The Power of 15 Minutes

I enjoy learning. Ah, the child's joy at discovering a new Django app, a new shell crazyness! (echo "ls -l" | at midnight, really??) And still: Finding the time to do that is a struggle. For me, that's one of the major challenges of being a software developer: Penetrating the deep technology jungle around any language or field of technology. And then staying up to date on things. Would be great if we would do that by habit, no?

Unfortunately, my daily job at a startup defies building this habit. There's always something urgent to be done. Someone waiting. Some deadline. That is fine in the short term: Something urgent and important should be done immediately.

And so the weeks go by.

… but learning is fun! And it's vital to my career! I want to do it! How to make it happen, then?

Key for learning anything substantial is persistence. It's the same for staying up to date on a fast-moving topic: You need to keep at it. You're in for a marathon. Sprinters fail.

Introducing “15 Minutes”

One tool we're trying out at engageSPARK is “15 Minutes”. For 15 minutes every day we look at a project that we stumbled over. We read a blog article that a friend recommended. We play with a new library that we found on Hacker News. It's all about getting an overview of our ecosystems (Python, JavaScript, Go). And it's about that bell that rings in your head when you run into a problem … but vaguely remember that you saw that solution somewhere.

How does “15 Minutes” work?

Three steps:

  • Everybody picks a topic that they're interested in. When everybody is ready …
  • 15 Minutes, starting now! Everybody reads their article, test-runs their project, prototypes their API.
  • Time's up, Stop! Taking turns, everybody presents what they learned. Can be a tiny demo in a REPL or just a quick explanation.

Lessons we learned:

Time & Duration

  • 15 Minutes only. Be strict, be fair. Because it's only about getting an overview. Because others, who are done, should not waste their time waiting. And because it helps you justify your use of company time each day.
  • Pick a time, so you don't forget. We do it after our daily sync meeting.
  • Don't have too many ppl join — presentations will take too much time. Likewise, keep presentations short.


  • For choosing topics it helps, if you have a list available that everybody can read and add to during the day. I've a Trello board for that, but a Google Spreadsheet also works.
  • Be liberal in your topics: Not everybody has to be super interested in every topic. Topics unrelated to your daily work broaden the horizon, and ring that bell just fine.


  • It's not about winning, it's about repetition. Sometimes libraries are not installable, blog articles not worth their time and projects not ready for prototyping. Then somebody has nothing to present. Make sure to skip that person without a hassle.
  • Focus on the fun in learning. Don't force people to present. Let them join in, however they want, if they want.

Simple enough to get started quickly, but thru repetition powerful enough to make a big difference in the long run.