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What is Katalyst investment time?

By Alan, Frontend Software Engineer
07 December 2022

What is Investment Time?

At Katalyst, we have been fortunate to bring together a varied team of developers, UX designers, project managers and business operations people. 

Inspired by the historic “Google 20% time” and similar initiatives in place at other boutique software consulting firms, we have an ongoing arrangement we call “investment time”. 

Every Friday we take the latter half of the day to “Invest” in ourselves as individuals, in Katalyst as a living organisation, and to give value back to the world of open-source software.

How it all works

It’s all well and good to have the worthy goal of devoting 10% of our team’s weekly effort towards skills development, but in the face of constant pressure on customer projects and other business requirements it can be difficult to “make time”. 

To overcome this we have adopted a clear guideline that is enforced by a shared team habit: every Friday afternoon is Investment Time. 

Of course, exceptions can be made to deal with the reality of urgent problems and there is flexibility to opt-out of any particular Friday, but we have a common understanding that this is not the preferred path.

Why do we do this at Katalyst?

One of the cultural principles we have adopted is to periodically re-examine our assumptions and the purposes and reasons behind our choices. So naturally, we have taken the time to think about what exactly we want to achieve from this fairly significant allocation of our shared effort. 

The investment time afternoons allow our team members opportunities to develop their skills, and scratch “technical itches” by exploring interesting topics, learning about new technologies and potentially building or improving Katalyst internal tools. Junior developers or “new to Katalyst” seniors can pair with more experienced peers to help bring themselves up to speed with the tooling, processes and expectations that comprise the “way of working” within our organisation.

Essentially, it helps our diverse group to learn practical skills from each other, spread the culture of excellence, and get to know each other. And the improvements that we have observed in team cohesion and the ease with which we all work together have been clear and obvious.

Some examples of Investment Time projects

Let's take a look at a few 'investment time' projects our staff have worked on in.

A spike with Terraform to automate part of the setup of new client servers.

There are a number of setup tasks that must be carried out when building a new web server. We invested time into learning how to use Terraform scripting to automate some of these tasks including DNS provisioning and configuration of our monitoring tools. The tool that resulted from the investment time project is now regularly used across our team.

A learning project to make a UI builder in Figma

In order to learn more about Figma and how we could use it for rapidly building out user interface mockups for client projects, we undertook a mini-project to build a design system of Form and UI components. This was an excellent way to learn more about the application and we went on to use Figma extensively in a large client project. An interesting feature of the process was how we chose to create reusable Figma components that mapped one-to-one with the existing Rails UI library we had previously developed in-house.

Built a Ruby Gem to help with monitoring

We identified an ongoing challenge with some of our client’s systems where failures in background processes would not be noticed for some time. To improve our ability to detect and respond to these incidents, we created a Ruby Gem called “katalyst-healthcheck” that could be easily included in our projects and would provide a standardised HTTP endpoint that reported the success/failure status of the background tasks runners on each server. This then allowed us to add these endpoints to our existing uptime monitoring system and create proactive alerts for issues on client servers.

Outcomes from Investment Time

Katalyst has been running our investment time program on and off for the past few years, and we are extremely happy with the outcomes. The expertise that our team gains through doing these smaller, self-contained side projects flows through to our client projects, improving the quality of the outcomes we can deliver. 

Beyond the external benefits, we are also very happy to see the effect that Investment time has had on our team's happiness. Our team members say that they value highly the chance to work on their mini-projects and thus grow their skills and learn about new aspects of their chosen careers. Multiple internal tools that remain in continuous use across the company have come out of Investment projects. And the pairing or small group nature of the investment projects has helped pull our team together and allowed individuals to get to know each other better. 

We're always interested to hear from like-minded individuals who might be interested in working with us. See our careers page for more information about opportunities at Katalyst.