Mark Pearl

I’ve just had an opportunity to spend a week at 8th Light in Chicago, the trip was made possible by winning MYOB’s Into Tomorrow competition where they give one lucky person 5 days paid leave and $5000 to do something they wouldn’t normally get to do.

My submission was for me to spend some time with the crafters at 8th Light to find out more about their apprenticeship program. I first heard about 8th Light while attending a talk several years ago at Agile Africa by Doug Bradbury on Modern Day Apprenticeships.

Doug, a director at 8th Light and champion of the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto spoke about how they were doing apprenticeships centered around the Software Craftmanship mindset. I was intrigued and figured a visit to their offices and some time with their people would give me more insights into if this was a successful way of growing software talent.

I’ve come out of the week really impressed. 8th Light has managed to take people with very limited programming experience and turn them into productive professionals within 6 months - yes, 6 months! These apprentices come out with a strong foundation in software design, comfortable in at least 3 programming languages (1 staticly typed language, 1 dynamic language & 1 functional language) and positioned to be strong generalists, concepts like SOLID, 4 Rules of Simple Design, TDD, etc. They do this through a focussed learning program based around mentorship, which is core to how everything works.

Mentor’s work in pairs to help challenge and grow their apprentice. It’s intenive, requires dedication from both the apprentice and their mentors and in many ways is the best way I’ve seen so far to grow software talent.

Taking this approach has also given 8th Light a unique opportunity, they are able to take on extremely talented, intelligent people who do not have the necessary experience to get a junior developer job somewhere else and give them an opportunity to “change” careers. Most of the people I spoke to during the week had post graduate degrees in some other field than software engineering (Science, Maths, Social Science, etc). While they seem to be attracting really great candidates, a degree is not a requirement to join 8th Light’s apprenticeship program, essentially what they look for is people with intellecutal humility; if you are willing to learn and put the hours in, they are generally willing to take you on.

I hope to share some of the learnings in the coming months of how they grow their apprentices, but for now I just wanted to thank 8th Light for an amazing week! 8th Light is one of several companies where I have had an opportunity to be a team tourist.

Me at 8th Light

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