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Everyone in AO Tech wants to improve and challenge themselves, so when Mike Chadwick and Tom Maddocks started our Learning Hub workshops, it was an overnight success.

Given they’ve needed to transition from a learning platform to a fully remote offering in light of the pandemic, we wanted to learn about the tips and tricks they’ve picked up along the way.

How long have you both been with AO?

Mike: I’m the Engineering Manager and I’ve been at AO since 2014. I work across all teams in AO Tech with the goal of broadly raising the engineering bar. That involves all manner of things from best practices to upskilling and coaching the teams.

Tom: I’ve been here since 2016, and I’m the Front End Manager now. My day to day is working on initiatives together with Mike as well as supporting my team. There’s about 25 Front End Developers now across Manchester and Bolton.


Tell us a bit about AO’s Learning Hub and why they started

Mike: Teaching is something that’s really close to my heart, I used to be a teacher in my twenties and Tom’s really passionate about it as well. Late last year, with the transition from a project-centric culture to a product-centric one, we were really asking a lot of our teams and the expectation was quite high to adapt and still perform to the level we wanted.

We realised that we needed upskilling opportunities to support this, so we looked across the department and within teams like Front End, BA and UX, we saw there were lots of workshops running already but they were kept local to those communities. Because of the nature of cross functional teams, the lines naturally start to blur so you very rarely find yourself sticking to one specialism.

So what we did was talk to the people who ran these workshops, consolidated them under one umbrella and then opened them up to the entire department so everyone has access to all these different learning opportunities across development and delivery.


Sounds like a big undertaking, how did you go from idea to execution?

Tom: Well when we consolidated the workshops, there was probably more than 50 from BA, QA, Front End, Back End, Dev Ops and all over. So for the first phase, we launched by putting a vote out to the entire department to see what was most popular and ended up with a good range of topics across the board. At the moment they’re a mix of hands-on workshops, presentations and shared discussions, but we’ll be getting videos in the future too.

Mike: One of the things we tried to aim for initially was to take all the heavy lifting away from the workshop owners. Before, they’d have to find a room, send out invites and all the administrative headache that comes with that. We wanted to take that off their plate so all they had to do was turn up on the day, deliver the workshop and hopefully that’s incentive for them to continue helping and contributing. And the interest has been really good, each session has been pretty much fully booked so far.


Has working from home affected the uptake for the Learning Hub?

Tom: Short answer is no. Two weeks ago, we launched a trial of 3 sessions from home to see if there were any teething issues and we’ve just released the next wave which is 7 workshops. At the minute 4 of those are fully booked already and they’ve only been live a few days. I think more people are willing to take the time during lockdown because they’ll be keen on upskilling, but they don’ have the pressures of being in the office.


What’s the future for Learning Hub then? What advice would you give other people in your position looking to hold workshops like this?

Tom: My advice for that would be to start small. In Front End, we were already doing workshops for our teams and everyone in AO Tech was as well. Start small and within your team, and look to the kind of subjects they can create the content to upskill each other. It can be tough if you don’ have that learning culture, so we’re lucky that AO gives us the time to hold a 3-hour workshop from time to time.

We’re also integrating key workshops into onboarding for new AO tech members to help prepare them for our ways of working, and for internally promoted people to set them up for success in their new role.. We’re going to record the workshops so we want it to be something you can log on to watch past presentations, see the slides and listen to the Q&As. Then if there’s an update to the technologies, the presenters can go back and hold a bigger, better version of their workshop.


It’s clear that helping people grow is a big part of Learning Hub, but what is it about AO and the AOers that get people behind this and want to take part?

Mike: The nature of software development is that it changes so often with new tools and techniques and it’s really important that we give the means for people to keep up with that. I think we’re a business that evolves quite quickly and people come to AO to build a career. They come in with particular skills, but we help them get on the path that they want to explore as part of their progression. What Learning Hub does as part of that is provide them with different options so they can become really multi-faceted and follow a path they’re really passionate about. They end up getting a lot out of it from a personal development perspective, but so does AO as a wider business.

Tom: The culture comes from the management, they’ve allowed us to continue on the path we’re on. We offer loads of resources online away from this but to us, there’s nothing better than someone you work with that’s an expert in that field teaching people about it and making it very tailored to our situation. The benefit to the business is massive as well but it’s important to improve your own personal skills. It’s a no-brainer to us, really.