Let’s talk about mentoring and apprenticeships

Yesterday i had a very pleasant afternoon with Sandro Mancuso from the London Software Craftsmanship Community. The timing was perfect: i had a free afternoon and Sandro had just left Valtech.

Among other things, we discussed the meaning of mentoring and apprenticing. We agreed that they take a range of different forms, with varying degrees of formality.

An informal mentor may be someone you call when you have a problem and want another opinion on how to solve it. Maybe close friend, someone whose advice you value, not necessarily a formal mentorship agreement.

At the other extreme might be an intense apprenticeship where the apprentice lives and works with the mentor. The apprentice’s every need is met by the mentor. Every waking moment together is an opportunity for the mentor to instill values and practices into the apprentice, and for the apprentice to observe and learn from the mentor.

There is plenty of room for varying models between these extremes. Sandro and i got talking about different models, both within a company as a formal apprenticeship program (like we used to have in eden) and externally to a company.

I could talk at length about my opinions of what an apprenticeship program looks like – and i will in a separate post – but i want to start off a discussion among other people who are engaged in apprenticeship programs. What are you trying? What works well? What are the difficulties? How do you work in a way that is mutually fair and beneficial to both the apprentice and the mentor? What payment or expenses does the apprentice receive? How does this differ according to the country’s employment law? What challenges and milestones is the apprentice expected to achieve? How do you determine when the apprenticeship is completed?

This goes beyond Apprenticeship Patterns and gets into implementation details. We need examples of individuals and companies conducting successful apprenticeship programs to see how they are working.

Sandro and i also discussed how we can get the word out to more people. How should we let people know that apprenticeship is a useful way to learn? How could we find people who want an apprentice, and people who want a mentor, and bring them together?

At the moment this seems to happen quite naturally (and i think we would be mistaken to impose much structure on the process) but, as anyone who knows me well is aware, i strive for equality in all situations. It troubles me to think that most people are unaware that apprenticeships exist. We must be missing a vast number of people who would be ideal apprentices but just don’t know that the option is available to them.

To start with, we could all talk a lot more about what is happening. Thank you to Sandro for the discussion that prompted this post. I hope to hear from others and see many more blog posts talking about apprenticeship models and how we can find a way to share these ideas with the software community as a whole.

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