Apprenticeships have existed for hundreds of years - but what does a modern software apprenticeship look like? We sat down with James Kenigsberg (Founding CTO of 2U, Inc.) and Rebekah Rombom (VP of Student Success at Flatiron School) to find out more about the pipeline between coding bootcamps, apprenticeships, and the tech industry. Find out what to expect from an apprenticeship (and how to shine in one), the difference between an apprenticeship vs internship, and why, according to Rebekah, an apprenticeship is “not a stepping stone toward the beginning of your career; it is the beginning of your career.”
PS. 2U is currently offering the “No Back Row” Future Devs Scholarship to 20 Access Labs Initiative students, reducing their tuition payment by half.
What is an Apprenticeship?
Rebekah: At Flatiron School, we consider an apprenticeship to be:
- a role that is paid and full time, for a specific time period — usually 3 to 6 months.
- a well-paying job — on average, a Flatiron School graduate who accepts an apprenticeship makes $28/hour off the bat.
- a promising — and paid — way to start your career as a software engineer or data scientist.
Apprenticeships show you the ropes of what it’s like to work on a software team: development cycles, processes, working on production code, and interacting with a technical team. If you didn’t come from a technical background, an apprenticeship is a fantastic way to gain experience and vocabulary.
In Flatiron School’s most recent Outcomes Report for NYC graduates, 37% of student job acceptances were in paid, full-time contract or apprenticeship roles.
James, how can apprenticeships be part of a company’s recruiting strategy?
James: As CTO at 2U, I hire folks from all walks of life in the technology sector. Everyone’s technology stack, process, and mission is different.
This is how I see apprenticeships:
- a way for folks to both understand a company’s unique environment and for employers to assess candidates’ skills, evaluate them, and shape them into team members who fit the company’s needs.
- a perfect opportunity to find and liquify potential new markets of career changers. Finding talent in general is extremely complicated; finding talent that works with your ecosystem is almost impossible. And we can teach apprentices exactly how to operate within our teams.
Apprenticeships create interest in 2U’s jobs, but also make sure that our employees have a good runway when they start.
What’s the difference between an Apprentice and an Intern?
James: You use an internship to discover whether you like a company, a profession, or a role.
In an apprenticeship, you’re already ready to do a very specific role; in this case, that role is a software engineer. You know you love being an engineer, and an apprenticeship will show if you love 2U’s mission enough to work here as a full-fledged team member and make your own mark on history.
Apprenticeships + Coding Bootcamps: A Natural Fit?
Why do apprenticeships make sense for coding bootcamp graduates? Do you see apprenticeships and bootcamps going hand-in-hand?
Rebekah: We say this all the time: The best way to get your career started is to get your career started. Apprenticeships make sense for anyone looking to start a career in software engineering. That includes bootcamp graduates, new college grads, or self-taught programmers. Apprenticeships are unique because they give apprentices a genuine learning opportunity, but are also well-paid, full-time jobs.
James, what do you think about employers who say that coding bootcamp grads just don’t have enough experience?
James: We would never create a team of apprentices and have them do trivial work. We don’t believe that any of our employees are “Junior,” and especially not career changers. We’ve hired from bootcamps (including Flatiron School), and love how their past careers have shaped them. There’s someone on my team who used to run a chocolate factory and is now an engineer. And guess what – that comes in handy when that engineer is working with business folks and can speak their language, understand their requirements, and deliver a much better project. We want apprentices to work autonomously and be creative.
What are the upsides to an apprenticeship for a student?
Rebekah: There are four important benefits students see if they enter an apprenticeship:
Leverage. We’ve found that after apprentices have completed their apprenticeships, they earn higher starting salaries than their counterparts who dive straight into salaried roles. The best way to gain earning and negotiating power as a software engineer, is to work as a software engineer. And because apprenticeships have a built-in timeline for your next salary discussion, when your contract is up, your experience and familiarity with your company is a great way for you to demonstrate value and potential during a conversation about a salaried role.
