Empowering apprentices to innovate through collaboration

Flexion’s apprenticeship program: FlexUp — Part 3 of 3

Empowering apprentices to innovate through collaboration

Empowering apprentices to innovate through collaboration 1200 627 Flexion


In the previous two articles, Investing in diverse thinkers and problem-solvers and Navigating Flexion’s trailblazing apprenticeship program, we’ve discussed why Flexion started what is now known as the FlexUp apprenticeship program and the process of hiring apprentices. This article, the final one in this series, explores how this program benefits our company, apprentices, and clients.

Creating a win-win situation

While FlexUp participants gain new skills and employment opportunities in a challenging career, Flexion gains the opportunity to build future technologists. By combining junior and senior-level staff, the company can deliver more impactful work products to our clients.

Diversity of thought helps create better solutions

As Rick Giese, the program’s founder, said in part one of this series, “We think Flexion has a lot of secret sauce when it comes to agile software engineering.” Adding apprentices has enriched the recipe. Now, even established teams can gain new perspectives on their work, thanks to the increased diversity of thought that goes into a team’s collective problem-solving. “We expect this principle will apply to the new UX apprentice this time around as well,” Rick adds.

Terri DeFazio, Product Owner, Modern Claim Adjudication Development Services (MCADS), says, “In the past, our engineering apprentices asked simple questions that made experienced engineers step back and think about why they made an implementation decision. These simple questions help the entire team wonder – is there another path that gives us the most options? To experience this on a team is fantastic and adds much depth to conversations.”

Salome Ranson, a former apprentice, agrees. “Fresh eyes can bring new insights to a codebase and its architecture,” she says. She believes that asking the team questions about why they do things in a particular way helps highlight areas for improvement that can benefit project outcomes, the team, and the company.

Tim Donaworth, Principal Security Engineer/DevSecOps, says. “Having a less-experienced team member come on board helped reshape our thinking around how we approached problem-solving. As we explained choices in detail to the apprentice, we had the chance to re-examine long-held assumptions about products and technologies, which led to new insights.”

And it’s not just in the daily work that this fresh input by apprentices pays off. Based on the positive experiences that the Information Systems Foundational Components Support (ISFCS) team had with their apprentice, they decided to take a new approach to structure the team for a new bid proposal.

Rather than using three senior full-stack engineers, the bid team constructed the bid to include two senior and two junior full-stack engineers. “We won the bid,” Tom Willis, one of the program leaders, says, “and the winning nuance was a direct benefit of this program.”

Flexibility by Design

Rick said, “Because apprentices are new to this profession, we can help them develop good working habits. Through our training in and strong alignment to our Flexion Fundamentals, individuals receive valuable conceptualization tools that help them collaborate within their team and across the company.”

Flexion’s operating culture is flexible by design. Company leaders strive to cultivate an atmosphere of safety, trust, and collaboration built on humility, technical and operational excellence, putting skin in the game, and face-to-face time (via video conferencing because Flexion is a remote company).

The rest of the organization is relatively flat, so individuals are responsible for assessing what needs to be done and executing those tasks without direct supervision. Collaboration between employees and teams is the company’s primary function, and the Flexion Fundamentals guide decision-making and inform behaviors by encouraging option-based thinking. Flexion leaders know that this way of doing things may not be for everyone – and that’s okay.

“Having run into many roadblocks because of employer/procedural inflexibility,” Desiree Bradish, a former apprentice, says, “it is freeing to see a company that is willing to change procedures if someone has a better option.”

According to Carlos Peña, a program graduate, Flexion’s structure can take a little getting used to. “In other jobs, I would get a list of things to do. I would also have a supervisor. But at Flexion, you get a team assignment, and that’s it. It was a major shift from the normal way of doing things.” But now, after some time on the job, he enjoys the change.

Advice from engineering graduates to future applicants

Salome Ranson advises, “Know your ‘why. I believe that one’s reason for pursuing a software engineering career as an individual with a non-traditional background comes with challenges but can be gratifying. A solid reason for pursuing this action will propel you in your learning journey and development.”

“Go for it! And don’t stop trying.” Andrew Shumway suggests. “Keep working every day. It’s a great opportunity. It can be nerve-wracking and scary, but it’s amazing if you’re looking for a place to start. Flexion gives you lots of tools. They put you on the right path.”

Scott Pawlak says, “Focus on what you know and try to get good at one thing. The reward is a great job with great benefits. Flexion will give you great responsibility AND the freedom to do your work your way.”

The Last Word

The lives of the program’s graduates have changed for the better. The software industry now has more talented and knowledgeable participants who have valuable things to contribute over the course of their careers.

Rick continues: “We’ve repeatedly heard from apprentices that they feel supported and have been challenged and rewarded by exposure to the program’s explosive learning opportunities. And that’s cool.”

What will the future bring?

“Now that we have the right structure,” says Rick, “we are pleased to add an apprentice interested in adding UX skills to their portfolio. Future cohorts may find us adding other disciplines as well.”

Want to apply for the FlexUp program? Watch our Careers page for announcements.

Read part 1 of this series, “Investing in diverse thinkers and problem-solvers.”
Read part 2 of this series, “Navigating Flexion’s trailblazing apprenticeship program.”

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