Life Getting in the Way of Learning? Use This Study Group Framework

EngineeringCategory
4 min read
Mayur JainRebekah Gil

I started leading the Cloud Platforms Services team at GoDaddy in late 2019. My team’s charter was to develop and maintain GoDaddy’s home grown AWS Service Catalog products. Additionally, my team provided guidance and support to engineers when they ran into issues deploying infrastructure in AWS. We were one of a handful of teams tasked with ensuring a successful adoption of the AWS Cloud by GoDaddy engineers. At the same time we were also trying to shift the company culture towards Developer Driven DevSecFinOps.

As if dealing with support requests from engineers everyday wasn’t enough, my seven-member team was also responsible for keeping up with the fast pace of innovation at AWS. To top it off, most of us only had a superficial knowledge of AWS services when we started. It was like flying an airplane not knowing what a lot of the knobs did. Sound familiar?

Conflicting Priorities?

Keeping up with the pace of innovation in technology while delivering on your commitments and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can sound like a pipe dream to many people. It sure sounded like one to me!

In the spring of 2020, I wanted to earn the AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification. I found some motivation, purchased an online prep-course (thankfully, GoDaddy provided a monthly learning allowance), and started studying. And then…life happened. An urgent deadline at work, daughter’s school project, extra social commitments, yada yada yada and I had to put the studying on the back burner.

Am I the only one?

I tried to block out time to prepare for the exam but failed again. Then I realized that I must not be the only one facing this issue. So I discussed my struggles with one of my direct reports, Rebekah Gil, and she mentioned she had struggled with the same problem. That’s when the idea of forming a study group - to keep each other accountable - came to mind. I ran the idea by her, and she was on-board! I had found my partner-in-crime.

Time to do some planning

The two of us joined forces to choose an online prep-course. It had 10 chapters and roughly 15 hours of video content. We divided the course into five parts with roughly three hours of content to watch every week. This gave us five weeks to complete the course and we added a sixth week to the schedule to take practice quizzes. We also enrolled a few engineers as mentors who were much more knowledgeable than us on AWS services and had taken the certification exam already. We assigned one mentor for each week and gave them the task of coming up with quizzes on the topics for that week. We also asked them to attend our weekly meetings to answer any questions the participants had.

Who wants it?

We drafted the plan and sent it to all engineers in the Cloud Platforms group. We intentionally capped the participation to 10 to keep the group small but ended up with a cohort of 12. We had a kickoff meeting with all the participants and the mentors and encouraged all participants to schedule their certification exams in advance for an extra bit of motivation. And just like that, the wheels were in motion…

The study group provided just what all of us needed, that extra bit of self-accountability and that sense of community. I kept up with my studies because I didn’t want to be that guy at the weekly meeting. We exchanged notes in a Slack channel and had very engaging conversations during our weekly meetings. Any guesses on the topic that had the longest discussion? If you guessed High Availability vs. Fault Tolerance, then you’ve probably taken the exam too.

Ah, sweet victory!

We ended up taking two extra weeks to feel confident enough to take the exam. In hindsight, we underestimated the effort required to get this certificate. But 10 out of the 12 participants were able to take the exam right after the study group ended and earned their certificates. The other two had to postpone their exams but they stayed motivated, followed through on their promises to themselves, and got their certificates a couple of months later.

After the success of this experiment, we shared the study group framework with the larger engineering community at GoDaddy. A few other groups have already adopted the study group framework and Rebekah and I organized another study group to complete the Elastic Observability Engineer course. Now our team has piloted yet another airplane with a completely different set of knobs!

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Stay curious and get better every day!

Authors

Mayur Jain with equal contribution from my partner-in-crime Rebekah Gil.