Mentoring, competency models, open salaries, conferences. These are but a part of how education and professional growth work at Applifting. We asked Jana Procházková from our People Care Team to give us a more detailed picture.
What does education look like at Applifting?
There are many different ways for Applifters to learn and grow. The cornerstone of it all is mentoring. It goes hand in hand with a so-called competency model, this map of different skills that take you from a trainee to a junior, medior, all the way to a senior. Each level has a list of skills that everyone working with a given technology must learn. It doesn’t take much time for a trainee to become a junior or even a medior, some manage within a few months or so. But the higher you go, the more complex the requirements—including soft skills—which makes it harder to advance as quickly.
Everyone gets introduced to their respective competency model already during the hiring process. At the same time, they know that once they come on board, they will get to pick a mentor to guide them through the model and help them improve their skills, thereby earning more money as well.
We also support Applifters in attending seminars, workshops, and conferences—if the team finds it worthwhile, and if there's a budget for it. Not too long ago, we also came up with a new role of tech leader, where the people involved have enough time to develop education in their respective technology and help people improve in it. It’s an integral part of their job.
Nowadays, we’re taking a more strategic approach to education and soft skills development in particular, something we don’t have as much experience with compared to hard skills. At this point, we’ve experimented a little bit with a leaders academy, but we know it’s in its early stages.
Speaking of the new tech lead role: what else does it entail and how did it come to be?
Like I said, it’s a brand new position, so we’re still in the process of giving it its final shape and trying things to see what sticks. For now, tech leads work on a project for one of our clients, but it only makes up 50 percent of their work. They devote the rest of their time to educating people in the technology they work with, mentoring them, and being ambassadors for Applifting in general. What we have in mind is that in the future, our tech leads will be organizing hackathons or cooking up new ways of sharing experience gained on individual projects. That’s because we found out that a lot of the time, people communicate only with their team members, which is something they’d like to change, to share their struggles and successes also with other developers in the same field. So, really, this is something that came from within the company. And that’s how the position of a tech lead came to be.
And how does mentoring work?
Every single Applifter has their own mentor, someone to take them under their wing. It is, however, always the mentee who is responsible for their own progress and growth. The good thing is that they’re the one in the driving seat. They don’t have to wait for someone else to give them a heads-up, like when their trial period is up or when they’re dealing with a manager. The speed at which they progress is also up to them to decide. If a bright junior comes up to us, saying they want to become a medior within a month, we’ll help them pick a fitting mentor to make it happen. If, on the other hand, they currently have little time to grow, we don’t push them into anything.
We’ve had a person switch from testing to iOS, only to become a junior in just one month’s time, which allowed us to put him on a project. For sure, it took a lot of work and effort from both the mentor and the mentee, but it’s an endearing example of how things like this really work.
You talk a great deal about juniors, how do you engage with those?
Most of our clients would like to see their projects manned by seniors only, but that is a bit divorced from reality. Much like any software company, we are well aware of the fact that there just aren’t that many seniors in the job market. That’s why it’s important to us to support rookies. Establishing the new tech lead role also made it possible for us to work with trainees and bring them up to a junior level in a short amount of time (note: the trainee position at Applifting can be paid, but it isn’t always; it all depends on how skilled the person is.) Most of the time, however, trainees are not proficient enough to work on a project, and so their primary goal is to reach that junior level. One of the latest examples is one of our Android developers, who managed to get there in two months—while studying at a university, no less.
Other people work with juniors more systematically by way of academies. For instance, our DevOps academy has been running for a few months now, and we’ve turned it into a successful hiring method. In the same vein, we’d like to focus on juniors in technologies we are currently understaffed in.
And how do you look after your seniors?
While working with juniors is something we’re quite adept at, so much so that we believe we can lead by example, we are a little behind on educating our seniors. It’s one of the things we want to really home in on.
The way it works right now is that once a developer reaches the senior level, they can either venture outside their field as a guru and help bring business to Applifting; they can go down the path of creating their own product, if they have the right entrepreneurial spirit; or they can establish their own tribe. Developing their hard skills is something we’re lagging behind on. For the time being, we provide them with external mentoring. All our seniors are free to attend any seminar or conference they fancy, but any sort of systematic work is yet to be done.
Nevertheless, it was actually soft skills that nagged away at our senior developers. That’s why a couple of colleagues put together the very first run of the leadership academy. The overall goal was to support team leaders in becoming better at leading people, working with them, and inspiring them. And most importantly, to have a framework for it, not just try things in a try-and-fail fashion. We’ve analyzed the first run, and we’ll definitely be continuing with these in the future. We’ve even opened them up to anyone interested, not just our project team leaders.
It’s clear you’re quite passionate about education. Is it your main job responsibility?
Absolutely, it’s where my heart is, and it’s something I want to focus on even more. I’m trying to look at the big picture, and I hope I’ll be able to delve even deeper into education and dream up new ideas that are yet to become anything at all. There’s three crucial routes we can take with education. To be a bit more specific, one of them involves using the Gallup Test—a psychodiagnostic tool that helps assess a person’s talents. It makes it possible for leaders to identify what their team members are good at and see how to actively help them grow and utilize their abilities. However, this alone is at least a year’s worth of work ahead, not to mention the high financial cost. But either way, what’s great about Applifting is that if something makes sense to all of us, we can go ahead and pave the way.