A few years ago, while working at a startup company in Kuala Lumpur, I received an email from the company CTO reading something like: “Salam, let’s introduce weekly brown bags for our technology team.” After reading that email I thought “why do we need brown bags for our team?!.” I didn’t know what kind of brown bags we were talking about – I could only think of the physical brown bags! Thanks to Google, I quickly learned what my boss meant by that.
Brown bags can be defined as: A brown bag also known as brown bag talk, brown bag session, brown bag lunch, brown bag meeting, or simply a BB is an informal knowledge sharing meeting that takes place over lunch – usually at an office cafeteria or in the office conference room.
Fun fact: The term brown bag is taken from the real brown paper sack in which many people bring their lunch to work!
When I joined DiUS last year, I was really impressed by the brown bag sessions held at our Melbourne office. All of the brown bags are appropriately planned (who will be the presenter, what are we going to eat, etc.). I learnt that DiUS sees real value in these sessions and has invested heavily in it.
Matt Fellows talks about the Code Club he runs at a local primary school.
We have a brown bag every week on Tuesday. So far it has been working really well for us. Any DiUS employee can volunteer to present their knowledge on a variety of topics. We also invite guest speakers who are industry experts from different companies for our brown bag talks. These topics include:
- Software Development
- Cloud Computing
- User Experience / User Research
- Hardware programming
- Internet of Things
And, there is always plenty of yummy food to eat. Unlike the traditional concept of brown bag where you are supposed to bring your own food, DiUS provides lunch. Overall, these weekly meetups offer us a perfect platform to share knowledge, learn, eat, and socialise (and brag about our footy team’s performance).
Food at a typical brown bag.
Share Knowledge, Learn, Eat, and Socialise
There are various benefits for us attending these sessions. We can share knowledge with other team members. It also helps the presenter learn from our listeners through their questions, observations, and feedback.
Learning new things is one major benefit of these meetings. You learn about interesting topics, tools, and technologies which you never thought of learning before. For example, in our recent brown bags, I have learnt quite a few things about:
- Graph DB (and databases overall)
- Big data
- Latest industry trends in user experience
- Inception sessions
- Google design sprints
- Teaching kids how to code
- and best CSS frameworks for your projects etc.
I would not have self-initiated reading about these topics but after attending the recent brown bags I have developed interest in teaching kids how to code. So, these sessions and the discussions after promote a long lasting learning and sharing culture within the company. These learnings can later be applied to the projects we work on. Doing that really helps us perform better.
Ron talks about Pact at a brown bag.
Socialisation is another key benefit we get out of these sessions. As being consultants, most of us, most of the time work for different clients at different locations – away from “our mothership” – my favourite term for DiUS office. Brown bags are a perfect weekly tool to keep us connected with our mothership. Not only that, it offers us a chance to socialise with our old colleagues as well as the new ones during work hours. Brown bags give us the chance to talk with our buddies, seniors, and new starters about random stuff. It builds trust and creates a strong bond among us. This bond later helps us form coherent and productive teams (with those random colleagues of ours who we socialise with) when we go work for a new client.
Competitive foosball in the Melbourne Office.
BONUS Point: We have a Foosball table too (no, it’s not a database table, I promise.). Feel like a pro? Challenge me next time you come to a brown bag.