    3. In Defense of Fear – a session about overcoming fear and procrastination
    4. Presenting Best Practices – advice for presenting and giving presentations
    5. PhpStorm: 42 Tips and Tricks – a more technical session on how to use PhpStorm and other development tools
  3. Invite Participation – Plan the first few sessions with other presenters. As each session builds up, invite attendees to be thinking of their own topics they could present on, as well.

The goal is to encourage participation and to get the metaphorical ball rolling. Once it’s rolling, the meetings can evolve and change according to your company’s needs. Perhaps people want to learn more about innovative technologies in your industry? Perhaps attendees want to learn more about what other people in the company are working on? Or, perhaps, feedback from sessions proves to favor technical sessions as a more valuable topic.

Regardless of how you choose to implement it, the bottom line is this: Lunch and Learns prove to be a significant way to promote staff involvement, foster a sense of community, and share ideas within the company. Inevitably, that leads to more passion and open discussion about the things your organization is doing, and that’s always a good thing.

Photo Attribution:

By Matt Edward (https://www.flickr.com/photos/onespace/6813297315) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons