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Here’s How to Develop Good Employees — Actually Spend Time With Them

by Muriel Vega

The coding bootcamp industry, despite its ups and downs, has grown to nearly 23K graduates in 2017 (up from 15,000 last year). That’s a 10.5x  growth since 2012, when the first technical bootcamps launched. However, despite this increasing growth and more mainstream acceptance, many of these graduates still encounter challenges when entering the real world as there is no one-size-fits-all description to be a programmer. Bootcamp cohorts can vary in intensity, specific skills, and instructor expertise.

“The fundamental problem for the education and development of software engineers is expectations,” says
Morgan J. Lopes, CEO of development and design shop Polar Notion. “Currently, it’s not clear to a beginner what is expected for them to achieve proficiency. There is no objective standard or process by which a novice can weigh their current skills and diligently improve.”

Lopes and Polar Notion have solved this problem by instituting an apprenticeship program — a way for entry-level engineers to learn on the job, become involved in real-life projects, and have one-on-one mentorship on their particular branch of programing. For Polar Notion and other companies with similar training programs, the long-term benefits pay off with this slower approach to teaching by creating an optimal candidate pool for hiring as well as a more sustainable business model.

“It’s less of a path and more of a winding field with brush and overgrowth. Code schools and bootcamps can get you into the jungle but once you’re there, the path is not marked,” says Lopes.

According to Lopes, most applicants coming from code schools may have many of the necessary skills, and an attitude and eagerness to learn, but they are not quite there. That’s where Polar Notion’s 12-month apprenticeship program comes in (they are looking for a UX Apprentice right now!) to help them create their own success path with intentional mentorship and continual assessment.

“As our process evolves, we’re striving to provide more thorough training in less time to more people,” says Lopes. “To circle back to my earlier analogy about being dropped in an unmarked jungle, we’re putting up signage, removing obstacles, and clearing a trail. It’s not the only way, but it gives those who come after us a place to start.”

In this sense, the apprenticeship becomes an exercise of people investing in people, where companies stop hoarding resources and knowledge and helps a new generation thrive — no matter whether it is for your company’s benefit in the long-term or not. It becomes an essential component of the junior programmer’s education by creating a strong base of knowledge before he or she moves up the ladder.

“Taking ownership and responsibility of someone else’s improvement is not a novel gesture, but is needed for the next generation to thrive,” says Lopes. “It evokes so much passion because this approach altered my life. Years ago, a friend selflessly committed time and energy to help me grow and learn. Early mornings, late nights, and sporadic weekends marked a season of my life that changed everything. After months of instruction and guidance, I was left with a final instruction, “go, and do likewise”. For me, this program is a way of honoring that command.”

Among the traits Lopes looks for in junior developers beyond their education include critical thinking, tenacity and creative problem solving. “Interestingly enough, we’ve found the importance of these traits apply to our designers and other team members as well. I think of it more as finding the ideal human. The rest often takes care of itself.”

“The more we grow, the more effective and proven this system becomes,” says Lopes. “Championing an abundance mentality, we don’t want to stop there. We’ve made our findings open source and are inviting other companies to join us. Our team uses predominantly Ruby on Rails and React, but we’d love to see others carry the mantel for their respective disciplines.”

The apprenticeship model proves true for other disciplines as well — Hype has explored apprenticeship models at global health app builder Standard Code as well as video production company Sprocket Creative.

“To survive within an organization, this model requires commitment and sacrifice,” says Lopes. “It works because those who set the values and direction of the company believe a shift needs to occur and are bold enough to champion that change.”

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