224: So how was it? Recent graduates talk about Acquia U

I spoke with Matt Dooley and Colin Packenham at Acquia headquarters in downtown Boston about Acquia's tech bootcamp program, Acquia U. Both are career changers and were more or less new to Drupal when they got started with the program and I was interested to see what motivated them to make the change and dive into Drupal headfirst.

"Acquia U opened a very large door to a whole new career." - Matt Dooley.

Interview video - 17 min.

What were your expectations going in?

Colin: I do know how I felt when I accepted, which was vaguely numb and extremely excited. I was on a job beforehand that didn’t have any growth. It was very comfortable and very stable and I was very good at it, but it wasn’t something that was engaging me. At that point, I had stopped learning. That was something that I’m very interested in for my career: just being able to do more, to learn more, to experience more, to be challenged more, rather than just sort of the day-to-day-finish-my-work-go-home. So, getting into Acquia U was--I thought--one of the best possible steps I could have taken at that stage in my career.

Matt: Expectations were pretty well-laid out by Amy at that time. She had an initial call with me saying, "Don’t expect a job. Don’t expect to come and sit next to Dries and be buddies." When I found out I was accepted, I was crazy excited. I couldn’t believe ... I didn’t know what the level of competition was. So I was surprised, excited. And even if I wasn’t guaranteed at Acquia, I knew that just going through this training is gonna be a step to something else.

So how was it?

Colin: Overwhelming at first and then amazing. Thankfully, due to nature of it, how everyone was brought into Acquia U, we were all sort of overwhelmed together and were able to bond and grow out and experience the rest of the company. And then Acquia is such a collaborative arena where you can talk to anybody about more or less anything and you’ll get an answer or a redirection to somebody who does know the answer. And that helped immensely and it made a welcoming place and the place where, "Oh you don’t know the answer? Here, we’ll help you learn the answer and then you can tell somebody else who also doesn’t know it."

Matt: It was awesome. It was way better than I thought it was gonna be. Day one was, "What is Drupal?" and then day two was like, "Here’s how you build a module." It was fast paced but it was great. We had an awesome instructor and an awesome group of people that were in the program with me and awesome resources within the company itself.

Run us through a day at Acquia U.

Matt: Most of the days were--from about nine to 'lunchish'--straight up classroom training with the instructor going over whatever the topic was of the day. Then typically we had lab hours in the afternoon. It’s where we worked on our personal sites or the Acquia U website. Sometimes we’d have some assignments that we would try to complete, if we were in need of extra help somewhere.

Colin: The average day at Acquia U ... there’s two big average days. During the beginning we did a lot of study under Mike Anello, who runs the Drupal Easy Program. He was a big believer in having us learn for ourselves after he gave the explanation. So it was two to three hours of going through well thought-out – sort of a lecture setting and then we will be run off the range to learn more things. So we would spend the day [,for example,] learning about Views in Drupal and then the rest of the day we will be learning on Drupal with Views. We’d sort of the experimenting for ourselves. Usually, we would end up having one of the different – one of the various "Ubies" [ed: our affectionate, internal nickname for Acquia U students] do some sort presentation on it and then everyone would learn from each other rather than just straight through Mike.

The other average day was more during the second half, which is when we were actually building the u.acquia site. It was less lecture at that point and more ... everyone was working together as a team to produce this neat website together. There were bumps because there’s bumps in every project. We learned how to work together as a team; we learned how to reach out to other people.

What's the most important thing you got out of Acquia U?

Matt: Surprisingly, I think it’s not Drupal-related. I think it’s more being able to work with a team better. Understanding different roles and responsibilities and how to function as a member of a team better.

Colin: I never actually worked in a situation like this before. I was always very "lone wolf-y" at a lot of other things; college encourages sort of the mindset that you’re going to work on your own, you have to depend on yourself. Coming to Acquia, I think the biggest thing was how much better teams can be when everyone is working together. I refer to this ... a lot of Support, they won’t say it in these words usually, but they’ll say something to the effect of "it’s lightning in a bottle almost", how the team could come together and do far more than they probably should be able to given the individuals. People are better when they work together than they are separately. You’ll have one genius person and then you got somebody who works very well with that genius person and then they have three times the output of amazing work. It’s "No person is an isl"and basically and learning how to work with other people made life a lot better - a lot more fun and a lot better.

What is one piece of advice that you would give someone looking for a new career?

Matt: Just start. It doesn’t matter where. I know for me, I had for a long time thought about switching careers from a design-based career to a more technical web development-based career and I dragged my feet in it for a while. So just to start, just to take the first step whatever it is.

Colin: Don’t be afraid to change. I definitely came from designing computer cases to doing a lot more things in Drupal and you’d be surprised how much of the mindset will apply from one thing to another even though what you’re actually doing is completely different.

More on Acquia U

  1. Visit the Acquia University website: u.acquia.com
  2. Podcast: Acquia U: "Making the world a better place, one Drupalist at a time." - with Amy Parker
  3. Podcast: Acquia U: "Jump in and own it. Kickstart your career." - meet Amy Parker
  4. Podcast Meet Erica Ligeski: Drupal training means jobs (2013)

Guest dossiers