Learning. Apprentices contribute meaningfully to product teams, which gives them the chance to hone their skills and develop domain expertise. Candidates leave apprenticeships with both the intangible asset of having learned and become familiar with the processes of a product team, and also with the tangible experience important for resumés and interviews. When you’re changing careers or just getting started in the job market, any experience is good experience — apprenticeship experience is hyper-targeted, giving you the opportunity to build, work, and succeed in the precise environment where you’re aiming to earn your next role.
Money. In Flatiron School’s most recent NYC outcomes report, the average Flatiron School graduate who starts as an apprentice earns $28 an hour. And on top of that, again, apprentices who move into a salaried role typically earn a higher starting salary than graduates who start salaried roles upon graduation. Apprenticeships are an opportunity to get paid and make an impact while you’re still learning.
A foot in the door. Companies with apprenticeship programs love them because when they hire one of their apprentices into a salaried role, they know that person has experience doing things in line with the company’s culture, priorities, and existing process — and has already seen that person contribute meaningfully to the team. Apprenticeships will often advertise that they’re specifically interested in candidates with nontraditional backgrounds: candidates who don’t have a Computer Science degree, for example, or professional experience in software engineering. That’s not the case with many salaried roles, but apprentices often get the opportunity to move into a salaried job after their apprenticeships — companies intend for this to be a foot in the door for non-traditional candidates.
LinkedIn hired a group of Flatiron School grads into their REACH Apprenticeship program all at the same time. Six months later, all three of those apprentices were working as full-time employees on LinkedIn’s technical staff.
James, what benefits has 2U seen from developing an apprenticeship program?
James: Because of 2U’s broad breadth of technology, we’re able to sustain new hires and we actually need to bring new blood into our ecosystem. Again, those are not just words – I truly believe in diversity of people, teams, and personalities on creative teams.
There’s also some level of “reverse mentorship” that’s so useful as well. I have engineers on my team who have been at 2U for eight to 10 years; it’s good for them to get a bit of reverse mentorship. Younger apprentices can immediately teach us new things that we haven’t seen before. They come from a variety of walks of life, and we learn quite a bit.
James, why are you working specifically with Flatiron School Access Labs? What kind of diversity are you hoping to bring to 2U?
James: One reason is that 2U is neighbors with Access Labs in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It’s really cool to be able to guest lecture at Flatiron School and work with Avi’s team to create a 2U-infused curriculum.
On top of that, diversity is one of the biggest reasons we moved 2U’s office to Brooklyn. I was raised in Brooklyn – it’s a fantastic, diverse place. That diversity is not only in the people, but also in businesses and in how people have achieved success. I think that level of diversity has contributed to really great Brooklyn-made products. We’re partnering with Access Labs to bring that diversity into 2U.
What should I expect in an apprenticeship?
For example, what does the 2U apprenticeship for Flatiron School Access Labs look like?
James: With Flatiron School specifically, we’re providing 20 scholarships to students who earned under $35,000 per year before bootcamp. Upon successful completion of Flatiron School coursework, they (and others at Access Labs) will get apprenticeships at 2U to work on the Learn platform.
This is a little bit meta, because these students will use the Learn platform to learn the curriculum at Flatiron School, and then will later be responsible for changing and making it better at 2U. As you can imagine, my dream is to let our users change their own learning platform. In a way, I’m getting the ability to do that.
Rebekah: 2U has been thoughtful about where they can get most value from apprentices, and their diverse perspectives, in their organization. 2U’s product aims to educate students from a variety of backgrounds. And diverse backgrounds can help to make a product better.
Should apprentices be paid?
James: Yes! When people are changing their career, the last thing we want is for them to be worried about money. It’s very complicated to change your career and these folks are often experienced in other fields, and have other responsibilities. We want to support them through their journeys.
Apprenticeships: Your Options
Rebekah, what are some examples of apprenticeships that you love?
Rebekah: 2U has worked closely with us to create a program that drives both access and outcomes. It’s an outstanding opportunity for our students, and a big investment in widening access and opportunity. In addition to working on educational software that will help other students learn — an admirable mission — 2U’s apprenticeships offer the opportunity to contribute immediately to a scaling product, which is a unique experience for any developer, and especially one early in her career.
