By: Ben Weiss
In the tech staffing world industry, clients and candidates alike love describing ideal technical professionals as “ninjas” or “rock stars.” But, while those characterizations sound cool, they may not be the most appropriate representations of next-level IT talent.
For example, ninjas have the stealth, patience and strength to effectively kick butt, but generally work alone, answer to no one and operate only on their own schedules. By the same token, rock stars can be difficult to manage, make outrageous demands in exchange for performance and sometimes don’t show up at all.
Not exactly a technical lead’s dream.
As such, when considering the personification of technical excellence, the tenets of the soldier may be far more applicable. Soldiers need to be smart and self-motivated, work well as part of a team, solve complex problems in stressful situations and often have technical or engineering skills that translate to careers in software programming.
In fact, with a short, intensive technical boot camp, many of our country’s veterans could easily adapt those skills to the needs of IT hiring managers seeking new recruits.
Interestingly enough, such a program exists and the commanding officer’s name is Brittany Laughlin.
Formerly working as the co-founder of a tech startup in Chicago, Laughlin – whose family has been steeped in the military for generations – discovered that it was not only difficult to find tech talent with the right hard skills, but also with the right motivation, discipline and collaborative abilities.
“There were some really great programmers, but they didn’t necessarily want to work on a team or build a project in the way the team wanted to build the project,” said Laughlin in a phone interview. “For example, they might have wanted to experiment with a new piece of software that would’ve extended a project by four weeks.”
In response, Laughlin recognized that the calculated, methodical profile of military personnel could be an effective solution to the staffing issues she was facing.
Consequently, Laughlin embarked on a new career and set up shop in the big apple to launch Incline HQ, a social enterprise that sources promising military veterans with technical backgrounds (Laughlin mentions the program is designed to take candidates from “40 to 60 rather than zero to 60”), puts them through 40 hours per week of rigorous development training and helps to place them in a range of companies that need to hire IT staff.
Filling the skills gap:
What’s more is that the timing couldn’t be better. Across industries, employers are lamenting a technical skills gap, arguing that there just aren’t enough candidates these days that have the chops to succeed in programming roles. But, as Wharton’s Peter Cappelli mentioned in an interview, the skills gap is largely manufactured by the expectation that programmers should be able to hit the ground running in a new position without any ramp up time or training.
And considering the modern disconnect between a computer science degree and the skills IT managers are looking for, addressing the dire need for independent, affordable and efficient technical training is more important than ever.
“We’ve been trying to think of how to fill that gap through short-term training instead of forcing people to go back into the university setting and spending years of time and tens of thousands of dollars getting training that might not be applicable to the technological work force at all,” said Laughlin.
And who better to test out the effectiveness of such a rapid-fire, high intensity program than those with the constitution to put their lives on the line for their country?
Moreover, making the veterans in the program even more appealing in the current job market, the soldiers (and few select civilians) enrolled in the six week course not only sharpen their skills in Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS and other trending technologies but also concentrate on agile development in which coding is completed in increments through collaborative solutions and problem solving.
As a result, the students coming out of the Incline program are prepared to succeed in an IT landscape that calls for sound programming skills as well as regular interaction with technical teams, clients and other departments.
And succeed they have. According to Laughlin, after completing the Incline program, the veterans are effectively being placed in junior development roles within organizations like The New York Times, Spotify, Conde Nast and App Nexus, which all have the potential for upward mobility and improvement (these organizations also enjoy the added benefit of tax breaks for hiring military personnel).
But, as exciting as it is that Laughlin has developed an effective strategy to help place some of the one million veterans who will be returning from combat in the next five years, the potential for widespread adoption is equally compelling.
“If we can get it to work for the military candidates, we can extend it out and really have a great program for anyone whose self-motivated and ready to change careers,” said Laughlin.
So not only is Laughlin helping to ease veteran’s transition into the professional world, but also quietly developing a methodology that could narrow the larger skills gap in the U.S. and give people of all sorts the tools to penetrate the bustling IT industry.
And for that Ms. Laughlin, we salute you.
Infusive Solutions Inc. is a niche information technology staffing firm within the Microsoft Partner Network dedicated to helping clients hire IT professionals and taking our candidate’s careers to the next level. Join us on Twitter and Facebook.
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