Apprentice programs are definitely en-vogue as more and young engineers are graduating looking for their first job.  An apprenticeship is an amazing learning opportunity to speed your learning, build a mentor network and add real projects to your portfolio.

Last November Clique Studios built, launched, and ran our first Modern Apprentice Program (MAP). We selected three rockstars to take this spend three months learning, and growing with us.

Chicago Software Apprentice

Software Apprentice Program Learnings:

  1. Support the Mentors:  Mentoring apprentices isn’t intuitive; should I answer the question for them, or point them to resources where they can figure it out?  How often should I check in? Having a seasoned engineering leader talk with mentors about how to support your apprentices is key. Many people shared advice to help us build mentoring process including but not limited to Joe Mastey, Jill LynchBlake Wesley Thomas, Amelia PitlugaTom Benneche, Startup Institute, and DBC.
  2. Expectations: Setting appropriate expectations is hard, but it’s the companies responsibility.  Apprentices will not know exactly what it takes to be a great engineer at your company.  In our case we didn’t know either and had to learn along the way, this is hard.  Devote time with stakeholders to clarify exactly what someone needs to DEMONSTRATE to be hirable.
  3.  Feedback: Being an apprentice can feel like driving through rural Indiana with a knowledgable co-pilot whom is too busy to do anything but keep you from running off the road. If you do not build short feedback loops for apprentices they will waste time on roads that aren’t helping them learn the specific skills you outlined in #2. We found the 1 on 1 check-ins at the end of each week’s project allowed for feedback for them to improve and accountability to reinforce expectations.
  4. Transparency: If you’re not likely to hire all the apprentices, communicate that.  The more ambiguity you can remove around what happens at the end the more they’ll be able to focus on the tasks in front of them. People approach this problem differently depending on the structure of their program but the best programs have clear outcomes and are supportive of those that don’t join the team. In our first program we made it a priority to write recommendations and help with job searches of the apprentices we didn’t hire.