A Hawsepipe for Tech

In the maritime industry, there is the concept of “Hawsepiper.” According to Wikipedia, the definition of a Hawsepiper is:

"An informal maritime industry term used to refer to a merchant ship’s officer who began his or her career as an unlicensed merchant seaman and did not attend a traditional maritime college/academy to earn the officer license." 

These sailors get their name from the "Hawsepipe" on the ship, which is the hole the anchor chain is fed through. The imagery the nickname evokes is one of climbing up the anchor chain, onto the ship and into the ranks of the officers.

We have an informal “Hawespipe” method in the world of programming. If you didn't go to university, you either teach yourself or you go to a “Boot camp” and then immediately get a job. Once you get a job - you are on your own.

What could it look like for a tech-union to implement an industry-wide system for “Hawespiping?” Here is one possibility:

  1. The union has a school that operates similar to a boot camp - except that the education does not stop at 12ish weeks.
  2. Companies agree to hire programmers according to the union contract (It could include salary, minimum healthcare coverage, etc.)
  3. The union could have multiple levels of certification: Junior, Mid-level, Senior, and Expert.
  4. As part of the agreement, companies agree to take on a certain number of programmers at each level.
  5. Since each company will have multiple union employees, a formal mentorship program could be set up for more junior engineers.
  6. The union school would have continuing education courses to help members continue their career growth. The advanced training would help members move through the certification levels and demonstrate to employers that they have the necessary skills to succeed.
  7. The union could provide stipends to students enrolled in their school.

This school would have several tracks, such as dev-ops, security, data science, and application architecture. Each path would have clear benchmarks for skill acquisition and advancement.

I think a union school could make a career as a software developer more attainable for those who can not afford a boot camp or university. Ultimately, a school like this would shift the power of career advancement away from employers to workers.

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash