On-The-Job Learning in the Software Industry: Corporate Culture and the Acquisition of Knowledge

On-The-Job Learning in the Software Industry: Corporate Culture and the Acquisition of Knowledge

On-The-Job Learning in the Software Industry: Corporate Culture and the Acquisition of Knowledge

On-The-Job Learning in the Software Industry: Corporate Culture and the Acquisition of Knowledge

Synopsis

This book explores the daily work lives and learning experiences of programmers and other professionals in the computer-software industry. The book focuses on the staff of one small software firm, allowing workers to tell their own stories, describing their work and their use of all the resources available to them in learning the complex systems they are required to develop and maintain. Based in qualitative sociological method, it is an ethnography of a business setting as well as a study of learning.

Excerpt

This book is an analysis of the skills that workers in one field, namely, programmers and other professionals in the computer-software industry, have used to learn the systems on which they work. These people spend their working hours analyzing, designing, enhancing, correcting, testing, and maintaining software systems. How do they know what they are working on? How do they know the effect that a change in one part of a complex system will have on another part? How do they know where to go for help? How much is their learning specific to the field (available, perhaps, by specialized academic training or through initiation into an informal guild), and how much is really the same sort of activity by which they learned how to drive in traffic (as opposed to learning how to drive)?

Another interesting question is that of individual differences in learning versus situational differences. Learning theorists have spent decades developing models of "cognitive style" or "learning style." Based on laboratory models or classroom behavior, these theories have tried to identify individual differences in learners, consistencies within people that they carry from place to place, from one learning situation to another, like a pillow that makes them comfortable at the opera, the beach, or the bus stop. (We shall examine and attempt to apply some of these models in chapter 10.) Researchers have paid much less attention to situational consistencies. How similar do people become just by virtue of doing the same thing in the same place at the same time for the same boss? Perhaps the pillows people carry with them mold so well to their surroundings as to be irrelevant. Maybe what is important in learners is their ability to adapt, rather than a set of fixed traits (learning style, then, rather like skin color or left- or right-handedness, is nothing to be prejudiced about, but it doesn't tell us anything useful, either). As with most false dichotomies, the answer, of course, is somewhere in between. I do not pretend to say exactly where, but in this work I present some real people doing what they do and . . .

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