Keeping developers' skills current isn't an easy task. Here's how Frontier Software goes about it.

In his previous roles, Darren Hnatiw found Pluralsight's learning platform a good way to invest in employees skills and to ensure they had good information on the latest technologies, so he introduced it to HR and payroll software and services provider Frontier Software when he joined the company as its CTO.

Around 170 developers work for Frontier Software (which handles payroll for 10% of Australia's workforce), and keeping them up to date with the frameworks and technologies used by the company had been a challenge.

Pluralsight helps "make sure we're not leaving people behind," he said, because it doesn't just offer "excellent content... it helps address a lot of issues" such as identifying those who need extra support in a particular area.

Even then, individuals sometimes struggle to grasp a particular technology. For example, "not everyone can be a front-end developer," Hnatiw observed.

But "they've been given an opportunity" to develop skills, and that leads to more engagement.

"It's an investment for the business, in the individual."

Unlike some companies, Frontier Software puts a premium on experience, and some of its developers have been with the company for 35 years. While they have an excellent understanding of the business, they have been insulated from some of the technology changes.

Knowledge of the business is important, so it is better to reskill than hire, he said, especially as an existing employee's valuable time is needed to bring a recruit up to speed.

Pluralsight helped Hnatiw successfully transition most projects (the main exceptions were those relating to legislative changes) from waterfall to Agile. Completing specific courses and achieving certain scores on the associated tests became part of employees' KPIs.

Another example was a transition from the AccuRev repository to Git. This "required a lot of training," he said.

Selecting and allocating specific training courses to the developers meant they gained a shared understanding, which resulted in a much broader and easier adoption of Git.

While Pluralsight can and is used for directed learning, Frontier Software's staff can use it in their own time to explore technologies of interest, and this has led to some interesting conversations and suggestions that can solve business problems.

Examples include applying robotic automation to integration issues, using blockchain to ensure payroll ledgers are immutable, and providing users with AI-driven insights into their data.

"It's been great," said Hnatiw.

This freedom to take whatever courses interest an individual isn't about paying people to indulge in their hobby, but there are no restrictions on the courses Frontier Software's technical staff take in their own time.

This does mean there are occasions when employees develop a passion for a technology that isn't relevant to Frontier and so move on to another company, but Hnatiw evidently feels this is a small price to pay for the increased skills and engagement of the majority who remain.

The platform also helps him assemble project teams, as it reveals people with the required skills even if they haven't actually used them at work. This came into its own for a recent project that had to be completed within two months – Hnatiw could see who knew the technologies involved, and the deadline was met.

Pluralsight managing director for ANZ/APAC Mike Featherstone said Frontier Software shows the good business case for adopting Pluralsight.

Defined learning paths can be tied to business outcomes, and employees can be exposed to new technologies that might prove useful to the company. Furthermore, it provides data to help make business decisions, and can be used to identify the skills individuals are likely to need.

Originally published on itwire July 2020.