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Zao: A Look Back at 2017

Last year, we celebrated a huge 2016 with excitement and anticipation for what the future would bring.

We’re happy and humbled to report that 2017 didn’t disappoint. We added a Project Manager to our team, we posted some rad content, worked on some incredible projects, and learned a lot along the way.

Here are the highlights of what went down in Zao’s 2017:

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How Communication Plans Improved Our Projects

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been going through Louder Than Ten‘s Project Management apprenticeship since the spring. As the program has been progressing forward, we’ve been integrating many of the things I’ve learned into Zao processes (with, of course, some tweaks to make them a perfect Zao fit). One of our early takeaways from LTT was the use of a formal Communication Plan, and it turns out, this small thing has totally leveled up our projects and client relationships.

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project management tips, project management role, why do we need a project manager, what a project manager does

A Few Ways Project Managers Support The Discovery Process

We’ve talked about the importance of the discovery phase before, and now we’re here to share the role of a project manager during this endeavor.

Your development team plays a crucial role in the process of discovery. They’ll handle digging into the existing technology, researching tools and methodologies that will ultimately be a part of the project, and strategizing the best way for the project to get done. At Zao, we make sure to dig into the client’s short and long term business goals. We lay a solid foundation not just for an immediate technological upgrade, but for our client’s long-term success as well (particularly as their company grows).

You may think your project manager won’t have a major role in discovery, but that’s all wrong! Having a solid PM on your team can help elevate the process, making sure you have all the info you need to catch red flags, scope appropriately, and manage the details.

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modern tech apprenticeships, paying to learn on the job, getting paid to intern, should i pay my interns, should i pay my apprentices, should i pay an apprentice, should i pay for my employee to learn, should i pay for my employee's education, should i pay for my employee's class

Yes, You Should Pay Your Employees to Learn

Many of the folks in the WordPress space have come up without a formal education (or without a tech specific education), and became successful through avid learning and self-motivation.

John Hawkins is an excellent example of someone who paved his own path without a formal education: he founded 9seeds, is well-respected for his work with WordPress, and is now the Business Development Manager for WebDevStudiosHelen Hou-Sandí went to college for piano, not tech, and is self-taught in web development; she is the Director of Platform Experience at 10upLisa Sabin-Wilson, partner and COO of WDS, worked as a nurse before she heard about WordPress (when it was in its infancy). After further investigation, she dropped everything to make it her new career…and became the author of WordPress For Dummies and a force to behold in the WP space. Brad Parbs dropped out of college while studying computer science to make his own websites; he is currently a Senior WordPress engineer at Human Made.

Our own founder, Justin, funded Zao’s earliest days by working at Burger King, and now Zao is a burgeoning WordPress eCommerce and custom development agency that is experiencing an incredible growth spurt, after over a decade of steady upward success. JT was a house painter who started fiddling around with WordPress for his church website, joined the WebDevStudios team, advanced to Director of Engineering, and is now a Managing Partner of Zao.

Some of these folks landed in companies where they had an opportunity to unofficially apprentice: they found a position that allowed them to work and learn simultaneously. Others ended up using their own determination and the educational access built into the open-source community to create their own companies. Although they might not have gone through a formal apprenticeship in the way that many of us think, they still sought opportunities for their skills to be developed and to be mentored while also still providing for themselves and their families.

“I don’t pay people.”

Recently, I heard this uttered–without an ounce of shame–on a panel talking about the rise of apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships are growing in popularity, particularly in the tech industry where employee retention is low, truly entry-level jobs are rare, and where many people want to work, but don’t necessarily have the applicable skill sets for the positions that are available. The panel was a group of experts discussing their experiences taking on apprentices and how that works for them. One of those experts said the above.

Side note: While I understand that there may be curiosity about who said this or what panel it was, I am intentionally not providing that information as I think it’s counterproductive. This isn’t intended to be a “call out” post, but to examine the flaws in this particular approach.

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