Apprenticeship: Lessons Learned
This is a living document where we'll keep a record of lessons we've learned, good and bad, with the Apprentice program so far. This document will be updated regularly after overall retros with Apprentices are completed, but if you have other feedback you wish to include, open a PR immediately.
Because we have limited bandwidth for selecting both Apprentices and Mentors in comparison to the number of applicants, there are a few things we've seen that help in narrowing down the field:
- Good Apprentice candidates have a strong desire to learn, not simply a desire to have a job.
- For candidates who are borderline hires for a Level 1 position, offering the opportunity for an apprenticeship can give both Vokal and the potential hire some breathing room to learn in a more structured environment before taking on a full battery of Level 1 responsibilities.
- Since Apprentices do not go through the full interview process, make sure to ask less formal interview-style questions after an Apprentice's code challenge.
- Ask Apprentices why they're interested in the Apprenticeship. Those who are truly excited about it will always give you much better answers than those who are not.
- If a Mentor has inconsistent work, it can be difficult for the Apprentice to learn as much. Make sure that Mentors have a steady stream of work lined up.
- A Mentor must be willing to be brutally honest with their Apprentice - sugarcoating areas where the Apprentice is falling short helps no one.
- A person who has mentored an Apprentice outside of Vokal (whether through MobileMakers or another organization) should not be that person's Vokal Mentor in order to prevent any potential conflict of interest.
- Mentors should not be constantly mentoring. They should try to take at least a few weeks between Apprentices so they can focus on their own growth.
During The Apprenticeship
Once the apprenticeship begins, there are several other things we've seen that can help lead to a higher success rate in the program:
- For the independent project, Apprentices should start with a subject they are interested in, not simply a project that starts from "I want to learn technology X." This will help the Apprentice stay focused when they hit the inevitable roadblocks with any new technology.
- Apprentices should schedule one or two days per week to be specifically dedicated to Apprentice-only duties.
- Apprentices should use small sample projects to help check off skills on the Skills Sheet which they are not able to address through either their main Vokal project or their independent apprenticeship project.
- Apprentices should share knowledge they gain while working on their projects with the rest of the team - they are often working on more cutting-edge technologies than the rest of us, and can quickly become leaders in those technologies.
- If the Mentor's work unexpectedly dries up during the Apprenticeship, work with the Senior Engineer(s) in your discipline to figure out who else they can help out with real project work.
- Make sure the Apprentice jumps into code on an app as quickly as possible. The quicker an Apprentice starts writing production code and getting feedback on PRs, the quicker they will improve.
- Check in with the Apprentice regularly, particularly if they're not opening regular pull requests. Apprentices should be asking questions when they get stuck, but particularly towards the beginning of the Apprenticeship they may need guidance on what "stuck" really looks like in practice.
- Go through at least one PR on another project with the Apprentice - this will help the Apprentice understand what the Mentor looking for, and how they're providing both criticism and positive reinforcement.
- Do not assume that an Apprentice will magically get better when they are granted the title of a Level 1 Engineer. If there are areas where a Mentor has concerns about their Apprentice, these should be addressed early and often. If an Apprentice still does not show improvement after clear interventions, this is a sign that they may not be the right fit for Vokal in the long term.
After The Apprenticeship
There should be regular follow-up with graduates of the Apprentice program to see how they're doing - and particularly once they've been working independently for a while, how they feel the program could be improved.