11 - 13 May 2016

thestudio, Manchester, UK

Hire an apprentice: evolutionary learning at the 7digital technical academy

Paul Shannon 7digital
Miles Pool 7digital

Session type: Case Study
Session duration: 45 minutes

About this Case Study

Hiring senior software engineers with experience in agile and lean has always been difficult. Training university graduates or engineers from other backgrounds takes time and can cause disruption to software teams. 7digital addressed both of these problems by starting the technical academy; a 6-month programme of classroom sessions, pairing, deliberate practice, personal project work and guided learning. The academy taught apprentices skills related to agile software development and lean practices, with sessions on subjects including test driven development, the theory of constraints, databases, DevOps, continuous delivery and design datterns.

The academy programme has completed its third iteration and has evolved through continuous improvement with regular inspection and adaption. In the first iteration, a retrospective resulted in a move to pull based learning, asking apprentices to solve real business problems and request sessions on the skills they needed to accomplish their objectives. The second iteration saw peer to peer learning and a self organising community develop amongst apprentices. The third iteration brought a wider set of people to the academy and was used to expand understanding of lean and agile principles across the organisation.

Backed by metrics and qualitative data, this session explores the positive impact that the technical academy has had on the technology team and wider organisation at 7digital. It investigates the changes in technique, curriculum and structure that the team made over the 3 iterations. It goes on to detail the challenges that the team faced around justifying the time away from usual activities, measuring the impact, attempting to predict the long term benefit and make the result of extra diversity in the team more apparent.

The first 3 apprentices from the academy are still part of the technology team at 7digital, and are considered important members of that team. They exhibit maturity in decision making and technical skill that you would normally see from someone with much more experience and we attribute this to their exposure to the right methodologies early on.

The second cohort is also important to the team, with members taking on more senior responsibilities like organising our knowledge sharing sessions and coordinating the technical academy. We have seen a marked increase in the energy around teams, and within the team. Improvements in metrics like throughput and cycle time continue to increase at the same rate as before we had a technical academy, but we’re now adding high quality, diverse and enthusiastic software developers to our team more frequently.

We will continue the technical academy programme and, importantly, keep evolving the process, people and practices around it.

About the Speakers

Paul Shannon

Paul is VP of Technology at 7digital, providing leadership and direction for the technology team. He is a regular speaker at universities and conferences around Europe.

He focuses on topics around process improvement, testing, recruitment and team dynamics. He has also contributed to 3 books with chapters on his experience of adopting quality driven software practices.


Miles Pool

Miles is a software developer at 7digital and coordinator of the 7digital technical academy.


To buy tickets to see this fantastic talk, and many others like it head over to our ticket page.

Session Types

Need help planning which sessions to attend? We've provided a breakdown of our various session types below.

Case Study/Experience Report

A presentation and discussion of real-life (not theoretical) experiences of the application (or mis-application) of Agile and Lean practices. Case studies and experience reports include some discussion of lessons learned and an indication of how novel the work is.


Participants learn a new approach, tool or technology through using it to solve one or more practical exercises. Any software/hardware requirements are disclosed in the session description.


A session focused around some specific tool, technique or issue. Primarily led by the speaker, tutorials usually include some elements of interactivity or individual / group exercise.


An in-depth working session on a specific topic. May include paper presentations.