Lunch and Learn: why we do it and why you should too

Once a week, we gather together company-wide for Lunch and Learn. Every Wednesday, all of us (regardless of team, meetings or schedule that day) will sit together over lunch to learn about - anything! One person presents about a subject they’re interested in, a cause they care about or a side project they’re working on while the rest of us listen and learn over catered lunch from a nearby restaurant.

mark josephson, lunch and learn

It’s more than a weekly perk for us to look forward to, it’s an important statement about the values we share as a company and the environment we try to cultivate at our office. At Bitly, our Lunch and Learns focus on one of the most important aspects of our company: the people.

“Lunch and Learn doesn’t have to be a lesson. What’s different about ours is that it’s unique to the person,” said Katie Curri, Bitly’s office manager.

Katie is the one-woman show behind our weekly Lunch and Learns. She orders the food, schedules the presenters and rallies us all back every Wednesday to unwind and learn together.

Why have a Lunch and Learn?

Lunch and Learn has grown from a weekly perk into a weekly tradition. We’ve incorporated it into our routine because:

  • It helps with transparency and understanding: “Even though we all work together, we’re on different teams and we might not know what everyone is working on all the time,” Katie said. This happens frequently at companies of all different sizes; you might understand what projects your team is working on, but not know the team across the office. Lunch and Learns can serve as a platform for teams to explain their responsibilities. When you understand what everyone does on a day-to-day basis, you have a new appreciation for each employee at your company and understand where they fit.

  • It builds community: “How much time do you spend at your job? For many of us, it’s a big chunk of our lives. We might as well make it a fun place that is supportive and where you know people care about you,” Katie said. “When you know who people are outside of work, it makes who they are at work so much richer.” At Bitly, our Lunch and Learns aren’t about work - they’re about people. They give everyone a chance to showcase their outside projects, interests and who they are as a person.

  • It fosters learning and growth: “It’s good to have an environment that people can build off of - Bitly started out as a side project and it became a company. You never know what can happen when you start bouncing ideas with people you don’t normally work with,” Katie said. An environment where people are encouraged to learn also encourages them to grow their technical skills or their personal ones. “A lot of people here will have the opportunity in the future to speak about what they know at conferences or events,” Katie added. “Lunch and Learn can give those who aren’t as comfortable speaking in front of people a chance to do that.”

Lunch and Learns of the Past

We’ve covered a bunch of topics since starting Lunch and Learn at the beginning of the year. Some of our most memorable lunches featured guest speakers, game tournaments and interesting side projects. Past Lunch and Learns included:

  • How to Build an App with our iOS developer, Nate Kirby

  • What Makes Puns Funny with front-end engineer, Jenna Zeigen

  • Coding 101 with data scientist, Alfred Lee

  • The Internet of Things with our platform product manager, Andrew Pinzler

  • Dots Tournament

  • Columbia Journalism School + Bitly with Sree Sreenivasan and the J-School professors

  • The Importance of International Collaboration with astronaut Ron Garan

  • Gifhorse and Giphy with our lead front-end developer Jeff Tierney and Giphy founder Jace Cooke

  • Pictionary Showdown

  • Customer Communication with business development, Nico Snyder

  • Soul Pancake with Katie Curri

  • RAGBRAI with Betaworks head of corporate development, Sam Mandel

  • Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament

  • Intern Show-and-Tell with our summer interns

How to start your own Lunch and Learn

Interested in bringing Lunch and Learn into your office? Organization is key to starting any company-wide initiative, Katie said. Here are some of her tips to make yours a success:

  • Plan for the same date and time each week: “A big reason why we started Lunch and Learn was because I wanted to make sure there was consistency and structure. If you build structure to people’s routine, it helps them do their best work. It’s a comfort thing - you’ll always come to work on Wednesday and you can always expect lunch and to learn about something new,” Katie said.

  • Plan lunches and presentations in advance: Katie usually plans who will be teaching at Lunch and Learn and from where lunch will be catered about a month in advance. Local restaurants are great options to order from, or personalize your Lunch and Learn even more by asking for employees favorite restaurants. Katie organizes our favorite restaurants into a Bitly bundle to order from again. Too busy to research a lunch spot? Don’t worry - startups like Cater2Me and ZeroCater have services to help you out.

  • Be persistent: Most people will need regular encouragement to participate in a weekly Lunch and Learn (we still need Katie to remind us it’s time to take a break and head back for lunch) but with persistence, it can grow into an event that everyone looks forward to. Now, we regularly approach Katie and volunteer to lead Lunch and Learn or to suggest a spot to order from. “When you start something, the goal is that you don’t have to actively continue it,” Katie said. “The goal is for it to become something on its own. It takes awhile, but it’s happening.”

Interested in joining us for a Lunch and Learn? Good news - the pufferfish is expanding! We’re looking for people of all different backgrounds, from salespeople to scientists, developers to product managers. Take a look at our current openings here.