Knowledge Sharing @Project A’s IT Open Space

Our quarterly Tech Open Space sessions are a chance for the team to learn, experiment, and hang out

By Paul Sturm

At Project A, we regularly try out new things to improve our daily work. Especially when it comes to knowledge sharing, we have a lot of different formats like DevTalks, Brown Bag Lunches, workshops, and others. Recently, we have initiated a new format for our IT staff: the IT Open Space.

Knowledge Sharing without Restrictions

Every first Friday of the month, all of our IT teams are invited to gather in the afternoon to share knowledge, exchange experiences, and experiment. Participation isn’t mandatory, so developers decide on their own whether to join or continue working on their current projects. Everyone is encouraged to contribute in one way or another. Whether someone is preparing a short talk, a workshop, or simply has a certain topic to discuss or work on in groups, the format is totally free. And that’s exactly how we want it to be. Everyone should be given enough creative leeway to shape our IT Open Space. Instead of adhering to fixed schedules and subjects, we want the meetings to unfold in a self-organized fashion. The main focus should be on interests and curiosity. The meeting can be seen as a platform for technical exchange and experimental coding. Some fondly call it “handicrafts afternoon”. There is no expected outcome, but if short-term or longer-term side projects grow from ideas, our IT Open Space is the right place to work on those projects.

What’s in Store?

Even though there is no explicit format for the IT Open Space, we expect that it will have positive effects on our development culture, and we’ve even already experienced some of them.

Cross-departmental knowledge sharing

Spreading knowledge all over our different IT teams is surely one of the main benefits. This can take on different forms, whether it means helping each other in solving problems we encounter in our daily work, giving short talks that could be interesting to others, or reporting from conferences we have participated in.

Since people from all IT-related teams come together, everyone is given a chance to understand how other departments organize their work or build their systems. Non-BI developers, for example, can learn how data is organized within a data warehouse. When frontend and backend, JAVA and PHP developers swap ideas, we can overcome remaining departmental barriers, gain a broader picture, and grasp what’s important for our coworkers. But also on a personal level, our IT Open Space has a positive impact: suddenly, you get to know “the other IT faces” you meet in the hallways and maybe even benefit from their knowledge.

Exploring technologies

Another cool thing about a space to experiment and learn freely is that you get the chance to play around with new technologies. And chances are good that someone can introduce you to tools, frameworks, database systems, and other software solutions. But even when it comes to technologies you already use, you might still get the chance to experience different workflows or deepen your knowledge.

Up to Now…

  • After three IT Open Space meetings, we’ve already had some positive experiences. Some of our PHP developers, for example, have explored Meteor, an open-source real-time JavaScript application framework written on top of Node.js. They were impressed with how fast you can get things running and how easily you can build working examples with little effort.
  • Our QA team has checked out DalekJS, an open-source UI testing tool written in JavaScript, as a candidate for an automated JavaScript test framework.
  • We have also gained some insights into the differences between MySQL and PostgreSQL. Florian Brick (CTO) and Martin Loetzsch (Head of BI) have shared their experiences with people who’ve so far just been working with MySQL.

Sure, our IT gathering is still in its early stage, but we’re looking forward to freely grappling with IT-related topics in the future. Of course, we’ll share interesting stuff with you on our blog.

This post was written in collaboration with Alberto Assmann.