Lessons on Apprenticeship

August 1, 2013

One of the things that makes 8th Light so special is its apprenticeship program. Regardless of prior experience, everyone here goes through an apprenticeship before being hired and there are many benefits. I wanted to share what I believe creates a strong bond between a mentor and an apprentice and why we go through all the trouble of an apprenticeship.

Learn Best Practices

8th Light is committed to growing your career through education. Many of us come from non-traditional backgrounds; I actually studied film in college and was a video editor for many years. It’s an incredible feeling being able to do something new and work in such a positive environment were education is so highly valued. We believe that teaching others can be one of the best ways to learn and our mentors constantly challenge us to teach others.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to give a short presentation on writing better CSS. For me, it was an accomplishment to be in the position to teach others. There really is no faster way to learn a topic than to give a presentation on it!

Apprentices are often given projects where their mentors play the role of the client by being stakeholder and setting requirements and deadlines. This gives us plenty of practice and a chance to demonstrate that we can communicate, estimate and deliver. It’s also designed to challenge us so that the mentors can see what skills we need to improve on.

One of best pieces of advice I got from Stephanie, my mentor, was to keep things simple. It’s a guideline that I was taught early and something that I apply to all of my design work. I was stuck on one of my first projects trying to decide between many font choices. I couldn’t decide on a set of fonts to use and asked her for help. She simply said, “keep it simple,” and it has stuck with me since.

Pair (Work Better Together)

Pair programming is an important part of our culture at 8th Light. Everyone does it. It gives the pair an opportunity to share knowledge and find mistakes, which results in higher quality work.

I was lucky to work closely with my mentor during my apprenticeship, and I now feel like other Craftsmen can expect the same level of quality out of me as they would from Stephanie. Craftsman developers have high standards for code, and as designers, we match that level of quality in our designs.

Being one of the few designers, I got the chance to pair with and teach other developers some of the things I was learning. I loved sharing CSS best practices and I would often learn about code in the process. As an apprentice, even as a developer, you can tap into the knowledge of others in the office.

Build Trust

Solid, continual communication helps builds trust. To learn how to effectively communicate with clients, our mentors give us the chance to join in on weekly iteration planning meetings from time to time. With the client actively involved in the ongoing process, the lines of communication are opened, eliminating misinterpretation and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

Apprentices are given weekly assignments, and tasked with estimating how much time it would take to complete. This is great practice in delivering work on time while still maintaining a high level of quality. It also gives apprentices the chance to prove that an they can pull their own weight and be trusted with commitments.

But the need for trust goes both ways; apprentices must also trust that their mentor is going to teach them everything that they need to know to successfully complete their apprenticeship. With the lines of communication open and trust built both ways, a strong bond can form between a mentor and an apprentice.

Be Challenged and Grow

Before 8th Light, the idea of being challenged scared me. As an apprentice, I was challenged to do better and to be better. My mentor would watch me struggle and become frustrated as I learned something new, but it is the most incredible feeling when things that were difficult just clicked. I remember coming in to work early and showing my mentor what I had been struggling with all week. I said, “I figured it out!” and she just smiled as if to say, “I always knew you could do it”. These are the kind of moments that make our apprenticeship program so special.

I had the amazing opportunity to work with my mentor on designs for an actual client project. My mentor always likes to challenge me by throwing me into situations outside of my comfort zone, but since we built up trust, she knew she could depend on me to get things done. The time I spent pairing on a real project was some of the most rewarding work I did. It gave me a chance to experience what it will be like as Craftsmen while still providing me with the protection of being an apprentice.

Maintain a Culture

Along with creating a bond, the apprenticeship program creates a strong sense of company culture. It encourages a close working relationship between you and your mentor and gives you a sense of community, knowing everyone else had to go through the same kinds of challenges. The apprenticeship program is also designed to make sure you are a good cultural fit for 8th Light. You should love to learn, teach and I would even argue that you should be a bit of an overachiever.

8th Light have no shortage of company activities including bike tours, company conferences like SCNA and more for us to better get to know each other and share our knowledge with others. We have a close relationship with our coworkers even outside of work. Building these friendships improves working relationships. I think you can learn a lot about someone by spending time with them outside of work.It’s a great way to start building trust both in and out of the workplace.

Gain a Friend

The best part about the apprenticeship program is that you will gain a friend who will challenge you to be better person. I’m lucky to have had such an amazing mentor, Stephanie Briones. She became one of my best friends and I feel so privileged to apprentice under her.

Interested in starting your journey as an apprentice? Please visit our apprenticeship page for more information.