The bottom of the learning curve is a pretty awful place to be. It feels like everything you know is wrong, like everyone else knows some secret that you haven’t figured out yet. It made the start of my second week at Atlassian a lot less fun than the end of the first one. I was grumpy all the time, arriving home at the end of the day feeling like I’d just gone a few rounds with Jens Pulver.
But as the week progressed, I noticed my mood improving. I didn’t feel quite as stupid on Friday as I did on Monday. Part of this, of course, is just time. Every day I was moving higher up that damn curve. But I seemed to be moving along that curve a lot more quickly than I had in the past.
Why? What made this learning exercise different than every other time I’d started a job? Two things: a Wiki, and Atlassian’s openness.
Climbing the learning curve at work isn’t really about learning new skills, it’s learning how to apply your existing skills in a new environment. It’s all about learning how “it” gets done at the New Place, whatever “it” might be. There are new procedures to be learned, new acronyms to figure out, and new people to get to know.
Everywhere I’ve worked for the past 10 years lived on email. Email makes climbing the learning curve hard. It’s pretty tough for the New Guy to learn how things work, because all the conversations are closed, at least until you get your name on the To: line. And once you do get added to those threads, you’ve got no history or context, since all that was on some other thread from 2 weeks ago that you didn’t get to see!
But with a Wiki (like Confluence), everything is available, whenever I want it. I can browse around, looking for information that’s relevant to me. Once I find a topic I want to learn, I can read the history. I can dive as deep into the details as I want. I don’t need to wait for others to invite me into the conversation, I can take the initiative and learn what I want, when I want it.
Of course, the written word, no matter how easy to find, is no substitute for sitting down with a colleague and finding out which end is up. That part of the curve is pretty much the same here as anywhere — although these are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever worked with. Every time I’ve asked someone for help, everyone been incredibly open and generous with their time and energy. There’s no question that’s been a huge advantage in climbing the curve.
And the Wiki does have downsides, the most obvious being information overload. There is so much on the Wiki, it can be overwhelming. Confluence’s ability to create RSS feeds of stuff makes it pretty easy to keep track of the areas that I care about, but it was a lot of work figuring out my “mental filters,” and learning which parts of the Wiki I don’t really need to monitor.
Finally, just having a Wiki doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s just a tool, after all. How Atlassian uses our Wiki has had the largest impact on climbing this curve. Everything we do is done on the Wiki, not hidden in a Word Doc somewhere I can’t find, or tucked away in some guys inbox that I can’t see. Whatever I want to know I can find on the Wiki.
Need to know when the next version of Jira launches? Find it on the Wiki. Don’t remember who writes Jira’s user documentation? Search the Wiki! Need to know our FedEx account number? Its on the Wiki! It’s a product of Atlassian’s openness — everyone’s work product is out in the open, for anyone to see, comment on, and search for.
And if you think that last part is also kind of scary, well, me, too. More on that next time!

The New Guy on Climbing the Learning Curve...