Appalling Farrago

A blog about stuff

08 Jun 2014

I put in an application to in mid September and tomorrow I start at the thoughtbot office in Boston. I’m ready for the change and looking forward to start working on a team rather than the lone ranger I’ve been up until now. I’m intending to try and mimic a blog I found that posted each week of her apprenticeship outlining the process. I tried to read everything I could get my hands on in the run up to tomorrow and I’d like for anyone else doing the same to have one more source to read.

I thought I’d give a brief summary of how I got to today from September as I received a plethora of good advice without which I would not have gotten to this point.

My first direct contact with thoughtbot actually came before I applied for I was actually looking for some other ways to accelerate my learning as I’d been slowing down with self learning resources and I was really drawn to the mentoring concept as it gave me someone else that could hold me accountable. This was a fantastic decision and well worth the cost. I ended up getting none other than one of the thoughtbot founders Chad Pytel who further encouraged me to apply for

As it happened, my wife and I were heading to San Fransisco shortly after all this to see if we could realistically live there. Turns out we decided we couldn’t but maybe a week prior to our trip I got an automated email from Ben Orenstein asking how I was finding the learn program. I replied, asking if there was anyone at the San Fransisco office willing to say hi to me. I was shocked when he said he’d be in San Fransisco for a conference and that he could meet with me the Thursday we arrived. This was incredible as Ben was very open with advice and I got a real feel for the company. One of the lessons I learnt from Ben, which I struggled with coming from the UK, was to follow up on everything. He gave crystal clear instructions like ‘You just met the office manager, email him saying it was a pleasure. I get back into the office on Tuesday, email me to follow up.’ he really pushed home that I need to do everything in my power to stand out. To clarify, this was mortifying to me and my wife as we had been raise in a culture that would consider constantly following up to be not only rude, but down right irritating. I could imagine losing jobs by being too overbearing. Ben told me that because of that, if I’m not feeling uncomfortable, then I’m not following up enough.

Meeting someone in person gave a lot more weight to my application. I dutifully emailed Ben on Tuesday asking him if he could comment on my application as he had promised. Mid November I received an email from Gabe Berke-Williams informing me that I had been moved on to the code review part of the application and if I could provide some code I was proud of. As Christmas approached things slowed down and it was maddening not moving any further through the process. I emailed every so often to anyone I could think of and the whole time felt like a pest. Another great piece of advice is when trying to get something from busy people, keep it short and direct. Chances are they want to help so make it easy for them.

Come the new year and I still hadn’t progressed any further down the track. Speaking to Chad, he said that positions were limited and they were struggling to get through all the applications. I had, in the mean time, been looking at other avenues and went through a few job interviews I didn’t feel awesome about. The interviews went great but the jobs not so much. I continued to follow up and at the end of February I had a technical interview with the other founder of thoughtbot Jon Yurek. This went well and in March I was flown out to Boston for a full day at thoughtbot so they could do the final assessment of if I’d be a good fit. This consisted of meeting the office manager Josh Clayton, usually potential apprentices meet with Chad now but since he was my mentor we were already fairly familiar, so I met with Josh instead. I spent the morning pairing with Jon working on his open source projects. This felt rather one sided as I had little to offer but was great to see what goes into managing an open source project. Everyone had lunch and then I spent the afternoon pairing with Melissa Xie working on a feature for an internal project which I could help a lot more with.

This final stage felt like the apprenticeship was mine to lose. As long as I didn’t do anything stupid I’d be heading to Boston. Turns out I managed it and I’m looking forward to getting started.