HashiCorp

Design Apprenticeship: How We Designed our Program

Last year, our first Product Design Apprentice went through our program at HashiCorp. Now that she’s been promoted to Product Designer, we can reflect on our process and give insight to other organizations considering a similar program.

About Apprenticeships

Let’s start with the basics. An apprentice is someone being paid to work under the guidance and training of a skilled, experienced person in a particular craft. Since the Middle Ages, apprentices have been a part of various career cultures, from seam-stressing to carpentry. Today’s industries often have job opportunities that sound like apprenticeships, such as vocational training, but many of them tend to fall short of the mutual relationships and artisanship that the term “apprentice” connotes.

Why We Built the Program

Briefly, here are a few reasons why we decided to create the design apprenticeship program at HashiCorp.

Create Mentorship Opportunity

Our team is made up of mostly senior product designers. While it’s an incredible set of people to learn from, we didn’t have an avenue for formal mentorship opportunities. Some members of the team wanted an opportunity to learn those types of skills without having to go down the full on “management track.”

Increase Efficiency

With extra hands around, we can get more done. But after a year of nearly constant interviewing (HashiCorp has nearly doubled in size in a year), we learned that hiring senior designers takes a lot of time and care. That’s important and won’t change. But there’s also a massive pool of amazing, motivated junior candidates with tons of potential who are ready to join a team — a team that is also ready to support them.

Provide Rare, Remote, Junior Role

As a completely remote, distributed team, HashiCorp can share a truly unique opportunity. Most companies large enough to offer an apprenticeship program are located in the major tech cities of America. That’s great for junior designers who went to an urban college, have a cousin working at Big Tech Company, or interned at Trendy Design Studio. This opportunity isn’t for those folks.

How We Hired for the Role

We looked for people with a portfolio of product design work, most likely projects assigned at school or self-directed learning programs. Even if there weren’t many “real” projects on their websites, we looked for candidates that generally understood design phases and could communicate their thoughts clearly and efficiently. The designs should have shown strong potential, but didn’t need to be perfect by any means.

What Our Program Looks Like

The goal of our Apprenticeship Program is to mentor the apprentice into a “Level 1” Product Designer (HashiCorp has five “levels” in our product design career ladder).

Career Matrix & Goals

Product designers at HashiCorp benefit from a documented, transparent career ladder. It specifies the skills and behaviors that we expect from each of the five “levels” of product designer.

Career Matrix
  • Sets expectations in a manner consistent with how you set expectations for the rest of the team

  • Encourages more autonomy in the apprentice, serving as a compass for where they need to grow from Day 1

  • May provide awareness to the employer of how much support they will truly need to provide to level up an apprentice within the expected timeframe

  • Gives all parties a document to return to for check-ins, ensures expectations are being met on both sides, and provides talking points if those expectations are not being met

Timeline

In our partnership with the apprentice, we aim for them to become a “Level 1” Product Designer in one year’s time. Our framework specifies a timeline goal so that it isn’t completely nebulous, but it also isn’t overly rigid, leaving wiggle room for slightly different speeds of learning and growth. With a different apprentice, we might specify a different timeframe. Like any other role, we may also decide to part ways if a permanent role is no longer available or if, in the end, it simply isn’t the right fit.

Collaboration Agenda

We wanted to create expectations for check-ins during the first quarter, but not plan so far ahead that we couldn’t pivot after trying things out the first 3 months.

Design apprenticeship weekly plans chart
  • The cross-product shadow was proven to be so valuable, that we decided to implement cross-product pairing for our whole design team.

What’s Next?

For this apprenticeship, we ended up hiring Jasmine Wright from Augusta, Georgia, who had gone through an online bootcamp focused on design while working as a web developer for a university website. Mentoring Jasmine has been a breeze; she is both mellow and motivated, thoughtful and growth-minded. We are lucky to have her on our staff as a Product Designer for our Consul product.

Next up, Jasmine would love to share her insights from the apprenticeship and tips for junior designers.

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