Apprenticeship program: 25% complete

by Trevor Waldorf

For the tenth AUX class, the end of week four means we’ve completed one-quarter of the program. Although it still feels like week one for me, looking back we’ve already covered an exciting amount of ground. Here’s a little of what I’ve learned thus far:

Know why you’re here

On the second week of AUX I came down with a bad case of “ooh-shiny-itis.” It’s a growing design agency! Everyone is doing wonderful things! Chris is running marketing! Emily is running operations! Evan is running product strategy! I have to learn everything from everyone! But there’s not enough time! (screaming emoji)

Fortunately, Trish sat me down for a miniature therapy session to help me realign by asking what I wanted out of the program. Why am I here? To take my design skills to the next level through practice and critique. There are many opportunities for learning at Fresh Tilled Soil, and I will (and have) learned valuable things from many of the wonderful people in the office. AUX is built to turn early design professionals into user experience experts and I need to take advantage of that focus.

Show work early and often

Some lessons need to be learned more than once. For me, presenting work early and often is a lesson I learn over and over again. People are the greatest resource, and being part of AUX affords the apprentices fabulous access to the Fresh team. No matter where I am in my process, getting advice and feedback from another perspective is not only helpful, but crucial in staying on track. Even the shortest meetings spark a firestorm of new ideas, directions, and insights. Show early and show often, especially if you are struggling or frustrated.

Know that everyone wants you to succeed

Everyone here wants the apprentices to succeed. Support like that allows us to take risks, explore areas and techniques we would otherwise shy away from in an executional environment. I feel a combination of high expectations and freedom. Generally the sentiment is, “go somewhere interesting, and then tell us how you got there.”

Big life bombs here: most things aren’t zero-sum. While not true in limited scopes or quota environments, on a large scale, when someone succeeds, it’s good for everyone else. Good teams understand this, and although my view of client work at Fresh Tilled Soil is still through a keyhole, that understanding seems to be universal here. Each member in the organization actively contributes to each others’ success.

Find your cadence

“Everyone moves at their own pace” was advice given to us about how to move through the work assigned during AUX. True, but to temper that, you also have to get things done, ideally at a nice clip.

Much of my career has existed in severely unbalanced work environments, from the physically exhausting pace of tech accelerators to the insomniac deadlines of the music industry. I’ve accepted a cycle of deeply destructive burnouts as a requisite component of creative work.

Watching the Fresh team move through projects, my understanding of work cadence has changed. Fresh Tilled Soil doesn’t self-identify as “Agile,” but they’re more Agile in principle than most of the Agile teams with whom I’ve worked.

Finding a rhythm and carefully adjusting it has helped me increase the amount of material I can learn and produce each week without overloading. In digital design these days, process is a large part of the product. I think finding your cadence, and then ramping up and down as need be is a crucial part of an effective process. “No one sprints forever” is another repeatable lesson for me.

Finally, Make Safe Decisions

Kevin, the building manager, says this to me when I say goodbye on Fridays. Good advice. ?

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design