We asked our class of four talented apprentices to share their experience learning and working with the Fresh Tilled Soil team during the 15-week AUX program. Here’s what Vik had to say:
Before venturing into Fresh Tilled Soil’s AUX program, I had been programming independently and felt very stuck. I was working on similarly sized and organized projects and running up against the same problems: Users were simply cached objects in a database table. Components were being coded before their validity was even considered. Communication broke down exponentially as deadlines approached. Nothing was consistent or standardized – yet, everything felt the same. As a developer, I was poised to react to the inevitable problems as they came up. As a designer, I wasn’t making any progress. Again, I felt very stuck.
After 15 weeks of intense challenges and client work in the AUX program, I’m seeing design and development from a new lens. As a developer, I am now positioned to be in predictive space, rather than a reactive space. I’ve learned that user experiences need to be planned and crafted. They don’t just happen.
In addition, I now feel fortified with industry best practices. By that, I don’t mean that I had a group of “experts” telling me what those best practices are. Rather, I had a group of experts supporting me and telling me to carve out the best practices for myself. I had a group of professionals that reminded me how the usability industry needs to be challenged in order to grow. I have been empowered to be part of that growth by leveraging my unique perspective.
The AUX program has also given me a new sense of confidence in my work. When our director, Steve Hickey, told me to “ask for forgiveness, not permission” during my first meeting, I immediately took ownership of my decisions and carried a license to push boundaries. It wasn’t all an ardent frenzy of trailblazing – the AUX program emphasized accountability for my choices. Having to articulate my decisions, instead of carrying them around in my head, forced me to truly understand what I was doing. Beyond that, those decisions need to make sense in real life – I’ve widened my scope and gained a new perspective on writing clean, semantic code and building static templates from designers. It’s one thing to say, “make your code reusable” and an entirely different beast to be a part of capacity meetings in which designers, clients, and developers lay the groundwork for building a digital product from scratch.
Even though I’ve been able to live this incredible learning experience, it’s important to remember that Fresh Tilled Soil is not specifically an educational institution. Fresh Tilled Soil is a business. As such, it’s a prime place to prepare to be hired by other businesses. The entire team made me feel like a colleague from the beginning of the program. There was no teacher-student dynamic to navigate, just industry professionals working with other industry professionals. It was invaluable to be learning in an environment where best practices have been forged through working on hundreds of projects, solving large problems, and fostering relationships with clients. As an apprentice, I was plugged directly into this system and fed on it from the beginning. Topics such as accessibility, legibility, and performance were always contextualized by real issues facing designers and developers and were always tied to client work. In these issues lay the suite of nuances that make a person employable: How to set up and work on projects so multidisciplinary teams can interact with them, how to conduct user interviews and perform usability tests without leading subjects with your questions, and how to know when you need to ask for help.
One of the best things about AUX was hearing someone say that it’s okay, even normal, for me to be disappointed with my own work. It’s why I strive to be great. Through AUX, I have gained several new pathways to get ideas out of my head and onto someone’s screen. Every time that happens, I get better at doing my job. I have more confidence in my design and development decisions because I know they are founded in the best design tenant – empathy. This wasn’t learned just by completing a complex set of learning exercises or being involved in client work. This developed after nearly four months solid of listening to real people in order to solve their problems through code. Now that I have finished the AUX program, I have a more organized and focused methodology to solve one of the greatest challenges a creative person can face – channeling energy into being prolific.