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Apprenticeships on Open Source

Programming
Location: D138 Level: Intermediate
Presentation: external link
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 2 ratings)

OSS made Obtiva’s apprenticeship program a possibility and we would
like to share with the community why we believe that OSS provides an
opportunity for other companies to start similar programs.

This talk will walk through the aspects of OSS that have made Obtiva’s
apprenticeship program a success and how OSS facilitates a successful
apprenticeship. We will look at these aspects from both the apprentice
and mentor perspectives.

The foundational aspect that provided our first projects was the high
demand for outsourced Rails expertise at web startups, particularly
non-technical entrepreneurs who had funding, an idea, and needed to
hit the market quickly. This demand coupled with our participation in
the Ruby, Rails, and general OSS communities seeded our apprenticeship
program with projects. We will outline the different ways we engaged
potential customers and took advantage of this demand.

Our experiences in the Ruby, Rails, and other OSS communities have
been generally positive as we have engaged these communities through
our local user groups, conferences, blogs, sites like
WorkingWithRails.com, Twitter, documentation, etc. These relatively
friendly communities are welcoming to newcomers, allowing a safe
environment for apprentices to learn. We will provide examples of some
of our apprentices’ interactions with these communities.

The toolset that Ruby and Rails works best with is *nix, MySQL, and
Subversion. Leveraging this freely available software allows us to
quickly and cheaply start new projects for clients and/or our own
experimentation. The implications of this toolset are also visible in
the hosting providers we use, who leverage this same stack to create
simple, inexpensive, yet powerful plans for our customers. The
savings and simplicity that OSS provides lowers several barriers that
may have otherwise blocked our apprenticeship program. We will
discuss these barriers and illustrate the ways this platform is
particularly beneficial for apprentices and mentors.

One of the fundamental ways of learning, especially for hackers, is
tinkering with existing inventions. OSS provides apprentices with the
ability to get their hands on every magical line of code that runs so
many of the systems they work with. It is not uncommon for a mentor
to take an apprentice on “spelunking expeditions” during a tough
debugging session, during which framework code (typically ActiveRecord
or Prototype.js) is explored, picked apart, and sometimes patched, and
submitted. We will demonstrate how we uncover nasty problems in (or
our misunderstandings of) other people’s code.

The development practice that embodies our penchant for learning via
short feedback loops is Test-Driven Development via pair programming.
While TDD is not specific to OSS, Ruby on Rails provides better
built-in testing support than any other web development frameworks we
have worked with and xUnit libraries are generally OSS. While Rails’
out-of-the-box approach to testing has its shortcomings (fixture pain,
database involvement), we’ve found that apprentices benefit from going
with the flow and test the Rails way before attempting to move toward
mocking out the database with Mocha or adopting rSpec. We will
demonstrate how we use TDD and pair programming to mentor our
apprentices.

The target audience for this talk is independent consultants
considering starting their own company, software consultancy owners,
corporate development managers, and CTOs. Newcomers to software
development would also benefit from several of the apprentice-focused
demonstrations.

Photo of Dave Hoover

Dave Hoover

Obtiva

Dave Hoover is a Principal at Obtiva where he leads the Craftsmanship Studio practice. Dave is passionate about developing software developers while developing software. Dave enjoys many kinds of Ruby, JavaScript, Erlang and Java programming. Dave lives with his wife and three children in Wheaton, Illinois, USA.

Brian Tatnall

DRW Trading

Brian Tatnall is a software developer with Obtiva Corporation where he is actively working with Rails and Spring. He has been designing and building e-commerce solutions for several years. His areas of professional interest include web application frameworks, test driven development, agile practices and security.

OSCON 2008