Some time ago, I wrote about taking my first apprentice but I’ve been very lax about keeping you my dear readers up to date on how that has gone. To sum up the previous post, in January of 2011 I took an Apprentice by the name of Chris Jackson. I’d known him for decades, literally, and he wanted to break into the programming career path. So we set out on a time-boxed experiment. 6 months to see if we could get him employable.

Well, in June of 2011, Chris Jackson accepted a position with ThinkFinance as an entry level developer. His annual income quadrupled on the day he signed the paperwork, moving from $13K to over $50k/year. All credit to Chris, this was his doing. He put in the hours, he dealt with my berating him about not grasping topics quickly enough, and in the end he succeeded. All reports are that Chris is doing very well at ThinkFinance, and I’m very happy about that. As anyone in the industry knows, getting your foot in the door is the hardest part and I was thrilled to see him get an offer from his very first interview.

So what’s the secret sauce? Looking back on it, several things played key factors in his success. Some of them were my doing, others were Chris’, others were luck.

  • I focused the curriculum on current, market desirable skills. This made Chris an entry level developer who could write an ASP.NET MVC 3 website, talk intelligently about SOLID, know what an IoC container was and how to use it, and talk about his experiences with Test Driven Development.
  • There was an existing relationship between Chris and I which allowed me the latitude to address things directly and sometimes confrontational while knowing we would still part friends. It is my belief that anyone can do alone what Chris and I did together, but sometimes our own failings are the reason why we don’t. If I’m going to accept someone into this type of relationship, I need the latitude to confront personality flaws that might be holding them back.
  • Chris put in the hard work, period, full stop. 8 hours per week of sessions with me, plus homework assignments.
  • I required that his spouse, Lynda-Jo, be on board for this before we began. The time commitment was substantial, and without a spouse’s support he was going to fail.

So if there is a secret sauce, I think it’s somewhere in that list of things above. I’ve gone on and accepted two more apprentices since then, Mark Rayburn and Cody Fails. Mark is my brother, and Cody is his best friend. Like Chris Jackson, they’re smack in the middle of learning the fundamentals, but unlike him I’ve had to start with the very basics of computing. Chris Jackson had a couple of years of college education in Computer Science behind him, Mark and Cody do not. It’s a new challenge, but we’ll see how they do. I full well realize that eventually, no matter how careful I am, one of my apprentices will not succeed in the transition of careers. But the upside of transforming someone’s life is so huge, that I’m compelled to continue.