A well rounded team consists of members from diverse backgrounds who bring unique perspectives to the table. We’re always on the lookout for highly qualified software engineers and have found that many of those individuals come from different educational backgrounds and have varying levels of experience. Our belief is that there are diamonds in the rough all around us; we just have to find them and support their growth.
We’ve identified a huge problem in the industry at large; new developers fresh from college, code schools and independent learning don’t yet have the expertise to contribute productive bandwidth to software teams. Zeal’s apprenticeship program bridges this experience gap, taking individuals “to the next level” and preparing them for a successful career at Zeal and beyond. Apprentices graduate with a strong understanding of agile processes, comfort with paired programming, and practice pushing code to production applications under the mentorship of experienced developers.
"“Everyday I’m exposed to new content. I’m participating in code reviews on a daily basis. I’m sitting in on and prepping talks for both technical and non-technical audiences. I’ve never read so many technical books in my life. I’ve even made my first contribution to open source! Learning is accelerated through immersion, and I’m progressing exponentially faster than I would be trying to learn on my own.”
Each apprenticeship experience is uniquely designed to focus on the needs of the apprentice. At the beginning of the program, individuals assess their current skills and areas in which they need to improve. Based on these areas of growth, the apprentice and their mentor, a senior member of the team, design a curriculum scheduling their time to concentrate on specific subjects. Apprentices participate in team-wide standups every morning, then break off to focus on a task that relates to the subject of the week. They work on daily coding challenges, internal projects, and, when they’re ready, real client projects, pairing with an experienced mentor regularly to develop best practices. The study of each subject concludes with a retrospective, where the apprentice and their mentor reflect on progress made during the iteration and set new goals for the next iteration with a new mentor.
"“The questions that are asked [by an apprentice] you may not have thought about in a very long time. It’s great to have someone question your core beliefs”
Our experience with the apprenticeship program has been overwhelmingly positive. Maintaining a team with varying levels of expertise is good not only for apprentices, who do a tremendous amount of learning throughout the course of the program, but also for more experienced team members. Senior members of the team are often challenged by apprentices to explain complex problems in a simple way, which strengthens their communication skills and reinforces their understanding of the problem at hand. They also gain a sense of pride and greater purpose from their work, as they help another person grow and become successful. And everyone benefits from novices’ incomparable energy, enthusiasm for learning, and “beginner’s mind.” Altogether, we have found that teams that combine mentors and apprentices foster a learning-centric, collaborative work environment.
"“I look back on my six months as an apprentice and don’t recall ever having a dull day, or even a dull moment, really. The learning never stops; I think being at Zeal has brought to light the idea that the passion for developing drives you forward, not the knowledge. And I’ll help encourage that atmosphere at Zeal in the future. I would love to eventually take on more of the apprentice related activities, and learn more about what it means to teach someone something, and how to interact with someone on that level.”
As apprentices grow with the company and eventually graduate from apprentice to engineer, they do not leave behind their growth mindset. These former apprentices continue to support Zeal’s culture of learning and act as champions for ongoing personal and professional growth. And as they take on positions of greater responsibility, they serve as encouragement to those apprentices who come on after them, working to serve our clients and ultimately to mentor new apprentices. In this way, the apprenticeship program ensures the future of the company by creating the next generation of Zeal torchbearers.