We consider our apprentice program to be a win-win-win. It’s a WIN for our apprentices – they get incredible experience and plenty of cash to help pay for college. It’s a WIN for us – we are training potential full-time employees and working on tomorrow’s resourcing problems today. But the biggest WIN? It’s for our clients, who get a top-notch software team for less than they’d be paying elsewhere.
How does it work? First, let me explain our apprentice program. Because we know what you’re thinking: interns? You’re using interns to write MY software? No way.
Several years ago, Jason Beutler was teaching a college software engineering class at the same time as he was overseeing an outsourced team, when it struck him: his college students were producing better code than the outsourced professionals. That’s how the EduSource apprentice program came to be. Could we … we mused … “edu-source” software to local college students rather than outsourcing it overseas?
Over the next few years, we learned that we could, in fact, do that, but also that it wasn’t nearly as simple as it seemed. The junior- and senior-level computer science majors we were working with were plenty smart. They knew their stuff. They solved problems in new and creative ways. But they also were so very, very young. They were undependable, didn’t understand the sacredness of client deadlines, and sometimes lacked focus.
Over the years, we’ve modified and tried things and made changes and switched directions and tried again. We still have perfecting to do, but in the meantime, we’ve developed a realistic business model that makes so much sense. In short, students chosen through an elaborate application process work for EduSource as apprentices for up to two years while they’re in school. They work full-time on site in the summer, and we take advantage of that time to train them in our software process and get them ready to be able to work remotely. Then they head back to school and start working part-time for us, fitting their work schedule around their class schedule. Ideally, they come back again the next summer, ready to help start training the new generation of apprentices.
It works. Given plenty of guidance and set expectations, our apprentices write darn good, innovative code.
Apprentices: Part of the EduSource team
The win for the students is pretty huge, too. And the fact that this program’s reputation is growing by leaps and bounds is evidence of that fact. This five-year-old program had more than 80 applicants this year. We whittled those down to 10 student apprentices. The students get to participate in every stage of the software development life cycle, from the beginning stages of a project, to team status meetings, to Kanban replenishment meetings, occasionally even to client demos or meetings. Here are ways we make sure apprentices are getting an incredible experience:
- To ensure that apprentice code is up to our high standards, every line is “Code Reviewed” by several other members of his/her team. In addition, apprentices are expected to perform code reviews on full-time team members’ code. Being knee-deep in a professional software engineer’s code is an incredible experience for a college student.
- Each apprentice has a “coach” that meets with him/her to help with career goals, go over common coding mistakes, and help the apprentice set a goal for each semester.
- Several times, we’ve gotten to take our students to an end-of-summer professional coding conference. Attending this conference with our full-time software engineers is an incredible experience, and creates a long-lasting bond.
- To encourage community, full-time team members host game nights each week at their homes. The purpose is for apprentices to get to know employees in a more casual setting, eating dinner together and competing in board and card games.
- On top of learning incredible coding technique, apprentices get comprehensive experience with the “tools of the trade,” including Jira, a project management software. By the end of their first summer, apprentices can throw around words like Kanban, replenishment, ROI, acceptance criteria, and user acceptance testing, and actually know exactly what they mean. That’s an incredible benefit for future job interviews. But only if we don’t hire them up first…
Using apprentices as resourcing for the future
Indianapolis continues to grow as a tech hub. And while that’s an incredible bonus for our local economy and the tech-friendly laws that continue to pass in the statehouse, resourcing will get to be a larger and larger problem. Human Resource employees’ jobs will get tougher as various tech companies fight for the same qualified employees.
By creating a selective process to find the most promising computer-science students early in their university careers, at EduSource, we’re growing our own employees. By the end of a two-year program, we have a darn good idea of who’s an ideal fit and who isn’t. And the students have a darn good idea if they want to join the group or not.