Thoughtworks University: An intense, multi-week, international graduate onboarding program. This pitch for Thoughtworks University (TWU) is a big part of why I decided to join Thoughtworks in the first place. However, by the time I started, a global pandemic had hit in full force. Instead of traveling to India, I stayed home and my TWU term happened in a fully remote setting. How did the original in-person experience translate into meeting everybody only as pixels on a screen? Surprisingly well, actually!
During my first weeks at Thoughtworks, I had welcome-sessions, met my onboarding buddy and the people team and learned how to find people and communities within Thoughtworks. The graduates from Germany, who would be going to TWU together, started daily meetings and finished some self-learning preparation. After three weeks, our TWU term began.
In the beginning, we barely knew each other or what we were supposed to do. The first week was almost exclusively introductory sessions: getting to know the trainers, the technologies, the agile rituals (in theory) and each other. The first time we actually programmed, it was as a mob: one person typing, the other ten giving suggestions. Even with all of us feeling intimidated by the new challenge, we managed to get a frontend change done within the first half hour. At the end of day two, we had changed API calls, database structures and frontend displays. All of us had been typists at least once. We were as ready as we were ever going to be and so we began working in pairs of two.
During the seven weeks of TWU, we pushed ourselves to excel, found strengths we didn’t know we had and used technologies we’ve never touched before. After a short time we had learned to play off of each other’s strengths and and support each other by frequently sharing feedback, appreciations and knowledge.
The entire experience was filled to the brim with interesting sessions, conversations with experienced consultants, technical challenges to overcome and social events. There is too much to talk about in detail (you do have to experience it for yourself!), but I’ll highlight two of my favorite sessions:
First, the Team Connect. A dedicated thirty minutes at the end of every single day, set aside for the team to come together and just have a chat. As we slowly grew closer, this social time became ever more appreciated. Quite often, we found ourselves staying and talking long after the official end-of-day.
Second: Pecha Kuchas. Every grad gives a presentation in the Pecha Kucha format, where 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each, thus forcing a very focused way of presenting. All grads chose topics close to their hearts and gave insightful and passionate talks. I learned about the experience of people with hearing impairments, the philosophy of stoicism and queerplatonic relationships, to name just a few.
In the end, the mock project ended with three days of TWU left to go. We used that time to prepare an experience report — a ten minute video of our personal highlights — and write appreciations for each other. In a real-life setting, these messages of appreciation would have been given to their recipients in sealed envelopes with instructions not to open them until they got home. In our case, when we received them, we hopped into a zoom call full of familiar faces and read them, excited like little children. I’m fairly sure I remember seeing some tears.
Since joining my first project, I have realized just how much I learned, not only about technology, but also myself. During TWU I realised that I enjoy facilitating group sessions a lot more than I would have expected — and in my current project, I learned that I’m surprisingly good at it too. That is the true secret of TWU: there isn’t a plain curriculum or a strict checklist of things-you-need-to-learn. Rather, it gives you a lot of space to figure out your own strengths and pushes you to expand on them in the future, should you choose to.
In the end, I can definitively say that TWU remains an amazing experience, even in the remote setting. The global circumstances that forced this are extremely dire, of course, and for future generations of graduates, I hope that it will return to being in person again. But whatever happens, my former TWU team will continue to meet up in Zoom rooms for tea breaks and occasionally chat up a storm elsewhere. And at some point, we will meet to finally cash out all these digital hugs we’ve given each other.
Originally published at https://www.thoughtworks.com on June 8 2021.