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AUX in a Nutshell


I’ve been getting lots of emails and tweets about our apprentice program. Instead of responding separately I thought I’d just post it here.


Our apprentice program, which we call AUX, is a 110 day program which we run 3 times a year. We pay the apprentices $500/week and we provide them each with an iMac for the duration of their apprenticeship. We select 3-5 apprentices per semester from about 20-40 applicants. The summer tends to get the highest volume of applicants for obvious reasons. Applications generally come in through our website but we also have connections to the Startup Institute so we get introductions from them too.

The Logistics

We have a AUX program director. It requires about 15-20% of his time to manage the program. The rest of the time he is working on client work. His responsibilities include interviewing the applicants, giving them pre-AUX homework (mostly reading and code prep), admin and paperwork, on-boarding, basic orientation on tools and ongoing mentoring. Each apprentice is paired with a senior designer or developer. This person becomes their internal mentor. We also encourage them to find an external mentor.

Who is a Good Candidate for AUX?

We prefer applicants with some experience in the big wide world. We do not like applicants straight out of school, although we’ll make exceptions if they are super impressive. All apprentices are required to design (UI), code (HTML/CSS/js) and do UX/IA strategy challenges. They do not have to be amazing in all domains but we expect them to know enough to create a HTML5 app on their own. The program starts with a few weeks of time-bound challenges (think of this as bootcamp) followed by a combination of internal challenges and client work. The challenges are designed to get them out of their comfort zones and, from time to time, trip them up a little. Our goal here is to see how they deal with tough situations. Client work eventually takes up 80% of their time. This justifies the cost of the program and the mentor’s time.

The Economics

For the fin/ops people out there the math looks like this: 3 x Apprentices for 15 weeks costs us about $22,500 in salaries + another $10K-$15K in lost time from admin and mentors, etc. In return we will bill around $50K-$60K in aggregate for their work during that semester. Even though it’s close to break even it’s cheaper than recruiters and far more effective at weeding out the best candidates for full time positions.

What Happens After They Graduate?

Not all AUX graduates end up being full-time employees at FTS. Approximately 20% will stay. We will help place the others with our clients and with other companies we have connections to. Many end up at one of the many startups in Boston but several have gone on as far as San Francisco and Chicago. The upside of them working for our clients is that we get referred work from them. One grad even went on to be the president of the Boston chapter of the AIGA.

Here’s an overview of the AUX program.

This was an article Fast Company wrote about the program when we first started in 2012.

A few more articles/posts about the AUX experience:

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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