What is it like to start a study group at work

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Have you ever had the feeling that you got so passionate about something that you have to share it to everyone around you? You gotta force people to be passionate about it, am I right? I was so thrilled about Python two years ago, on the day I finally understood what list comprehension is. I had never knew programming could be so… enjoyable. Gradually from chit-chatting with colleagues, to going to a local meetup group and writing blog posts, I wish to find yet another way to share this amazing technology and to help people. So I thought about starting a Python study group in my workplace..

..And I started a Python study group in my workplace 30 minutes later. This is what happened in the 30 minutes:

Minute 1 — Chatting with my buddy in the office “Hey I am thinking about starting a Python study group at work. Do you want to help me?” “Yeah, I’ll help you.” “Cool, I’ll write an email and send it to a bunch of people.” Minute 5 — writing email furiously Minute 10 — re-writing email furiously thrilled and scared the hell out of myself occasionally Minute 30 — sent “PHEW”

Thinking of it today, that single click on the send button, was one of the best feeling in the world. Both frightening, and exciting. Of course my buddy and I encounter obstacles initially and sometimes throughout the two years, but here I want to share the recipe of running a study group at your workplace.

The Recipe

You’ll need:

  1. A co-organizer — I wouldn’t have been able to run the study group by myself for 2 years without the help of my buddy.
  2. Space — Use an unoccupied company conference room. Keep using the same room to form a habit for the group.
  3. Time — Use you lunch break. Tell everyone to bring their lunch to the group.
  4. Frequency — Once a week. Initially I thought Friday would be the best because things are usually slower on Friday. Now our group settled on every Wednesday.
  5. People — Colleagues.
  6. Materials/topics — The ___ that you totally passionate about.

This recipe is definitely taking advantage of our workplace. So I would make sure to justify myself that the study group is beneficial to my employer. For a tech company, a movie study group might be on the riskier end that I wouldn’t recommend. But Python yes in where I work.

What’s hard

Keeping the study group running is hard. In the early days, I sometimes feel people are watching us to fail. We had 30+ people show up at the very first meetup; then it quickly went down to 10 by the end of the month. For the first few months, we definitely was putting a lot more efforts preparing the materials before the meetup, almost like giving a conference talk, in hope to retain more people. It finally settled down to around 8 people each time. And I’m happy about the size :) Once we built up enough momentum, it just became easier. We weren’t spending that much time preparing. Occasionally we just let the conversation flow throughout the meetup. I’m not a talkative person, and I enjoy letting other people talk. I think the ultimate goal is the group to continue running even when my buddy and I are absent.

What’s interesting (unexpected)

The funniest thing is that I somehow establish myself as some sort of a Python guru, which I’m not. I do enjoy sharing and teaching people, but I’m an intermediate Python programmer at best. It definitely put a lot of pressure on me when people start asking you quite a lot of questions that you have no idea what-so-ever. And interestingly, I found myself learning a lot better when I try to teach others. Some people learn better from books, some from videos, and for me, I learn better from teaching! It was very excited to me to realize this.

And strangely, I gradually got more and more recognition in the company. The co-workers from other division that has Python questions, the new projects need someone who is proficient in Python to prototype things, and that new group working on the Machine Learning model? I got questions here and there. Somehow my buddy and I were getting those attentions. It usually wasn’t a bad thing unless it was a busy day.

Final thoughts

I think starting a study group at the workplace is totally worth it. It isn’t hard. The recipe is up there. I had to admit that I wasn’t happy about my work environment years ago, and particularly I wasn’t happy about the technology stack my workplace was using. Everything had changed since we started the study group. Now more people are talking about using Python in the company. We have a nice small community to discuss technology as well. It has been an very enjoyable (and additional) work for two years now. Really. Try it. This isn’t like running a startup. You really don’t have anything to lose for failing.