Having just completed presenting the Drupal career training portion of AcquiaU, we are anticipating great experiences for all ten students as they begin their eight weeks of rotations within three different business groups within Acquia. The past two months have been a whirlwind of teaching, learning and team building, which provided great insight into a forward-thinking approach to building Drupal talent, made possible by the commitment of Acquia.
We are pleased to have contributed to the new AcquiaU with the customization of our Drupal Career Online curriculum. I’d like to share some great lessons learned, as well as introduce the ten people who were lucky enough (luck favors the prepared) to be selected for this amazing program.
What is AcquiaU?
AcquiaU is the career track trifecta for newbie (and soon-to-be newbie) Drupalers that are selected to participate. The 10 participants each get a paying job, (awesome) training, and an experience-based opportunity all wrapped up in a nurturing micro-community. For Acquia, the in-house talent incubation program is a bold grow-your-own approach to the ever increasing demand for Drupal talent. Acquia - like most other large Drupal organizations - realizes it must look outside the community for new talent.
AcquiaU is designed to take people with potential to be great Drupal site-builders, developers, and themers and train them into positions where they can start contributing to both Acquia and the overall Drupal community. Note the use of the word "potential.” - this is in marked difference to many Drupal organizations who focus their searches for experienced Drupalists. Acquia's focus on potential comes from the top, and is one of the primary reason AcquiaU exists.
More than 75 people applied for the 10 AcquiaU positions available. The fortunate ten are now paid employees of Acquia, tasked with learning everything they can about Drupal and Acquia's products, services, and culture. The program is divided into classroom Drupal training, which includes working in two teams to complete a major project. In the on-the-job training portion, participants go through three rotations within various Acquia business areas. In 2014, Acquia approached DrupalEasy about providing and delivering the Drupal Career Online curriculum for the classroom portion of AcquiaU.
How is DrupalEasy involved?
We were contracted to help with not only the content and delivery of the AcquiaU Drupal curriculum, but also to assist with student selection and ongoing evaluation of student performance. Starting in October, we worked with Amy Parker, the Director of AcquiaU, in evaluating student applications, student interviews, curriculum planning, and overall planning for the classroom portion. Then, for the first three weeks of December, 2014 and first three weeks of January, 2015, I was on-site at Acquia's headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts to provide the training.
How did we compress the 12-week Drupal Career Online curriculum into 8 weeks?
Our normal schedule for delivering our long-form Drupal curriculum has traditionally been 10-12 weeks. We've run our course five times over the past few years prior to AcquiaU, so compressing it into 6 weeks of classroom training (and 2 holiday weeks) was going to be tricky. Granted, our 12-week course normally only meets a minimum of three half-days per week, but our students often spend 15-25 hours per week outside of class working on assignments and projects. We got lucky that the traditional holiday travel season fell right in the middle of the training. We were able to cover the first half of the curriculum in the first three weeks of December, then over the holiday, the students were tasked with several online assignments as well a major milestone for their team projects. These two weeks provided a welcome break from the high-intensity classroom training, as well as a chance to go back and review curriculum that had previously been covered. Following the holiday break, the second half of the curriculum was delivered.
Over the course of about six weeks prior to the start of class on December 1, I participated in interviews and selection of the ten students. We selected participants based on a number of factors, focusing on each's potential, rather than experience with Drupal. The lucky ten have diverse backgrounds:
- Steve Bresnick - instructional designer, English teacher, and web site developer.
- Jaleel Carter - web site developer and webmaster.
- Thomas Charging Hawk - currently pursuing M.S. in Media Management, web site administrator, and Acquia Support intern.
- John Cunningham - computer technician and avionics technician with the United States Marine Corp.
- Kerry DeVito - product assistant, freelance writer and web designer.
- Matt Dooley - senior designer, web developer.
- Elizabeth Mackie - communications, outreach web developer.
- Colin Packenham - industrial designer.
- Carl Watson - Drupal Association intern.
- Doris Wong - Acquia UX intern, courseware developer.
The most difficult part of the classroom training was probably its relentless nature. Every day the students were presented with new concepts - from a Drupal standpoint, as well as Acquia products and services. The standard Drupal Career Online 12-week schedule provides a lot more breathing room for students to digest, review, and explore concepts (something I refer to as "soak time"). From the start we built in as many "lab hours" as feasible for the AcquiaU students to focus on completing assignments, reviewing curriculum, or working on team projects; but it always seemed like there were never enough hours in the day.
Other than the repeated requests for time machines, students also asked for periodic, more formalized feedback. Typically during the Drupal Career Online program, I speak with students individually two or three times during the 12 weeks to talk with them about their progress, expectations, and areas of need. These conversations provide the student with some feedback, but also provide me confirmation that each student is progressing as well as I think they are. During the six on-site classroom weeks of AcquiaU, I wrote weekly evaluations for each student, but this information was not initially shared with the students. Based on student feedback, these evaluations will be provided to students, and in the future, I'll be providing weekly written feedback for all students of Drupal Career Online.
Over the past few years of writing, delivering, and refining the Drupal Career Online curriculum, I think we've found a pretty good balance of lecture, classroom exercises, demos, learning materials, and homework. Our curriculum has become more concise, focused, and builds upon previous lessons in a meaningful way. As we started putting together Acquia products and services curriculum, we quickly found that 1-1.5 hour presentations on various topics was just about the right amount of time. More than that and the topics often dove too deep into the weeds, less than that and the students weren't getting much more than an overview. In addition, we also found that the order and timing of Acquia content was more important than we originally thought.
Thank you, Acquia!
It was a great opportunity and experience to be able to participate in AcquiaU. Amy Parker and the rest of the learning services team could not have been more welcoming and supportive of our contributions to the program. AcquiaU is a unique program - where else can you go and get paid to learn Drupal? Additional sessions of AcquiaU are planned for 2015, check the (soon-to-be-relaunched) u.acquia.com web site for details. If you're not interested in a full-time training program (or moving to the Boston area), be sure to check out the next session of Drupal Career Online!
As a participant in the Acquia U program, I felt so fortunate to learn from an instructor who not only had incredibly deep and vast technical knowledge of Drupal and Web Development, but possess the poise, patience, experience and ability to break complicated concepts down into manageable chunks that an excellent teacher possesses. It is rare to find someone with true expertise in technology as well as pedagogy, but we certainly found that through Mike and Drupal Easy.