In August of 2011, Obtiva was aquired by Groupon. Part of that acquisition was Obtiva’s apprenticeship program, which we immediately got to work on adapting into Groupon’s context. I’m thrilled to announce that Groupon’s first apprentice, Jacob “JR” Richardson has just successfully completed our 6 month apprenticeship program. At the age of 19, JR is also the youngest apprentice to ever complete the program. He has accepted our job offer and will likely be moving to Denver to work with our Developer Experience team there, continuing his work on the Bugwatch Dashboard that he built during his apprenticeship.
With the program’s first apprentice behind us, Kevin Taylor and mentors like Joe Banks, Tim Kuntz, Chad Pry, and (former apprentice) Ethan Gunderson are now scaling the program to accomodate more apprentices.
But what is the program?
Note: If you’re too eager to wait to read the details, potential apprentices can jump over to our Software Apprentice job post.
Our apprenticeship program lasts up to 6 months. During that time, the apprentice receives a monthly stipend, and lives in a Groupon-provided apartment in Chicago, near our headquarters. We started providing housing a few years ago to help reduce the distractions (numerous roommates and bad landlords) that often come with inexpensive housing situations in a big city. The apartment(s) provides apprentice(s) with essential services such as internet connectivity and modern plumbing.
Each apprentice has a mentor who sticks with them through the duration of the program. The mentor is involved in selecting the apprentice, and meets with the apprentice weekly to check on progress and guide the apprentice through any issues they’re having. The apprentice joins the mentor’s team and over the course of the 6 months integrates into the normal workflow, contributing via pair programming and individual tasks as well. Apprentices also have opportunities to periodically join other teams, sometimes in our Palo Alto and Denver locations.
The first focus of the mentor and the apprentice is to define the pet project. The apprentice develops a pet project of their own choosing over the course of the 6 months. This gives us an opportunity to judge their work independant from their teammates. It gives the apprentice the opportunity to dig into bleeding edge technologies on their own turf, away from the Groupon production code they contribute to with their teammates. This often results in the apprentice completing the program with a unique expertise in a new technology. The best example of this was Ethan Gunderson’s deep dive into Mongo, which he quickly parlayed into projects like gathers.us and speaking engagements such as the Scottish Ruby Conference.
The 6 months of the apprenticeship is split into 3 2-month milestones. At each milestone we choose to either terminate the apprenticeship, continue the apprenticeship, or make a job offer. Unsuccessful apprenticeships are usually obvious within the first 2 milestones. We’ve also had some apprentices finish early. The majority of the time, though, apprenticeships complete successfully in 6 months. Each milestone meeting is attended by a group of engineering leaders. There are 5 aspects to a milestone meeting: a 5-10 minute presentation on a topic that the apprentice has learned about, a demonstration of the functionality of their pet project, a code review of the pet project, a retrospective on the previous 2 months, and finally, we dismiss the apprentice and have a conversation about next steps for the apprentice, and for the program itself.
We use these milestones to adapt the program. This is where we come up with ideas such as having apprentices organize our Geekfests, or establish patterns around apprentice team rotation, or spend some time advising new mentors about the nuances of mentoring effectively.
I’m proud of how we’ve evolved the program over the years, and even more proud of the work and contributions that our apprentices have made to our field. As we look to scale the program in the year ahead, we’re finding that new programs like Code Academy in Chicago and DevBootCamp in San Francisco to be a great source of potential. Stay tuned!