Closing the Gap with Apprentice Programs
Whether they’ve just graduated from coding bootcamp or completed a course like Code Academy, newly minted software engineers often need extra preparation for the rigors of a full-time engineering role. So how can we best integrate these candidates with diverse, non-traditional backgrounds into the tech community?
Many companies are finding that an apprentice program is an effective way to offer such candidates hands-on experience while gauging if they’re a long-term fit. However, in order to offer a return on the necessary investment of company resources, these programs must be set up for success.
/dev/color recently convened a roundtable discussion on apprentice programs, featuring eight of its partner companies: Airbnb, Asana, Collective Health, Google, Pinterest, Uber, and Youtube. Representatives from these top Silicon Valley tech firms shared lessons from developing their apprentice programs, with the aim of helping other companies create similar opportunities that deliver impact from day one.
Here are three key takeaways:
Give People Time to Grow
Most software internships typically happen during college and last three to six months. That means grads from university computer science programs have had as many as three internships working in production environments at companies and solving real challenges by the time they enter the workforce.
It makes sense then that apprentice program members are in need of similar on-the-job training and supported learning to perform at the same level.
Apprentice programs require a longer commitment than a college internship program. /dev/color’s partners recommend a year-long program, based on the learning that it takes an apprentice program engineer six months to adjust to the new environment, get in a groove with their mentor, and become productive.
This is also the earliest point at which there is enough data to make a good decision about converting the candidate to a full-time role. And assessment can also be pushed to nine and twelve months if necessary.
Assemble the Right Team
The process to source, evaluate, onboard and mentor any new engineer takes a village, from recruiting to HR to engineering. Building an apprentice program requires the same approach, /dev/color’s partners say, but on a smaller scale since most start with just a few people.
You need a recruiter who is excited to look for the traits that make someone a great bootcamp grad. You need an interview loop that’s well respected and can adapt for what a bootcamp grad should know. And you need a welcoming group of engineers ready to offer mentorship and support. Start small with people who care.
Another benefit of building this mini recruiting and onboarding pipeline is that it’s a low risk opportunity to tweak your processes. And it’s a great way to involve engineers who have ideas to help optimize the current approach. Then when you find something that works, you can make it part of the main hiring process.
Start small with people who care.
Shape Internal Perceptions
While an apprentice program can be a testing ground for new company processes, it’s critical to sweat the details that shape how the program is perceived internally. For instance, /dev/color’s partners recommend being highly selective when assembling your initial batch of participants to establish a precedent that the program works.
If the first class doesn’t do well, the stigma can have a lasting impact internally. If the engineering team doesn’t believe the program participants can cut it, then they won’t provide the necessary support and the program will be doomed.
Even something as simple as the program name can matter a lot, /dev/color’s partners say. Select a name that doesn’t attach these engineers with a stigma, or it will dampen the impact they can have.
Continuing the Diversity Conversation
There is still plenty of work to be done in developing best practices for apprentice programs. For example, /dev/color’s partners are still trying to understand ideal ways to evaluate bootcamp grads at the interview stage and identify the traits that lead to success.
Ultimately, these apprentice programs should be measured not by a company hiring from their own program, but by the apprentice being hired full time somewhere in the industry. /dev/color’s partners agree that we all move these numbers together.
This /dev/color roundtable was a meaningful opportunity to connect Silicon Valley companies for an open conversation about what is and isn’t working when it comes to promoting diversity. This is the first in a series of posts looking at what’s happening on the ground to move the industry forward. Stay tuned for more insights and ideas!
/dev/color is a non-profit organization who’s mission is to maximize the impact of Black software engineers. We create environments where Black software engineers can learn from one another and hold one another accountable for reaching ambitious career goals. To learn more, check out our website and follow our blog & twitter account.