Interns and Apprentices at Atomic Object

Interns and apprentices have always been an essential part of Atomic Object. Choosing to work with students and recent graduates has been, in part, how we bootstrapped the company. Since our founding in 2001, we’ve had 33 people go through our “program”. I use the word in quotes because we’ve considerably changed our approach to cultivating young talent over the years; it’s always been more pull than push — we provide the environment, and expect our learners to take advantage of it. We don’t rigorously distinguish between intern and apprentice, but in general, interns start working with us full-time during a summer, and apprentices are interns who continue to work with us during their college years, or are people who already have degrees.

Over the years, we’ve held constant these elements of our approach to working with interns and apprentices:

* We put them on real customer projects, fully integrated into a team.
* We pair with them across all activities.
* We expose them to our customers.
* We involve them in all aspects of our work.
* We take the time to stop and teach them things they should know.
* We expose them to more than one technology.
* We expect them to contribute to our blog.
* We invite them to all our parties.
* We share company financials with them, just like regular employees.
* We expect a lot from them.
* We take them out to lunch when they’re finished with their experience.

In the last two years, we’ve required an individual craftsman to take personal responsibility for each learner. The craftsman doesn’t necessarily work with the learner every day, but they are responsible for making sure the learner understands expectations, gets a good variety of experiences, and stays tuned-in to to their learning. The best craftsmen in this role assign homework — readings, programming assignments, and company presentations — to be done by the learner outside of work hours. We made this change when we realized that as we had grown, we had become a little too loose and some summer interns failed to take maximum advantage of the growth opportunity at Atomic. The craftsman-learner pairing has been a good improvement.

Another important change we’ve made over the years is to require the first period of learning (usually a summer or semester) to be a full-time experience. In the past, we were more willing to allow part-time work. We believe it’s important for both Atomic and the learner, to make a serious commitment to the experience. After the first period of learning, we allow their schedules to be somewhat more flexible to work around class schedules etc.

Most of the 33 people who have gone through our program have been college students. But we’ve also had high school students and a few post-degree learners. Three of our college student interns were attending college outside the US during their internships. Here’s where our learners came from:

* 27 – College students
* 3 – High school students
* 3 – International students
* 3 – Post-degree, working

The 27 college students attended eight different college or universities.

Here’s where they went once their learning experience at Atomic was complete:

* 2 – Started their own company
* 3 – Went to grad school
* 13 – Hired by Atomic
* 12 – Hired by other firms
* 4 – Still in school

We currently have nine full-time employees who were former interns or apprentices with us. That’s approximately one third of all our employees. Beyond that rather major and positive impact on our business, we find interns and apprentices bring new ideas, a generally younger perspective, some excellent opportunities to exhibit our “Teach and Learn” value mantra, and a concrete means of helping build the next generation of software development professionals.

Whether they go back to school to finish their degree, decide to go on for a masters or doctorate, chase their dreams as an entrepreneur, or join us as the newest Atom, our interns and apprentices end up far better at building software, having spent time learning and working at Atomic Object.

  • […] and refine their craft, the young people have a source of mentorship and teachers.Atomic’s internship and apprentice program is a clear example of this talent incubation role for those just beginning their careers. Two of […]

  • […] Therefore, if we expect graduates to have a reasonable grasp of the science of computers, then the next step of a computer programming education should be working alongside more experienced practitioners as an apprentice. This is precisely why we place a high value on our internship program at AO. […]

  • […] with Mike’s succinct post on what makes our internship program special–see also Carl’s interesting internship / apprenticeship figures on our track record–then continue digging into the projects and people on […]

  • […] my time at Atomic Object, I’ve had the opportunity to teach and mentor a number of apprentices. These teaching experiences have given me an idea on what attributes make up a good teacher and […]

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