In episode #8 of the Giant Robots Smashing into other Giant Robots podcast, Ben Orenstein is joined by Gabe Berke-Williams and Edward Loveall. Gabe is developer at thoughtbot and the product manager of the thoughtbot apprenticeship program, apprentice.io. Edward is a current design apprentice.
Gabe, Edward, and Ben talk about apprentice.io, how it works, it’s successes, and lessons learned. They also discuss how Gabe goes about mentoring new developers, and effective learning and teaching methods. Edward also gives his perspective on his apprenticeship how it went, his typical day as an apprentice, his advice for incoming apprentices, and much more.
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Over 150 developers and designers have applied to apprentice.io and 17 have been accepted. The majority left their previous jobs to apprentice with us and we’re currently booked through September, with some apprentices scheduled for 2013.
Based on feedback from employers, we’re changing the way the program works.
Starting immediately, there will not be a monthly fee for employers to participate in the program. Instead, there will be a more traditional placement fee of 20% of the first-year’s salary when you hire a graduating apprentice.
It is now free for employers to sign up and view all apprentices.
We hope removing barriers to entry and using a traditional payment model will resolve concerns employers have expressed about the program, ensuring that we can continue to train new developers and designers well into the future.
The cost of hiring from apprentice.io is comparable to using a traditional recruiter. We’re certain that like us, you’ve interacted with recruiters before…
They do very little to justify the expense. They spam networks to find people, have a poor understanding of current technology and designer/developer motivation, and send you individuals of a quality you could have found with a Craiglist post.
In contrast, apprentice.io starts with a selective application and interview process. We pay the apprentice a salary for 3 months to pair program with our experienced team and take days’ worth of our workshops.
The designers and developers of apprentice.io are more qualified and better trained than what we’ve had sent by recruiters.
We would make more money by hiring all apprentices and billing them out as consultants but that doesn’t help solve the shortage of talent that our friends at other companies (including our clients) are feeling.
It’s also more attractive for apprentices to have more options after they graduate from the program. Not every person wants to be a consultant. Every apprentice in our program, however, is interested in making great products, interfaces, and software.
If you want to hire world-class designers and developers, please join apprentice.io.
Every company we speak with could use a great web designer or developer on their team. We think we know where to find such mysterious figures.
Imagine a programmer next to you, noise-canceling headphones on, punishing his keyboard with forceful blows, punctuating each change by slamming the heels of his hands against his desk. While tests run, jolly meme photos float into Campfire.
Imagine this person writing test-first code that is pushed to production each day. Imagine them refactoring ruthlessly and making other team members stronger through feature branch code reviews.
37signals doesn’t have to imagine. Nick Quaranto now works with them.
Nick was an apprentice at thoughtbot. We cannot claim responsibility for his motivation, problem solving abilities, or other Nick-isms, but his time with us was not an aberration.
75% of the new team members we hired last year started as apprentices.
Last year, we met Prem Sichanugrist, a lifelong Thailand resident. You’ll find him currently ranked #32 for most commits to Rails.
Galen Frechette creates useful and beautiful stuff like this. Alex Godin was in Techstars New York before he could legally buy a pack of smokes. Gabe Berke-Williams is becoming a prolific (and often funny) open source contributor.
All are former thoughtbot apprentices.
We’ve now run an internal apprentice program for about two years. We’ve also run design and development workshops for years.
Like many things, these are easy to start but difficult to regularly do well. Apprentices will temporarily slow their mentors down. Questions will arise.
How much time should be spent pairing? Attending workshops? Reading the Pickaxe or watching Peepcodes? Reading incoming code reviews from a variety of projects?
We’re getting good at many of these subtle details. As a fairly efficient design-and-code consultancy, we’re the right team to try to push the limits.
We’re now opening up our apprenticeship program externally for any company that would like to sponsor apprentices. We’re calling this new program apprentice.io.
When you sign up on the website as an employer you get immediate access to the bios of all of the current apprentices and the others from all over the world that we already have scheduled for this year.
As an employer, you contact and interact with the apprentices directly. Over time we’ll grow the apprentice.io platform to provide mentor-to-employer updates on the progress of apprentices, and more.
For little more than you may already pay job boards and a lot less than you might pay recruiters, this money now goes to train people.
We think that’s a powerful idea: what if instead of recruiting, you educate?
Sign up as an employer.
If you’re a designer or developer interested in apprenticing, please apply.
If you just want to talk about this, please email me at email@example.com or call me at (877) 976-2687 x113.
Our three Apprentices, Prem Sichanugrist, Gabe Berke-Williams, and Alex Godin are rocking and rolling. We’ve been lucky to have them all on board for the last few months.
As always, we invite everyone at thoughtbot to post to the blog, and over the next few weeks you’ll start to see more, shorter, posts by them. These posts will be quicker snippets of things they are learning or find interesting.
Stay tuned, and we hope you enjoy.
We’re looking for both designers and developers who are students, recent graduates, or more experienced candidates making a techology or career change to come on as Apprentices. If you are interested in applying, please visit our jobs page. If you know someone who might be a good fit, please pass it on.
The paid apprenticeship lasts for three months and during that apprentices will work alongside members of the thoughtbot team on actual shipping software and be paired up with individual developers and designers at thoughbot who will act as their mentor. They also get to take any workshops we offer during their apprenticeship at no charge.
At the end of the apprenticeship we may offer them a position as a web designer or developer at thoughtbot.
We’ve had interns, particularly in the summer, for several years now. Over the past few years we’ve increasingly been contacted by more experienced developers who are just getting started with Ruby and looking to find a place where they can be effective, while still learning.
At thoughtbot, we also don’t have different levels of developers or designers. Everyone should essentially be capable of operating at the level of senior developer or designer (or be able to soon after starting). We do this to ensure that we can operate effectively without project managers or salespeople. However, from time to time we interview people who we think may be a good fit eventually, but need more experience. In the past, we’ve sometimes offered these people an internship as a chance to learn on the job and potentially quickly grow into the developer we need them to be.
When offering these people an internship, it never quite felt right to call them “interns” but it was the best word we had. Additionally, over time we refined the internship program to really be a path to potentially getting an offer to be a full web designer or developer at thoughtbot.
With this in mind, along with some other lesson’s learned from the previous interns, we sought to have a more structured program in place. Out of that emerged our new Apprentice program.
We think that the changes we’re making now should make the Apprentice program worthwhile to everyone involved, and we’re looking forward to the first batch of Apprentices joining us in May.