Our History of Apprenticeship

Our History of Apprenticeship

Ryan Verner

September 01, 2021

8th Light’s origin story is one of apprenticeship. Founded by a mentor and his apprentice, the company put a novel spin on consulting. Rather than offering guidance in a presentation or classroom setting, 8th Light has always promoted the value of working alongside a client’s developers. We would lead by example, acting more like mentors than managers, and helping to implement better practices and processes directly in their code. Over time, we knew these practices fostered more quality code, created opportunities to share knowledge, and provided more value to our client partners. Clients loved this approach, and when it was time to start growing our team, we kept experimenting with hiring through the only process they knew would work for sure: apprenticeship.

A History of Apprenticeship in the Software Industry

Our apprenticeship approach was directly inspired by examples of professionals who are experts in their craft, and use employment as a way of teaching and growing their own legacy. We studied historical examples like the Stradivarius family of musical instrument makers and modern icons like the celebrated sushi chef Jiro Ono. We learned not only how to approach a craft with dedication and care, but also how to continually challenge and reinvent ourselves through virtuous feedback cycles of learning and sharing.

Early apprenticeships resonated with the team because of their instruction methods. Like other time-tested crafts, software development and design is an overly complex domain that straddles the fence between disparate disciplines like engineering, art, and performance. Our company’s foundational belief is that software is best taught through hands-on practice with practical applications, and apprenticeships that provide students with both the independence to struggle, and the support to overcome an incredibly steep learning curve.

Our first apprenticeships looked vastly different from the program we run today, but the main outlines are familiar. The apprentices had the chance to build toy projects on their own, and co-work on their mentor’s client project. They also had opportunities to participate on exciting internal projects, and explore the world through pairing tours with the early “craft software” movement.

The Evolution of 8th Light’s Apprenticeship

Around 2017, the 8th Light apprenticeship curriculum adopted a phased approach that progressively builds on top of foundational concepts and into more nuanced and challenging contexts. These phases were familiar (individual study and toy projects, larger initiatives with an internal team, and a client phase), but it was the beginning of our work documenting and formalizing more of our apprenticeship.

The decentralized nature of our apprenticeships provides a lot of useful flexibility for learning, but it also meant that learnings were not always captured or shared in consistent ways. This created more variance across apprentices, and it also put an unnecessary burden on each mentor. Around 2019, we began documenting this knowledge into a centralized repository where every mentor and apprentice could benefit. We also became more intentional about implementing anti-bias training in our recruitment funnel, and added a Welcome Week to onboard groups of apprentices together as a cohort.

We also distributed some of the knowledge sharing and training workload across a team of mentors, which has proved beneficial to both mentors and apprentices. In this new arrangement, apprentices learn from mentors with different backgrounds and different ways of solving problems. Apprentices also gain new insights while being mentored by someone with decades of experience and someone who’s been in their shoes more recently. Mentors benefit with significantly more freedom, from reducing overhead and sharing the load with colleagues. Co-mentors also gained the flexibility to coordinate with each other based on specializations, knowledge gaps, and schedule constraints.

In the past couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the apprenticeship evolved again, with a Welcome Week and curriculum that has been refreshed with a focus on remote team members. We’re now able to open our doors to more passionate technology professionals than ever before, and we’ve expanded geographically to cover a broad range of time zones. The apprenticeship structures that we’ve refined since our very first employees have enabled us to reach new applicants with the same value proposition and brand promise of a career that supports, challenges, and inspires.

Today’s 8th Light Apprenticeship Program

Now with more than 15 years of apprenticeships and 300 apprentices becoming crafters after the completion of their program, our apprenticeship program has grown to be the foundation of knowledge we bring to our client partnerships every day, and a catalyst for cultivating the next generation of software careers. Although most parts of our apprenticeship remains the same, it’s grown into a comprehensive, holistic training curriculum that leverages unique learning environments, fosters growth, and encourages collaboration.

Going forward, we plan to continue hiring three cohorts each year, and continuing to iterate on the program. If you’re a budding software professional, learn more about the 8th Light apprenticeship program, or sign up for our Talent Community to receive updates on our recruiting timeline.

If you’re an organization looking to transform your own recruiting approach, we’ve helped teams craft holistic onboarding programs that allow them to recruit and hire more diverse talent. Find out more about our capability development services, including Apprenticeship as a Service.

Ryan Verner

Director of Operations

Ryan Verner, 8th Light’s Director of Operations, is an experienced software engineer and business leader dedicated to enhancing organizational systems and processes. With a focus on improving efficiency and fostering growth, Ryan guides cross-functional teams and projects toward excellence. Specifically, Ryan works with leaders throughout 8th Light to support organizational initiatives, often focusing on the collection and organization of data and the processes that support various teams across the company. In support of 8th Light’s vision and mission, Ryan helps craft the strategy for how the organization gets where it’s trying to go.