As Liatrio continues to grow, we are continually seeking highly qualified engineers and consultants to help us expand the depth and breadth of our capabilities. Finding people who possess both exceptional technical and interpersonal skills is difficult, especially when our consultants must travel to build relationships with and support our customers. The people we look for are also sought by every major U.S. company trying to modernize their IT operations and gain a competitive edge. As an added challenge, Liatrio has trouble finding consultants or engineers with the right background because even highly talented people tend to hold on tightly to practices built at previous jobs.
The ideal Liatrio employee has the ability to transform organizations and the desire to constantly learn and build technical skills and solve problems in a collaborative way. Rather than only trying to identify and retrain these rare individuals, we also decided to build a college recruiting and training internship program that would enable us to take an active role in helping to develop the types of DevOps engineers we really need. As it turns out, this internship program was just the start. As I’ll explain, over time we began to think bigger. And thus our DevOps apprenticeship program was born.
Internship Program Beginnings
For the past three years, we have focused on training our own engineers in order to build the requisite technical and interpersonal skills from the ground up. To that end, in 2015 we kicked off an internship program at California State University Chico to recruit candidates from the undergraduate computer science program. These candidates joined us for the last three-nine months of their studies, pursuing full-time degrees while spending 15-20 hours a week with our engineers to learn DevOps transformation concepts.
As part of this internship program, our team integrated interns fully into all key company conversations, Slack discussion channels, and Confluence sites. Where appropriate, we also introduced interns to some elements of client work. They lived our culture and became fully involved in our way of working. At the end of the internship period, we identified those who passed our threshold and made full-time offers to very best. This intern-to-hire process worked out fairly well because these new hires already knew everyone in the company and understood how we all work together as a team. Their integration into customer teams was swift, allowing them to hit the ground running on day one while continuing to focus on improving their engineering skills.
DevOps Internship vs. DevOps Apprenticeship
As our internship program matured over the past three years, we had an epiphany of sorts. The idea and even the definition of “internship” implies learning and leaving. Interns gain temporary, on-the-job education and work experience rather than integrated, real-world training for a long-term position at the company.
However, our whole goal was to build great engineers who can grow with Liatrio and our valued clients for many years to come. We now call these interns “apprentices” to acknowledge that they are doing more than pursuing their education — they are gaining hands-on training they can’t get elsewhere and evolving towards becoming a masters in their given area of focus.
We have also been doubling down on our efforts in Chico by hiring experienced full-time engineers who can both do client work and mentor our college recruits in order to help us grow the DevOps apprenticeship program. We want to continue expanding our ecosystem in a way that (1) enables more college students to participate and (2) enables us to retain the most gifted candidates longer.
DevOps Apprenticeship Overview
At Liatrio, a DevOps apprenticeship is a formal employment program for talented college students who have great potential and who know that they wish to pursue a profession as a DevOps engineer. As with all new hires, DevOps apprenticeship candidates undergo an interview process and hiring process (although the apprentice interviewing and hiring process is simpler and faster than for other new hires). The interview process is geared toward identifying how candidates think and work rather than testing whether they can solve any technical problem that comes their way.
Once hired, our apprentices also participate in a comprehensive onboarding process. By treating apprentices like full-fledged members of our team and integrating them into our day-to-day work, we encourage those apprentices to think and act like members of our team. For example, tools in the lives of most students often consist of a text editor, some UNIX tools, and a VM/Cloud service. Our DevOps apprentices, on the other hand, gain a real-world view of core tools such as Vagrant, AWS, and Jenkins initially and then asked to help with client needs like building elastic stack dashboards to track team and organizational change. The most important things apprentices learn is to ask questions, share their work, and most importantly to vet their ideas with a peer. These skills are incredibly important to any apprentice’s success at the company.
Candidates also participate in the ongoing refinement and uplift of our bootcamp “an introduction to DevOps”. Some of these improvements include updating outdated content and adding new sections with additional details. This documentation has proven valuable to the DevOps community and to facilitate community contributions we have moved the documentation to GitHub as an open-source project.
You can learn more about the history of Liatrio’s internship and apprenticeship programs here.
DevOps Apprenticeship Program of the Future
Developing a strong IT culture and acting as an end-to-end IT transformation catalyst for clients are two things that don’t happen by accident. IT and DevOps apprenticeships are a great way to offer talented engineering (and business) students the technical training and interpersonal skills building they’re seeking in return for their willingness to better themselves and Liatrio. Because they haven’t yet learned problematic or incomplete training at other companies, they can be grounded in our cultural values, proven processes, and sound technical methodologies.
At Liatrio, the best way we have found to address staffing shortages in the tech sector and prepare for tomorrow’s tech challenges is by making a long-term investment in skills building through DevOps apprenticeships. Teaching apprentices skills that make them valuable in the marketplace doesn’t always pay off, but we’ve found that the rewards have outweighed the risks. In fact, the impact has been huge for us – our apprentices are not only jump starting their careers but also helping us serve our clients by assisting Liatrio engineers on the front lines. Our apprentices on their first day of full time employment equal or exceed expectations from most industry engineers that already have 2-5 years in the same area of expertise. This experience rewards the apprentices and all of our employees as we continue to expand our DevOps apprenticeship program.