Apprenticeship Patterns

A book that I read upon recommendation from a former teammate is Apprenticeship Patterns(1). My take on the book overall is a positive one and I’d suggest it a range of developers that are either starting out, feeling adrift, or potentially stuck in an unfortunate culture. The latter aspect is significant in that many engineering cultures seem to not invest appropriately in developing of people and projects and this book can help at least provide a backdrop for thinking about such issues.

I’ve certainly tended to adopt many of the patterns covered in the book, and this site itself is an example of one of the threads covered.

One particular theme in parts of the book that didn’t sit overly well with me is around the nature and dynamics of software craftsmanship. While I certainly do not want to undermine the pursuit of improved software development I think a far healthier perspective remains grounded in the pragmatic value delivered via the execution of such software. This is likely a difference of perspective rather than of practice where I’d place well-crafted software is the service of efficiently delivering such value over time rather than a means to an end in and of itself, but it seems worth remaining vigilant against the latter as it feels fairly common but can lead to distance between engineering efforts and substantiated business objectives. The section about sweeping the floor certainly seemed to encourage carrying some of these ideas into territory that could quickly become unhealthy.

I think an undertone which I think could have been elevated far more (and has been given attention elsewhere) is the notion that engineering is an endeavour of constant learning and that working software is a distillation of such learning. Likely one of the most compelling concepts in the book is defining mastery as being contingent on the ability to nurture others. This position aligns very neatly with the orientation toward learning while extending it to a more generalized perspective of knowledge mobility taking precedence over crafting products. There may be a more expressive mapping from apprentice, journeymen, master to terms such as learner, mentor, coach respectively where learners consume knowledge, mentors distribute knowledge, and coaches foster the skills in others to allow them to more efficiently acquire and share relevant information.

The book may have suffered a bit from trying to fit too closely into the craftsman paradigm which has a tenuous mapping to both organizational realities and the blackbox nature of software deliverables. Similarly the presentation of the ideas as a pattern catalog seemed as likely to be driven by a desire to ride the wave of pattern popularity from the time and subculture rather than being inherently suitable. While defining terms and concepts seems sound the catalog presentation often seemed contrived and ill-fitting for many of the tightly-knit “patterns”.

Overall the book is worth a read and full of some good advice but should be accompanied by some grains of salt.

DAVE HOOVER, Adewale Oshineye. Apprenticeship patterns [online]. O’Reilly Media, 2019. Available from: