Your Apprenticeship Is Not a Checklist

Your Apprenticeship Is Not a Checklist

Nathan Walker

October 03, 2013

Since high school, every class I can remember began with a syllabus. On it were due dates of assignments, tests, projects, and readings. These were the things I needed to complete during the class. If I performed well in these areas, I would get a good grade. That was the goal: a grade. Focusing only on the grade, I never considered that the exercise itself could be the important part. Unfortunately, I persisted in this line of thinking for some time.

Years later, when I began my apprenticeship at 8th Light, my mentor described the tasks I was expected to accomplish. I needed to learn to write tests, rewrite Tic-Tac-Toe, maintain a blog, and read books. This is not an exhaustive list of what he detailed, but the requirements for completing my apprenticeship were clear. This was my syllabus.

Six months later, I had completed all of my tasks. My mentor gave me my final challenges. Then he said I also needed to perform a kata, a rehearsed live coding demonstration, the following Friday. The due date for the kata was exactly halfway through the two most difficult weeks of my apprenticeship. Despite that, I said I understood and could handle it.

Actually, I was frustrated and annoyed. I knew the following two weeks would require all of my attention. Now I needed to split my focus between challenges and a kata. This wasn’t even something on the syllabus, at least not in the beginning. I asked myself why another thing would be added now? Hadn’t I completed everything on my list? Still upset but unable to answer the question, I began working.

A week later I found the answer to my question. It came from a craftsman’s feedback on my kata and the discussion that arose around it. The important point I had missed was that the goal of presenting the kata was not, as I had assumed, for me to show what I could do to a large group. Instead it was an opportunity for me to practice performing. This made so much sense that I was surprised I had not seen it before.

With this in mind, it was an overreaction to be upset with a last minute assignment. Sure, it was inconvenient. Sure, I was cranky but unexpected things happen all the time. A more reasonable way of looking at it was as an opportunity to practice juggling. In the end, what I was upset about was not a big deal.

Out of this I realized I had approached my apprenticeship from the wrong angle. While there were goals to reach, my apprenticeship was about directed practice. To become a craftsman, I needed a number of skills. To gain those skills, I needed to practice: practice coding, practice reading, practice writing, and practice performing.

The need to practice did not stop when I became a craftsman. Thankfully, craftsmen at 8th Light are presented with numerous opportunities to practice: we write blog posts, give talks, and mentor apprentices. Being a craftsman requires constant improvement that cannot be accomplished by remaining stagnant. We never stop practicing, no matter how many items we might check off our lists.

Nathan Walker

Principal Crafter

Nathan Walker enjoys exploring problems almost as much as finding solutions. He is an experienced software crafter who has helped build robust, flexible, and scalable software solutions for companies of all sizes. He has worked professionally in dozens of different programming languages and frameworks, and has hosted introductory lectures and workshops on Elixir and mobile development with Objective-C and Swift.