Unstructured Apprenticeships

One of the things that I think makes people nervous about “taking on an apprentice” is what they perceive as the up-front work involved. Jeez, they think, I’m going to have to come up with a whole curriculum to teach!

Not so. Sure, an established apprenticeship program — something formal — will have some structure, but even that doesn’t really take the forum of a “curriculum.” The concept of curriculum, I think, just comes to us from that toxic teacher-student relationship that is drummed into us when we’re young, and largely continued throughout our lives. Teaching doesn’t NEED to be fully structured and formal.

Take my apprenticeship as an aircraft mechanic. I spent more than 80% of my time right on the shop floor, putting jets together. There was no “curriculum;” what we had was a simple checklist. There are obviously a huge number of tasks that go into a fighter jet or attack plane, and so the people running my program just wrote down a bunch of the major ones as a checklist. I simply had to work with a journeyman or master mechanic on each one, and as I did them, they “signed off” on my having done so. Anyone, in any situation whatsoever, can do the same thing. Just brainstorm a list of stuff you do, and make sure your apprentice gets to do them all with you. Add to the list as you go — there’s no need to “get it right” up front. Your apprentices don’t even need to become experts in each task, or even be able to complete them on their own after one go-round. Part of being an apprentice is first to simply be exposed to tasks, and, as you repeat them over time, to gradually become proficient.

Think about the tasks you perform at work. Or, forget work — what are some tasks you perform at home, in a hobby you have, or something else? Those are things you can teach — and you just need to find an apprentice willing to run through them with you. That’s it. Even a small list of automotive maintenance tasks can help change someone’s life by making them more confident, more self-reliant, and more capable.

Start making your list. There’s even a place in “The Grind” to start writing them down, but I expect, and hope, that you’ll need lots more space really quickly!

Listen: Leading & Learning

This turned out to be a kind of freewheeling discussion between myself, our question-asker Patrick, and three guests. It circles around the idea of leading a team of technologists, and not only on how technology gets selected in an environment, but how those three lead their teams to the right learning to get the job done – and to support their teams’ overall careers. Audio is a bit messy in spots, but I hope you enjoy the listen.

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How do I Get My Team Inspired to Learn?

From Twitter:

I’m a tier 3 Systems Engineer in a room of my teammates, tier 1 & 2. Informal discussion, tech meeting. I ask them what they want to learn or teach the team, and no one has response. What are we missing? What can I and other tier 3s do to inspire the others?

There’s a lot to unpack there, actually. Let’s begin.

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On Success

One of the first things The Grind (from Be the Master) has you do is Define Your Success. I can’t stress enough how important this is, or how much people can overthink this.

Look, I’m not saying you need to sit down and write stuff like, “I will be the new Bon Jovi.” People hear the word “success” and they start thinking about Dumpsters full of money, fame, cars, houses, and everything. Yeah, that’s success for some people. It wasn’t mine, and it doesn’t need to be yours. Success doesn’t need to be something other people see as “sexy” or whatever. You’re not defining what other people think you should be doing to “be successful;” you’re defining what YOU think a successful YOU looks like.

If you think to yourself, in the quiet of your own mind, “hey, I’d be pleased as heck, and consider myself a runaway success, if I just got to a point where I could be teaching my passion to other people as a part of my regular job,” well, then that’s YOUR success. That’s not aiming low. It’s not cheating. On the contrary, it’s achievable, it’s objectively measurable, and above all it’ll make YOU happy. That’s your success. Write it down.

Your success is going to change over time. I always hated those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions, because a lot of time the “me of today” can’t even imagine what might be possible in five years, let alone what I’ll be doing within that possible. One you achieve your success, you might find that there’s a step or few beyond that. Cool. At that time, when it comes, you can redefine your success.

Your success definition might not even last out the year. Maybe some amazing opportunity comes along, and changes your entire vision of what’s possible. Fine! Seize that opportunity, and redefine your success within that new world.

The point of “define your success” isn’t to set some unreasonable limit, or to cater to others’ expectations, or to limit yourself. It’s to give yourself a set of clear, concrete goals that make sense for you TODAY. If the time comes and it seems like a re-definition is in order, you can do that. What I like about “The Grind” though, is that it forces me to actually THINK ABOUT IT. When that new opportunity presents itself, I need to look at my current definition of success, and DECIDE if I want to step away from that path and define a new one. It’s not something that “just happens.” I don’t flit from one life path to another without thinking about it — “The Grind” makes me think about it. It makes me make decisions, like an adult. I like that.

Don’t rush this. Draft up a definition of success and sleep on it. Tweak it over the coming few days until you’re happy with it. Test yourself by asking, “if I come to a point in my life where I feel absolutely successful, what will I be doing?” Whatever you write down for your success definition should answer that question clearly.

Now, before I let you go, we need to have a brief understanding of the word “discipline.” I want you to be disciplined about keeping up with “The Grind,” and this mailing list is designed to provide some help. But “being disciplined” simply means “being able to remember what you want, and why you want it, and how important it is to you.” You’re not going to BE successful unless you BECOME successful; “The Grind” is not about the end-state as much as it is about the journey. So you’re going to have to walk the walk and do the work. I want this mailing list to help poke you each week, so that you’ll take the time to do the work, BUT YOU GOTTA DO IT. It’ll be way easier to not do it, and you gotta fight that.

Time to get started. Define your success.

Treat Your Company Like You’re the CEO

When you go to work int he morning, adopt a new attitude: pretend that you’re in charge. And do that every day. Now… wait a sec. That’s not the same as the typical, “if I ran this place, things would be different” thinking. Let me explain.

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Be the Person for the Job You Want

“I know. You’ve heard it a thousand times: Dress for the job you want, not the one you’ve got. But I think this message goes far beyond the clothes you wear every day: It’s how you present yourself in meetings and at office events, how you interact with staff both above and below you, and how seriously you take your work.” – Adrian Granzella Larssen, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Muse

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Take a Career Inventory

I often advise people to take a “skills inventory” from time to time. Knowing what skills you have – both professionally and otherwise – make it easier to spot upcoming opportunities and take advantage of them. But I also feel it’s important to periodically inventory your career.

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