We’ve also loved working with LinkedIn’s REACH apprenticeship program, which aims to hire individuals from underrepresented and nontraditional backgrounds. LinkedIn wants to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” That means LinkedIn has an enormously diverse user base; hiring engineers who represent a wider swath of those users opens up opportunities for new user insights.
We worked closely with Spotify as they were building their apprenticeship program from the ground up. Spotify had the foresight to hire a Flatiron graduate into an informal apprenticeship role, and she performed so well she got a full-time offer straight away. Now, they’ve hired 13 Flatiron School graduates, most of whom started there as apprentices.
At larger companies, the apprenticeship program will often be a structured experience, with programming to facilitate apprentices meeting one another, or to learn about additional departments in the company. These apprenticeships are often a fantastic fast-track to a salaried role at the company — every single graduate who’s started at Spotify as an apprentice, for example, has since been hired full-time. Three graduates who accepted jobs at LinkedIn’s REACH Apprenticeship program still work there today as technical staff.
How do apprenticeship programs differ at large versus smaller companies?
Rebekah: At larger companies — like Microsoft, Spotify, and LinkedIn — apprenticeship programs are often structured and mean you’ll have the opportunity to interact with different departments and other apprentices during your time there. Company events like executive speakers, peer networking, cross-company learning opportunities may be baked into a program at a larger company, and are all ways for you to grow. You’ll become familiar with the company’s culture and its activities, which will in turn make it clear you’re someone who’s interested in the company’s vision — the kind of employee that a company would be excited to investment in.
At smaller companies, there’s sometimes less structure, but also more opportunity to color outside the lines. At bigger companies, information you need is often pushed to you; at smaller companies, identify the information you want and reach out and grab it. You’re more responsible to ask the questions in a smaller team, but that means you can ask the questions you want to ask.
In either situation, demonstrate curiosity, positivity, and the desire to add value. Be that person whom everyone is excited to hire at the end of the program. If you understand your environment and what the company needs, you’ll be well-positioned to show how valuable you can be as a salaried hire.
Advice for Apprentices and Employers
How can a coding bootcamp graduate get the most out of an apprenticeship? Any tips?
Rebekah: An apprenticeship is just like any other professional experience: it is what you make of it:
- Be curious, be voracious, be engaged, and add value.
- Don’t necessarily expect things to come to you, and make sure you seek the information or experience you know can make a true impact on your company.
- If you have the chance to participate in a large company’s apprenticeship program, get involved, go to events, meet people, and network, network, network. All of these are an extension of your education as well as opportunities for professional growth.
- At smaller companies, find ways to engage your coworkers and contribute to broader projects or products. You can prove your value by being proactive and zealous.
Any apprenticeship gives you the opportunity to build tangible successes and experiences you can tap into when you seek your next role — whether that’s at your apprenticeship company, or elsewhere. The more you can articulate what it is that you accomplished and how you contributed, the better position you’ll be in to job-seek for your next role, or sell your value to your managers at the end of the apprenticeship.
What should students watch out for? Can there be downsides? Do you warn Flatiron grads of something in particular when they’re considering an apprenticeship offer?
Rebekah: Our Employer Partnerships team only works with employers who are offering full-time, paid opportunities, working on or directly with an engineering team. With any kind of job, if you’re offered a position with no cash pay, a role that seems like it won’t be working with code, or suspect any other professional red flag, we encourage students to dig deeper. For any offer of employment — salaried, apprentice, freelance or otherwise — we work closely with graduates to ensure they understand what’s being offered and ask for clarity on any unclear aspects of the package.
James, what’s your advice to other employers who are thinking about starting an apprenticeship program?
James: Obviously other companies should be doing this, but I actually think it depends on the company’s resources and needs. Some companies can’t afford to diversify or take the risk.
- Give apprentices real work.
- Don’t give them low-risk work because you assume that they’ll screw it up.
- Let them screw up a bit – that’s part of the deal. They’re not going to be a veteran-level developer on the first day, but give them time to stay and grow with your company.
Find out more and read Flatiron School reviews on Course Report. Check out the Flatiron School website and the 2U website.
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