Franklin as an Apprentice
December 7th, 2012

What Apprenticing Is All About - Month 1 in the P’unk Apprenticeship

Joel Smith

The Plot Thickens

On a Monday morning about three weeks ago, I showed up to work at 1168 East Passyunk Avenue. We broke some ground that morning: P’unk Ave started an apprenticeship program with me as the guinea pig apprentice. We had some loosely defined goals that morning, and we have certainly grown and adapted as the weeks have passed.

Over the next six months, I’ll be spending my days at P’unk Ave as their first apprentice, and I’ll try to keep a record of my time here on the Window. In this first month’s check-in, I’ll try to introduce myself and explain a bit about what the apprenticeship program is and why P’unk Ave would want to have such a program.

The New Kid on the Block

First of all, I’m a bit of an interloper. By formal training, I am a philologist and teacher: I studied education and religion as an undergraduate and the Great Books as a graduate student. You might think that these don’t bear on my current situation, but I could make an argument in their defense (I may have already done that elsewhere on the interwebs). Regardless, this time last year, I was leading restless, teenage minds into the wilderness of writing and reading as a high school English teacher.

As a result, perhaps, of my lack of enthusiasm for my day job, I spent my nights and weekends building websites for friends, family, and even a few clients. Front-end development became a bit of a hobby which eventually turned into an obsession which eventually turned into a career-change. And that’s what brought me to 1168 P’unk Ave. For me, the apprenticeship program is all about making a change: a colossal change.

‘Prenticing at P’unk Ave

As my story highlights, the apprenticeship program is being built around the idea of change, and I think this importantly distinguishes it from a more traditional entry-level position like an internship. The P’unk Ave apprentice will most often be someone in career transition: someone with professional experience outside the realm of design and development. This person, who has somehow hacked together some basic skills, will most likely be in need of a bridge into the profession; they’re probably a shy step away from the level of a hireable developer or designer.

The idea is not only that the P’unk Ave team has something really valuable to teach and share but also that an apprentice is someone who can and will contribute. An internship tends to favor one side of the equation: either the company or the intern walks away with something really valuable, but not usually both. Our apprenticeship is about making sure the equation is balanced: what an apprentice will take away is as valuable as what he or she might contribute. One of that ways that we’re doing that is setting a length of time for the apprenticeship that allows for real growth. Another distinguishing factor is the prerequisite of some professional experience along with some rudimentary skills in the field.

But P’unk Ave is a place that’s about way more than just skills (though there are some serious skill sets in this office), and this is what motivated the discussion of an apprentice program. The team at P’unk Ave is concerned with purpose, with framing our daily business within a meaningful narrative. A big part of this narrative is that each person ought to be responsible and engaged in the work that they are doing. Partially, we do this by working with clients who jive well with our philosophy. But it’s also about the freedom and responsibility that we all have. You see, P’unk isn’t just an agency; it’s a place that’s all about agency. It's about empowering people to build things and take ownership of the things they build, in ways that make sense and are meaningful to them. P'unk creates agents who thrive through their autonomy.

As a really simple case in point: thirty minutes after starting as an apprentice, I was working on my first site with only a PSD and some content. Autonomy like this is scary, but it's already forced me to assume some agency, even as a new and decidedly unreliable member of the team. But this is one of our major goals in the apprentice program: to push, almost forcefully, people on the cusp of a meaningful and successful career into becoming autonomous agents, ready to design and build things that matter.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

In the coming months, I’ll be posting information about the projects I’ve been working on as well as everything that I’ve learned about our content management system, Apostrophe.