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Models of Apprenticeship

by Mark Levison on Mar 26, 2009 |

According to the Cambridge Dictionary an apprentice is "someone who works for an expert to learn a particular skill or job". Merriam Webster says: "one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling". Uncle Bob Martin recently wrote about his experience with apprentices and what he considers key to progressing from apprentice to journeyman.

He describes two hypothetical apprentices: Sam, a developer who has apprenticed with the same master and had the same year fifteen years in a row. The other, Jasmine has changed jobs (and therefore masters) a number of times - growing her skills along the way. The following diagram illustrates the difference in their progress.

Bob’s point is that Sam, who has never changed masters, will always be a student and his growth is limited. Whereas Jasmine, who’s path has been varied,  really is a journeyman – travelling from master to master learning new things from each. Eventually Jasmine herself can become a master.

One commenter JMiller suggests that with a large enough company that you don’t need to leave your employer to change masters companies the size of Google or Microsoft, etc.

Corey Haines points out that while there are companies that are large enough to support Journeyman tours inside the company, none that he knows encourage it.

From her experience at Tektronix, Rebecca Wirfs-Brock remarks: “To me, moving around in the same company is roughly equivalent to changing employers, especially if the company is big enough…and I did several job shifts in my 13 years at Tektronix.”

Corey Haines is starting to have some ideas about how one transitions from apprentice to journeyman:

During the apprentice phase, a person is busy learning. They are practicing specific techniques, rigorously applying rules and procedures. Over time, having been influenced by many mentors, an apprentice starts to develop their own toolbox, the set of practices that they systematically apply. These practices form a basis for further development, a core that an apprentice can build upon.

Paul reports that in the UK companies use a similar approach hiring and training mechanical apprentices. After 6-12 months the apprenticeship is complete and people often move on somewhere else in the industry. Even though the company may not retain that person they benefit as they have a larger pool of well trained people to hire from in the future.

Previously on InfoQ: A Journeyman's Pair Programming Tour.

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within the same company... by Kevin E. Schlabach

Corey Haines points out that while there are companies that are large enough to support Journeyman tours inside the company, none that he knows encourage it.

When I worked at Siemens, this was encouraged when I was under certain managers. It is part of their core corporate culture, but not in all divisions.

Re: within the same company... by Mark Levison

That begs the question - how well did it work? Were managers receptive to it? Was there enough difference from team to team that you learned new things? Did you learn more inside Siemens or more outside in the time since?

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