Building web design and development teams happens in two ways, and the approach is a little like managing a sports franchise. You can hire free agents and apply their top-level skills to foster a winning environment. Or, you can find and nurture your own budding talent.

Both paths are critical to any successful organization. But there’s a special excitement that comes from a team producing a homegrown star. For one, the individual expands their skills by learning from the best people in your organization. But just as importantly, you also expand the playing field to include an all-star talent who may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

This is exactly what happened when we partnered with DrupalEasy, a Drupal training and consulting organization, to sponsor a fellowship program. The result: an industry newcomer became a Drupal developer and earned a full-time role at Four Kitchens.

As longtime advocates of open-source software and the importance of sharing knowledge, we were grateful for another chance to give back to the Drupal community.

How an online fellowship delivered an opportunity for internal investment

DrupalEasy fosters new development talent through a comprehensive 12-week program called Drupal Career Online (DCO). The continuing education course is certified by the Drupal community, but stands apart from similar bootcamp-style programs by offering one-on-one instruction focused on individual learning.

We partnered with DCO to provide one applicant a full scholarship. Our sole requirement: They had to commit to joining our team as a full-time associate developer after successfully completing the program.

Website development needs to extend its reach to thrive

The internet is full of gloom-and-doom warnings that Drupal is dying. While we respectfully disagree, the relatively flat numbers detailing Drupal core usage raise a compelling point. Drupal as a platform continues to evolve in terms of features and functionality. But the community needs new perspectives to thrive.

Diverse communities are a powerful force, and true diversity isn’t about checking boxes; rather, it’s about introducing new skills, backgrounds, and lived experience to the world of website development. We wanted to create space for someone new to get their start in this industry.

The DCO program doesn’t require applicants to have any prior engineering experience to enroll in the program. But rather than helping prospective attendees brush up on their existing skills, our goal was to ensure our fellowship provided an opportunity that expanded the reach of our industry. We wanted to provide a scholarship to someone who was totally new to Drupal.

Each sponsoring organization set fellowship requirements that targeted applicants who are underrepresented in the tech community. Overall, website design and development has a diversity problem. When you look at “team” pages for small Drupal agencies, you typically see a roster of middle-aged white men. 

That said, our applicants had to meet specific background criteria. Our fellowship candidate needed to be a woman, a person of color, or simply anyone who didn’t enjoy the same opportunities as many others in tech. That way, the Drupal community could expand in new directions.

Successful fellowships depend on nurturing the right applicant

The fellowship process featured healthy competition, not only from a wide range of applicants, but also other sponsors. We weren’t the only organization offering a DCO scholarship, which meant that we were competing against other companies to create the most attractive offer for candidates.

DCO funneled the applications that expressed interest in Four Kitchens for our review. We met with candidates using a mix of our usual hiring interviews as well as questions that were specific to the fellowship. 

We chose Brandon, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

But even after deciding on a fellow, we didn’t want to wait and see how his DCO program progressed. DrupalEasy kept us informed, but we also assigned Brandon a Four Kitchens mentor to check in with him weekly. If Brandon had questions about something in his coursework or wanted to see it applied in real time, he had someone on our team to ask. As director of administration, I also regularly checked in to see how he was doing.

Then, a few weeks before the end of the DCO course, we asked Brandon to complete a skills assessment, which is our next step before hiring any candidate. By conducting the interview early, we could identify any areas for Brandon to highlight before the course was over so he could be successful once he started at Four Kitchens.

“[The assessment] was definitely nerve-wracking,” Brandon recalls. “But I felt like I had so much support — that kind of eased me. I was pretty confident with the skills I learned.”

Expanding junior-level recruitment by closing the experience gap

At Four Kitchens, we’ve established processes like a mentorship program to ensure junior-level developers are set up for success. The days of lone-wolf developers coding into the night to learn new skills are over. In this spirit, our fellowship program experience through DCO was also a shared success.

One of the most common issues encountered at the start of your career is resolving the paradox of experience. You can’t find the right job without agency experience, but you can’t get any agency experience if one won’t hire you. This fellowship revealed a sweet spot for recruitment that combined looking at a person’s skill level with formal instruction and hands-on experience.

With all of those requirements resolved, Brandon started at Four Kitchens ready to take on client work. However, client services are tricky, and a new hire isn’t necessarily ready to tackle the most complex issues, no matter how well they’re trained. When you’re looking for the next stop in your career, you have to ensure it’s structured to nurture your talent after you’re hired, too.

The end of a fellowship doesn’t mark the end of our investment in a new team member. Our core value to “Always Improve” demands that we have enough workload to dedicate to hiring an associate developer. Plus, we have to ensure their teammates also have the bandwidth to provide support as a new hire takes on client work.

Being the newest member of a team can be intimidating when you’re just starting out. But joining a team that has your back streamlines the process. Just ask Brandon.

“I really feel like the fellowship prepared me, and I’m using those skills on a daily basis. Then having this continued support has been amazing,” he says. “I was really set up to thrive.”