Free Online Resources
So much of what we do in the web industry is conducted entirely in public. All the documentation you will need for what you do, and a good deal of all the other resources on any given topic, will be freely available. The problem really is finding those resources, and reading them. It doesn’t cost money to solve this problem though, and you can make sure that your own professional development doesn’t suffer for lack of formal training courses or conferences. Watching videos of a conference talk is never the same as being there, but they can still be valuable.
I’m a PHP developer, so I subscribe to phpdeveloper.org which picks up the best of the new content for PHP. If the post is long, I’m on my phone, or I’m pushed for time, I just send it over to instapaper.com and read it later on my kindle.
You will also find great links and debate on any one of a number of mailing lists; take a look on Google Groups to find ones that are related to your areas of interest.
Does Zero Mean Zero?
Even if conference attendance is not an option, is there some wriggle room on zero? Perhaps you can get a book covering something that you will need to implement soon, or a subscription to a relevant magazine such as netmag or php|architect. I am also seeing a lot of subscription-based video/online learning solutions popping up as well – all these are things that a team can share.
Time, Not Money
I once worked at a place which had the zero training budget policy, however they gave everyone in the deparment one day per month to work on their own professional development. These “study days” were an opportunity to get a book or a tutorial from a more senior person, then spend some time working on that skill. I see this as such a sound business decision that now I am freelance, I still have a regular, scheduled study day in my calendar, when I work on updating my skills and I love it. As I already mentioned, there are some great resources around, and hopefully you have some good books in your office too, so a little breathing space from a hectic project schedule can go a really long way to keeping your skills updated and your team performing.
Most employers can manage to release you for a day, so it is well worth asking if a policy like this is an option – if it is, it is your responsibility to make sure you get the time that was laid out in the policy. Your professional development is your responsibility, look out for yourself.
This one depends entirely on where you are and which events you can find out about which are running locally. I think I live in the world’s best PHP user group hotspot (feel free to tell me if you have awesome groups where you are) since Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield all have their own groups (@leedsphp, @phpnw and @shefphp) and are all within an hour of one another. User groups are a great way to meet people, share ideas and access excellent talks for free. In the last three weeks I’ve been to a talk about PHP 5.4 features, a workshop on using Symfony, and a talk about github (admittedly, I was giving that last one, but it’s still a good selection!). If there isn’t a user group near you, consider starting one. No, I am not crazy, and yes, I do mean you. Just do it.
Other events to look out for are more general technical events. A BarCamp is usually inexpensive and will give you the chance to hear, and give, talks on a wide variety of subjects. The TEDx events are always inspiring and I also enjoy the girlgeek dinners – you might find that even if there’s nothing in your exact niche, events are happening which cover a wider range of topics … chances are you will still learn something.
If you think conferences are expensive, think again. If you’re going to fly from Europe to ZendCon and stay in the conference hotel, then that would admittedly be expensive. However (again this depends where you are) to attend a couple of events which are relatively local to you, paying for tickets, travel and accommodation yourself, is a very good way to help yourself to new people, new content, and new ideas – and excellent drinking, I mean networking, opportunities. The same goes for training courses; some are very reasonably priced, particularly the online options, so don’t rule out investing some of your own money now to improve your prospects later.
A measurable proportion of attendees at especially the volunteer-run, regional conferences will have paid their own way, as do a proportion of the attendees on the training courses I run. I know I was paying my own way for the first several conferences I attended – some give free entry to volunteers who will help with registration and running the rooms, for example, or you could arrange to share a hotel room with someone to help keep costs down. If you’re local to me then WhiskyWeb in April in Edinburgh and PHPNW in October in Manchester are both options which won’t break the bank and contain excellent content.
A Training Budget of Zero
If your employer doesn’t want to invest in your future, will you leave it at that? Or will you find ways to keep growing yourself? I’m really interested to know how others work around this situation to find something better, so I created a poll – let me know what you think?