The Teaching Agency

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few years about the master/apprentice model and how that applies to the web industry. I’m happy to see that people like Christopher Murphy are bringing the concept up at conferences now. While in general I think education in our industry is becoming a subject of many discussions too.

After coming from university myself and getting into the industry even before completing my degree. I began to realise the university model can be the wrong way to approach teaching the web. In some circumstances, I believe some universities are doing it well. If the right people are the ones behind it. In those cases I think these people are active in the web themselves and not just academics. People like Chris, Elizabeth Gardiner, David Watson, and Prisca Schmarsow. Also, with the talk of web design/dev as a “craft”, apprenticeships seem to me an almost obvious route to pursue. After hearing that Mark Boulton Design and Sarah Parmenter both took on apprentices in recent years I think it’s backed up that thinking even more.

Lately I’ve been having another thought that I would love to pursue under the right circumstances. I’m a big fan of Scrubs! In the series the main characters start as trainee doctors and work in a hospital straight out of university. The hospital is one of many (common to the US maybe – not sure how the UK works) “teaching hospitals”. I think this is something we could repurpose for the web industry, “teaching agencies” so to speak. Agencies that do regular client work and have full time paid employees, but also take on several “apprentices”. The apprentices go there to work and learn their craft from the “masters” over a period of time – a year or two maybe. The age of the apprentices could vary but I would assume this would replace the usual University step. So you would have students straight out of college or sixth form taking on roles as the apprentice in a discipline covered by the agency.

I still think there would be a need for some form of classes and lecturing on some of the theory behind what we do. Looking back now I feel I’m a much better developer because of things I learned at university. Things I might not have naturally pursued, things like accessibility etc. I think Tiago Pedras handles this quite well by having guest speakers come and do talks for his classes. Something along these lines with maybe a day a week or fortnight reserved for lectures. Along with regular research tasks given to make sure apprentices aren’t just allowed to stagnate on a particular project.

The clients this “agency” would take on would work under the knowledge that they would be working with apprentices. Along with the reassurance of having the masters there running the projects. This would likely affect the prices the agency could charge. But that would go hand-in-hand with the understanding that the apprentices aren’t paid as much as a regular designer/developer would be. Although I feel the apprentices would need a wage in this model some how. The money part is probably the hardest thing to work out…

There’s a lot more to consider than just the few points I’ve come up with so far, but I would like to maybe one day look at making this a reality. I’d appreciate any thoughts and feedback on this idea. You can reach me on Twitter @onishiweb but I’ve also added comments to the blog specifically for this post, so go nuts!