Last Monday I once again attended the Software Craftsmanship Group meeting
where a panel was held on the topic of Apprenticeship. I was expecting to see
a discussion about what constitutes apprenticeship and the master-apprentice
relationship. Instead, the conversation was mostly around two examples of companies
that have apprenticeship programs.
Dave Hoover from
and Paul Pagel from
8th Light contrasted their approaches.
Uncle Bob posted his impressions
about the two programs and his own experiences of carrying an apprentice program,
so I won't bother you with a similar (but less qualified) report.
I did bring back a few conclusions and questions, though:
- It's hard to convince someone to take a job as an apprentice when
higher-paying (or better titled) jobs are available.
- Someone that is willing to take such position will inevitably be passionate for the craft and hungry for knowledge. This eventually helps weeding out the inadequate candidates.
- Mentors need to keep up with the apprentices. Often they'll outgrow
your ability to keep them busy and interested.
- It takes a lot of energy and investment from the company and mentor to
properly guide an apprentice into the path to journeyman. When that
apprentice leaves the company, I'm afraid the loss is too big and
maybe there wasn't enough time to recoup that investment.
- Both cases presented had not experienced a failure yet, which
is good, I guess. But it also leaves me wondering if it really works.
Failures can assist validating the successes, the trick is always
tweaking the process to keep
the failure rate low (but zero is always suspicious.)
- It seems too easy to have an apprenticeship program deteriorate into
just internship — with a fancy name.
I'll post an update with a link to the video of the meeting if that becomes available.
My Apprenticeship Process
Interestingly enough, I had a chance to join an apprenticeship program
a long time ago, before I got into software development.
Between high school and college I started a 5-month internship as an
Electronics Technician at a local TV station. The official title was
intern but it was pretty obvious there was a lot more going on.
By that time I was in my teens, and very passionate about Electronics,
probably just as much as I am now about software. At the TV station I
had the honor of working with a true master of that profession. My mentor
not only knew the ins and outs of professional audio and video equipment,
but he also loved to talk about that and teach his hard-earned techniques
to us. He was as highly regarded as any professional can be. Still,
his purpose in life seemed to be that every technician was as good or better than him.
Even though I learned more in those 5 months than in my 5 years in college,
after seeing my mentor at work I could never dare to say I was anything
more than an apprentice. The impression that I carry with me to this day
is that apprenticeship is a long process. Even if you get promoted after
a while, it's hard to say you're no longer an apprentice. The lines between
apprentice, journeyman, and master are indeed blurry.
Unfortunately, in my software career I have never had a chance to go
through similar process. Instead, like most of us, I was simply thrown
in the fire and fought my way out of it. I learned a lot in these situations,
but I'm sure I also wasted a lot of time doing the wrong things until I
figured out the right ones. A good mentor would have guided me to the
right options without depriving me of the discovery and accomplishment
Hooray for masters and apprentices! Both with tiny egos and great passion.
Both seeking continuous improvement.
01-21-2009 1:03 AM