A Look Back at Viget’s First Apprenticeship Cohort
Amanda Ruehlen, Former Project Management Director
Highlights from our first official cross-discipline apprenticeship program.
This week, our first cohort of apprentices wrap up their 10 week-long Viget experience. The apprentices are filling out feedback surveys, their advisors are preparing their final review lunches, and Erica is starting to connect with applicants for our next cohort. Before we all move on to our next challenge, I want to take a step back and reflect on our program design and the exceptional folks who joined in our first official cross-disciplinary apprenticeship class.
We designed the Viget apprenticeship program with three main areas for learning, each one reinforcing the other:
- Discipline-specific learning & training
- Global curriculum
- Client work
Discipline-specific learning & training
Each apprentice had a dedicated mentor with whom they met each week. Mentors were responsible for helping apprentices ramp up on specific skills with increasing levels of autonomy. This discipline-specific training was provided 1:1 and was based on the apprentice’s knowledge and needs. For example, Mia, our UX apprentice, came in with a lot of experience doing user research, so her advisor, Jackson, gave more attention to mentoring her interaction design skills. As another example, after our Front-End Dev apprentice, Ben, gained substantial experience with Craft through his personal project, his advisor, Megan, felt confident putting him on time-sensitive requests with a client’s Craft site. In this way, we’re able to provide a customized learning curriculum to each apprentice.
Our global curriculum consists of a series of weekly microclasses that cover the foundational elements of working at a digital agency. The classes were multi-disciplinary, relevant to all roles, and surprisingly well attended by non-apprentices who wanted the chance to hear their peers drop knowledge on their favorite subjects. Topics ranged from The Consulting Mindset to Facilitation & Idea Generation to Accessibility and How the Web Works. Each topic was accompanied by a reading list, a discussion, and often some hands-on workshop (like sketching). Apprentices were also expected to interview a full-timer (someone other than the facilitator) on the topic each week, gaining insight for how the topic plays out in day-to-day work.
The global curriculum might be the secret sauce to the program — it wasn’t just informative for apprentices, it was valuable for the presenters to put the sessions together, and valuable to Viget to solidify our collective fluency for these fundamental topics. The global curriculum content might not resonate as much with apprentices in the moment, as they are so focused on building skills and gaining hands-on experience. Long-term, however, I predict this will be the content our apprentice alums think back on the most.
Thirdly, our program is built on the fact that there is no substitute for “real work” and at Viget, the most important thing we do is deliver high quality work to our clients. When apprentices were ready, we brought them into the fold and, with supervision and guidance, gave them the opportunity to contribute to client work. It’s the best of both worlds: apprentices get the pressure of client deadlines and the motivating stress of wanting to uphold the team’s high standards; but, they also get the support and attention of a committed mentor.
The client work aspect of the program is unpredictable — there is no way I could tell an apprentice applicant what he or she might work on 3 months from now — but it’s critically important. The unpredictability of agency life is a reality, and apprentices benefit from riding that roller coaster a bit while they are here. More than anything else, client work was a chance for our apprentices to take what they were learning and practicing and put it into action.
We put a lot of thought and care into these three pillars of our program, particularly the global curriculum. We knew, however, that a lot of the value we’d provide to our apprentices would be difficult to plan in advance, because it would hinge on the knowledge, aptitude, needs, and interests of our actual class of apprentices.
So, let me tell you a little bit about them, where they came from, and what they did during the last 10 weeks!
Elyse Kamibayashi, Copywriter Apprentice in Falls Church, VA
Elyse studied English at William & Mary and graduated in May. She was a summer intern with us and then returned for the Apprenticeship in September. Through other internships and part-time jobs, Elyse had already taken steps to convert her study of literature to job-ready skills. By coming to Viget, Elyse took those skills one step further by fine-tuning her ability to work within our 100% digital context.
Top highlights: Elyse started working on a client project within her first week. Also, she was paired with a full-time visual designer and helped lead a 3-week brand strategy engagement.
Ben Modayil, Front-End Developer Apprentice in Falls Church, VA
Ben was a Broadcasting and Digital Media major at Cedarville University. Ben was also a summer intern at Viget, and we were pleased to have him back this fall. Throughout college, Ben took any and all classes available to expand his web development knowledge, and was a veteran at self-teaching. He came to Viget looking for another kind of education — close mentorship and a team of experts.
Top highlights: Ben experienced many urgent client requests, and helped put out some fires with quick fixes and deployments. He also built a Craft site as his personal project.
Mia Frasca, UX Design Apprentice in Boulder, CO
Mia majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in Design at Northwestern. During college, she was active in Design For America. She was looking for an opportunity to solidify the UX skills she’d already developed and accelerate her growth in other areas of design.
Top highlights: Mia got to see everything from pitch to kickoff to project completion on one project, and was involved in presenting final deliverables to another.
Tim McLeod, Project Manager Apprentice in Durham, NC
Tim studied English Literature at Indiana University and went on to earn a Master’s degree at Duke’s Divinity school. After a brief career with the Episcopal Church, however, Tim sought a new adventure. Specifically, he was looking for an opportunity to build on his core skills in communication and planning, get training on specific tools and processes, and start practicing the art of managing digital products.
Top highlights: Tim got to be the lead on a brand strategy project, as well as experience firsthand how tricky planning and estimating can be on a complex digital product.
We loved having Elyse, Ben, Mia, and Tim on board these last 10 weeks. They’ve exceeded our expectations with their curiosity, professionalism, and enthusiasm for new challenges. Just last week, both Ben and Elyse opted to speak in front of the whole company at our Free Lunch Friday meeting. We couldn’t have asked for a better inaugural cohort. We are grateful for their contributions at Viget, welcome them to our Viget alumni network, and look forward to watching their careers unfold.