How to Start Your Own Onboarding Academy

By: Nikki Dent

At Aptera, we’ve taken a unique, customized approach to onboarding new team members. We call our process the Aptera Academy and, in a nutshell, it is a learning and mentorship ramp up period to help new hires get caught up on any hard skills they will need as an Aptera developer. The Academy has grown and evolved over the six years since we started it, and it has proven to be beneficial to our team members. If you’re thinking that you need to formalize the training process for new developers at your company, here’s our guide to starting your own onboarding academy.

Identify Your Need

When you’re ready to set up a formal onboarding for new team members, it’s important to start at the beginning and think about what need you’re trying to meet with this training. Are you hiring a lot of developers without much experience and you need to teach them more tech? Does your company use a lot of internal lingo new team members need to know? Are you just bringing together disparate onboarding methods? Once you’ve identified your goal, you can keep it top of mind through the rest of the set up to make sure your onboarding meets the biggest needs.

Create Your Curriculum

What do developers need to know to be successful at your company? With this question in mind, make a list of all the topics, programming languages, frameworks, and processes that might need to be included in your onboarding. This list will become your base curriculum. Next, you’ll need to collect all the ways for students to learn that material on their own including blogs, videos, and tutorials. If you can’t find a suitable instructional tool for a topic, build your own! For example, we built our own exercises for working on legacy code, which is an important topic for us.

Take Time to Individualize

Even though you’ve made a complete curriculum list, not every developer who joins your team is going to be starting from the same place. To determine what each developer’s individual plan of action through the Academy will look like, we suggest conducting interviews to see which topics they already know and where their interests lie. Through these interviews you can then create a checklist personalized to each team member.

With this checklist in hand, students can then be sent out to learn on their own through tutorials, blogs, videos, and exercises. When a student feels they have mastered a skill, we have them check back in with our agile coach, who is the facilitator of the Academy, and teach the topics back to him or to other Academy students to demonstrate proficiency to get that skill checked off their list.

Joel and fellow intern, Isaac Smith, working together

Set Up Your Academy to Scale

When we started our Academy, we typically just had one or two students in it at a time, but it has grown alongside the company. So even if you’re a smaller company now, it’s helpful to keep in mind how your Academy can scale up for the future. We recommend following a repeatable framework. For example, our Academy runs using Scrum. This is helpful to give the process order and it also teaches the principles and mechanics of Scrum by doing.

Move to Apprenticeship

Not everything that is helpful for developers to know can be learned through tutorials—there’s often no substitute for real world experience. You’ll need to have a way to bridge from your Academy to the real code of a project. For us, after a student’s personalized checklist is complete, we move them to an apprenticeship. In this phase of the Academy, the student will join a high-performing team working on a real Aptera client project. They also meet on a regular basis with our agile coach to give feedback. After three or four sprints of checking in, a developer is officially considered finished with the Academy.

Ultimately, we see the goal of the Aptera Academy as creating a habit of learning that team members can carry into their career here with us and even beyond. It’s basically building momentum for the continual learning they will get on every project they work on, and the value of learning is an incalculable asset.

If you’d like to build a culture of learning at your organization too, you should invest in an Academy onboarding set up. Want to learn more about our onboarding process? Download our onboarding checklist to make sure your new developers are set up for success. 

Onboarding Checklist PDF preview

FREE Development Onboarding Checklist

Set your developers up for success from day one! This onboarding checklist goes beyond paperwork and where the coffee is and will help you introduce new developers to your company culture.

Nikki Dent

About Nikki Dent

Nikki is a technical copywriter for Aptera. With a bachelor’s degree in writing from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., she has been honing her craft of marketing copywriting for the past six years. In her role at Aptera, Nikki enjoys learning and writing about the technology and strategy at work across the company.