Teaching graduates how to do proper problem-solving and research
Just over a year ago, on 10th October 2011 RopeWeaver Business Systems hired its first employee. David (later to earn the nickname “The Boy Wonder”) was 23, and green. Green like most graduates starting their first post-university job; most of the Visual Basic he’d done was VBA behind Microsoft Excel, and at university he’d never been offered the opportunity of a proper semester or two learning .Net. The modicum of .Net he knew was self-taught.
I’ve had my fair share of jobs over the years, so if there’s one thing I know it’s that it’s soul destroying to start a new job and find your first few days void of structure and purpose. Your manager is up against it with his own endeavours, and simply has no time to run you through a few examples of projects, to induct you properly. So you peruse some documentation you’ve found in the IT drive share, you explore the company intranet, and you wait. Each day at work is a dreadful, mind-numbing slog, not from overwork, but from lack of work. The hours drag, and it is awful.
In charge of my own company I vowed I was not going to make this mistake. In advance, firmly lodged in a recess in my mind, I had formulated an induction process for David, I came up with a series of mini ASP.Net test projects for him to complete, each in turn layering up tiers of .Net development skills. He wouldn’t be overwhelmed, he would always be allowed to declare “I’m stuck, please show me how to do this”.
Often he would (and still does) ask me questions that I couldn’t answer. I didn’t just delegate the knowledge discovery task to him, nor did I say “I’ll find out and get back to you”. Instead I learned with him, shuffling my chair alongside and once more telling him what I wanted him to type, this time in Google, and we researched it together (“Let’s go see”). At the very least he was able to see and participate in my methods of investigation and problem-solving (everyone has a subtly different Google-Fu, after all).
Once we’d formulated a solution to the problem not only had we both learned something new, but I could see that the whole process had been tremendously satisfying for both of us. In working together to overcome a challenge, feeling involved and empowered, Dave was getting to be a part of the business. And above everything else, making people part of the business is what an induction is all about.