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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.
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.