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Making the most of AUX

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All of the following is my opinion on how to get the most out of the AUX program. Any amount of it may be wrong.

Tactical

Software tools

First, turn off desktop notifications on Slack for everything except direct messages.

Get familiar with core use-cases for all of the tools used at Fresh. Understand how to view and interact with other people’s calendars on Google Calendar. In the AUX Slack, make a private channel for your apprentice team to communicate privately and ask dumb questions of each other. Take an hour to dig through the various asset libraries on Dropbox and Drive to see what resources are available for use in projects.

Reading Assignments

Reading assignments are valuable, but you might feel that the volume is overwhelming when working on challenges. Plug through as many as you can and skim the books so you understand what is trying to be said, then go back to the reading when you are confused or lost. A possible exception to this tactic is Erika Hall’s book Just Enough Research because it’s very important in the 2013–present UX paradigm. Finally, ask your team to share their takeaways on material.

When you’re stuck

In general, when you’re stuck, afraid, or uninspired, ask your fellow apprentices! Check out what your fellows are working on and ask for their advice on your problems–they all have expertise and experience in ways and places you do not, so take advantage of the fact that you’re sitting next to them for 80 days. If your apprentice team is unsure, ask someone on the larger Fresh team, either on Slack if it’s a specific problem or in a brief meeting if it’s broader. When you learn something, report back to your fellows in your private Slack to minimize redundancy.

Using the notebook

Your notebook with the cute tiny Fresh logo embossed on the cover is like your AUX lightsaber. Keep it close along with your MUJI pen. You have enough pages in that notebook to track your daily activities (assuming you fit three days on each page) and use new pages to take notes on every session you have with a Fresh team member.

Use the notebook to avoid dropping tasks. At the beginning of each day, write your focus for the day along with any auxiliary tasks. At the beginning of the next day, check off the finished tasks and carry over the new ones. If you’re carrying more than half of your tasks over each day, that’s probably an indicator of something. Doing this will help prevent forgotten blog posts, minor challenges, or small side assignments.

You’re going to hear a lot of book and product recommendations during AUX. Use a separate page at the back of the notebook to track the book or product title and in what context it is being recommended.

Events

Tech and UX events take flak for good reason, but I had a couple strongly positive experiences attending events during the program (especially UXPA events). Get out of the building and make an effort to go to educational design events during the program. Leave early if need be: From the office it takes 2 hours to get some places in Cambridge or Brookline on public transit during rush hour.

Client work

If you join a project in progress, do background research. I felt useless on one of the client projects until I took the time to read up on the background subject matter, at which point many things clicked and I began to pull my weight.

Finish strong

Don’t leave loose ends. Manage expectations. Get ready to move on. Start working on your portfolio when you can and get feedback on it from the Fresh team.

Mindset

People

Fresh’s most valuable asset is its people (unlike Yahoo, hehe). By extension, the most valuable part of AUX for me was being around those people and talking with them about not only design and development, but their lives and passions as well.

Learn about those people. Everyone at Fresh has an interesting story to share if you ask politely. Taking a rough total of everyone’s ages, Fresh has upwards of 750 combined years of life, plus the apprentices. Having in-depth conversations with the people around the office is a key to glimpse a little bit of the wisdom from Fresh’s 750 years of life.

When asking for people’s time, try to schedule at least a few days out and suggest two times that are free on their calendar. Approach with a topic you want to discuss and prepare a few specific questions. Avoid taking a full hour of someone’s time without having a great reason that you’ve discussed beforehand, like walking through a code base or having a deeper follow-up discussion on a topic that is relevant to both people.

Another good way to talk with people is to accept when they offer you a ride home, or if they live close to you, ask them for a ride (this is all provided that you didn’t bring a car or bike). I had many inspiring and challenging conversations while getting dropped off after the end of the day. If you’re like me and you struggle accepting people’s offers to help in any way, don’t be. People often want to help despite an inconvenience to them.

Ask for what you want

When you apply to AUX, you should have an idea of your desired outcome and next steps after the program. Obviously it will all change as time goes on, but having an idea of what you want post-AUX will help focus you through the apprenticeship.

At any given time in the office you should always be either adding value to Fresh (doing good work) or deriving value from Fresh (learning good things), and having a direction for post-AUX life will help you do both of those with more focus. The same is probably true for higher education, dating, and buying property.

Participating in AUX has changed the way I work and stands out as an inflection point in my career and life. For those of you lucky enough to participate, best of luck. Enjoy your time at Fresh Tilled Soil. ?

Author Trevor Waldorf

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