Matt Heusser recently interviewed me to ask about the academy. One of the questions he asked was “What will the students learn in the six month training portion? What will student life be like?” Without repeating how I answered it there, I’d like to add a bit more.
I have received many questions about what working on real-world projects during the second 12-week session means.
Having worked with many apprentice-level people in the past, I know that their first real-world project is a great awakening. As Corey Haines stated in his keynote address at Software Craftsmanship North America, (paraphrased) “Programming is not that hard. Software Development is hard.” The first 12-weeks will get the apprentices ready by giving them some fairly well-paced projects that I can somewhat predict how they will go and what they will learn. But that’s not the way most projects I’ve ever been on in the real world go. Though I’m getting more and more comfortable with projects after close to thirty years, and get surprised by their turns less and less, there is still a lot of unpredictability.
I’ve found that, the first “real project” an apprentice gets on is often a huge shock to them. They don’t run like the textbook says… or at least not like their interpretation of what the textbook says. And, quite frankly, most apprentices don’t have a clue how to handle it. They need instruction on how to extract what a client really wants, how to prioritize, when to ask for help, when not to ask for help, how to figure out the missing pieces, when it is OK to experiment (and how), and …
As I designed the Academy based on all of the other apprenticeship experiences I had, I really thought a “real-world project” needed to be part of it. They needed to see how I handled a new project that was thrown at me, not just one I have already done, giving them pre-digested instructions. When I thought about where to get these sorts of projects, just like I benefited from the world of Farriers for parts of the structure, I benefited from looking at other types of schools for hands-on projects.
Dental and Cosmetology Schools
Some people go to dental schools to get dental work done or cosmetology schools to get nails or hair done. The expectation is that the procedure may not be efficient or at the highest standard of quality as it might be if they paid a professional full price, but
- The customer doesn’t pay full price
- The customer doesn’t tend to go there for work where risk is incredibly high if something goes wrong or where specialized, advanced skills are required without assurance that a highly-skilled professional is actively doing all the work himself.
- The price you pay really covers the overhead of the school, and what you are paying for is the sign-off by the licensed professional that a professional level job was done.
All of this is a win-win-win.
The customer wins because they save money
Whether going this route allows them to afford something that would otherwise be difficult to purchase, or just use the savings for other purposes, they made the choice to go this way.
I don’t have much hair so, for several years, I went to a hair styling academy that was conveniently located close to where I was working. A student would give me a haircut, and an instructor would check it out before I left. Sometimes the student was a little slow and methodical (usually the newest students). Sometimes the student seemed pretty confident and moved fairly quickly. Sometimes the instructor would say, “good haircut” after running their fingers through my hair. Other times the instructor would do some touch up and instruct the student as they did.
I got pretty decent haircuts, and used the savings for other things.
The student wins because they get to practice their craft on real live examples
As Jared Richardson points out, “How many books do you have to read about riding a bike before you can ride a bike proficiently?” We all know the answer is “none.” You need to have the prerequisites (basic balance and ability to move legs and arms appropriately), some instruction in the basics, and then practice. It is best to make your initial attempts in a safe place with some safety equipment and oversight from a person who can prevent costly consequences for incompetence. If you have an experienced coach, they can help you recognize what you are doing wrong, correct your mistakes, and slowly introduce the techniques that only masters would know as well as the context(s) in which the technique(s) apply.
The students at the hair salon and the dental schools are getting experience with an experienced coach on their way to becoming competent enough to practice by themselves or with a larger professional team.
The school wins because they can recover some of the cost of running the school
Most people don’t consider what it takes to run a school. There are marketing and recruiting costs. There is the overhead of the buildings and equipment. There is the time of the instructors, both while they are teaching and the hours of prep work before and during a course.
People wonder why most “private schools” are generally more expensive than “public schools”.
Often, they aren’t, it is just a matter of where the funding comes from. When funds come from a government subsidy, private donations, or other ways that a school can get cash flowing in, they can lower the tuition of their students while still covering their costs and/or making a reasonable profit.
Most colleges don’t just get income from tuition, but money comes in to fund research and other activities by the “professors”. In the best case, that work helps the professors learn more deeply so they have more to share with the students, and allows the students to do some work alongside the professors.
The Academy’s Win-Win-Win
We are seeking candidate projects for the second 12-week session that meet the win-win-win criteria of being good for everybody.
RoleModel Software often has potential clients that have a bigger vision than budget.
Perhaps they have a project that would cost $50,000 if the professionals at RoleModel took it on, but they only have $25,000 they can spend. If we feel the project is something that can fit into the timeframe for an Academy project, we might take it on.
Instead of paying full-price and getting the fastest turn around, we offer them an alternative that can get them where they want to go for less money. We will bill the instructor’s time at a deep discount (40% of normal rates) knowing that he will be working on the project at a slower rate as he teaches apprentices, and that some of the work will be done by the instructor via the apprentices’ hands. If there are areas that others at RoleModel need to be brought in on either because the skills needed (e.g. UX design work) are not the primary instructor’s strong suit, or he is being spread too thin, that work will also be at a significant discount.
The academy wins because the expenses of the academy are offset by the client’s paying to have the project completed as an academy project. It also gives us a real-world project with a real-world client which is more challenging than one we just make up. We get to teach apprentices how to help clients work through trade-offs, the benefits of delighting them, the cost of disappointing them, the challenges of communication and expectation management, and so much more. Our instruction wouldn’t be as good if we only gave them the theory of what might happen in a real-world scenario.
The apprentices win by seeing an entire project from concept to deployment. They will experience the difference between programming and software development and realize there are a variety of skills needed that go beyond learning a language. They also benefit from the lower cost of the academy to them. When we first laid out the model of the academy, we were considering tuition of $20-25K, rather than $16K.
We already have a couple of candidate projects, but are always looking for more. As we know in our business, candidate projects don’t always turn into real ones. We’ll be looking at which of the candidate projects will become the real ones at the beginning of June. Just like we’re being selective about our intern sponsors, our instructors, and our apprentices, we want to be selective about the projects used in the academy.
If you have a project you would like to save some money on that could benefit from the expertise of RoleModel, and think it might be able to be done in the 12 weeks between August 13 and November 2 using this model, please contact us.