Tech needs to stop whining about talent

I have many companies in my portfolio focused on talent acquisition and development for the tech ecosystem — Lambda School, Major League Hacking, Fourthrev, Contra, Marketerhire, Reforge, and Maven. Here is my message to tech — stop whining that you can’t hire enough senior and diverse people and figure out how to do more of the talent development yourself.

When I was developing Rocketship Education, a network of high performing charter schools, I encountered a similar problem in education to what tech has now. Everyone knew that Teach for America (TFA) produced some of the best teachers in the country, but no one wanted to use TFA corps members (their residency for the first two years of teaching), because becoming a good teacher takes about two years, and so your school would just have this person who wasn’t that good for that time. So almost no high performing schools hired TFA corps members in mass. Instead, everyone waited until people had graduated TFA and then recruited them intensely. And then they whined intensely that there were not enough experienced TFA’ers to recruit.

At Rocketship, we took the opposite approach. We knew that TFA produced the best raw talent, but that with that talent came a huge professional development burden. Our opinion was that PD was worth it, because it created a virtually unlimited talent pipeline for us. So we spent several years getting very good at goal setting, coaching, and developing young teachers. And then we hired four new TFA corps members per school per year, flooding our system with talent. Ultimately that gave us an unfair advantage because once we had trained those young teachers, they were loyal to Rocketship, and almost impossible to recruit away.

Tech companies need to stop whining and do something similar. It’s obvious that the number of senior folks in most roles in tech are the limiting factor in those companies continued success. So just like with TFA, everyone runs around bidding those people up. And then they whine that you can’t find good diverse people who have already leveled up. Get over it. Tech needs to start hiring talented young diverse people who have no idea what they are doing and train them. The idea that someone shows up to your office knowing exactly what to do is not scalable, there just aren’t enough people, and you perpetuate the lack of diversity in the ecosystem.

Tech companies should recruit young people, often from non-elite colleges or with no college background but who attended good schools like Lambda School or FlatIron. To do that, companies need to get serious about internships, because you can’t rely on the crutch of a resume with an elite school to do your selection for you. Most companies will want to outsource their internship programs to companies like Major League Hacking, who can do it better than they can at a fraction of the cost.

Once hired, the company needs to regard that young recruit the way we looked at young teachers at Rocketship. They didn’t know much, but they could learn fast if you trained them intentionally. Once again, I think a lot of that training will be outsourced, because it’s difficult and expensive to do in house. Organizations like Reforge, Maven and Lambda School will do a lot of the teaching and learning, but organizations will have to internalize this so that the job roles level up as their young people learn. Tech needs to own this problem, and create an intentional talent pipeline to produce the diverse senior engineers and other roles that are in such short supply.

Co-founder and CEO NetGravity, Rocketship Education, Zeal Learning, Dunce Capital.