Consulting

Strength in Diversity, Opportunity Through Education in Tech

I joined Wizeline, a software design and development company, more than five years ago as the company was just starting to scale up its hiring. I started out as a technical recruiter based out of our main office in Guadalajara, Mexico, at a time when the company was around 50 people and still building brand awareness with local universities and tech communities. In those early years, I saw hundreds of very capable applicants come through our doors, but we were only able to hire individuals with skills that immediately fit what we needed. 

Even though Mexico graduates over 130,000 computer science students a year, we realized that to grow quickly, we would need to figure out a way to provide the “last mile” of tech education in Mexico. In 2017, we launched Wizeline Academy, a completely free community-based tech education program that started out with just one employee-led certification for UX Design in Guadalajara. 

Today, I lead our Academy program of over 20,000 global students and am proud that we have taught over 470 classes in the last four years. While we are still focused on being extremely responsive to the tech talent market, we plan to deepen our D&I commitments through investments in paid, on-the-job training programs and customized education tracks for underrepresented groups. 

Responsive by design

Our Academy program mostly mirrors the practice areas and disciplines of our company, such as design, project management, engineering, and so on. Academy provides a self-directed learning path for employees motivated to deepen their expertise or build soft skills. 

Internal education programming is a good place to start for any company to develop core content for a community-based offering. However, a key part of Academy’s success has been our ability to remain ultra-responsive to the talent market as well as the trending technologies and languages needed by Wizeline’s growing enterprise customer base. 

In 2020 alone, we added net-new courses and certification programs for React, Golang, Docker, Kubernetes, Flutter, iOS, Android in direct response to a customer need. This agile approach to education keeps our program fresh for our community of students, whether they are employed at our company or job-seeking elsewhere. 

For companies just starting out in community-based education, I’d encourage keeping a dual-track mindset: what do your employees need to advance their career today? What skills will your future employees need 6 months from now? There will be an evergreen, core curricula aligned with your largest departments that should be refreshed and updated regularly. Once these evergreen courses are locked in, your education program leaders can focus their energy on identifying new courses and skills gaps in your communities. This likely includes partnering with local universities (and maybe even high schools), participating in tech community events like hackathons, and frequently surveying your employee and student populations. 

Pay people while they learn

Simple but effective: pay your students to learn. We launched apprenticeship programs in 2020 as an experimental way to create our own pipeline of talent for the hardest-to-hire roles. 

Our first three programs were in Data Engineering, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), and Mobile Development. Ideal applicants had fewer than two years of experience as an engineer and motivated to either change roles or gain deeper expertise in their field. Participants go through a structured program that includes mentorship, coursework, and on-the-job experience before converting to a full-time role. 

Academy partnered closely with Wizeline’s D&I office to leverage this program as a vehicle for increasing representation of women in our tech community. We found this D&I alignment to be extremely effective — in our SRE apprentice program, for example, 12 out of 24 participants identified as women. In a world where tech companies are making diversity commitments over the span of years, paid apprenticeship programs can accelerate your impact in just weeks or months. 

Meet your students where they are

A few years ago, our Academy team sat down with our engineering leadership to discuss a problem that was only worsening: few women were participating in our engineering courses, and even fewer were applying for technical roles at Wizeline. We launched an experiment to increase representation by offering a weekend software developer workshop exclusively for women. Much to our delight, we had 5x the usual turnout from women. 

Feedback from participants was pretty unanimous: a combination of imposter syndrome and fear of not being “ready” had prevented them from enrolling or applying for jobs in the past. These students felt more comfortable when the course content was explicitly inclusive and encouraging their participation. Since that time, we have always had dedicated programs and courses for women and are now expanding to other underrepresented groups in tech. 

Our approach remains the same – ask these students what they need or what they feel is standing in their way, and then address those concerns proactively. I encourage all education leaders to actively engage their partners and communities in tackling these broader representation issues in our industry. Last fall, Wizeline was thrilled to partner with Amazon Web Services to provide 398 free cloud certifications (from more than 2,000 applications) for women in Latin America. By comparison, Wizeline certified 150 employees last year in cloud programs, so more than doubling that figure for women in our community was only financially and logistically possible with the enthusiastic support of a partner.

Success Stories

We currently have over 23,000 students who have passed through Wizeline Academy, some of which are now growing their careers on the Wizeline team. For example, hear from Romina Esposa, who started out as a very ambitious girl with talent in sales. Now, she’s an accomplished software engineer, product owner, mentor, and leader at Wizeline.

2020 changed how we work but also how we learn. We pivoted to online education entirely in spring 2020 and looking ahead to the rest of 2021, I think we will continue to be remote-first. We didn’t expect to offer online courses in 2020 to students in Nigeria or Poland, but switching to a remote-first mindset has rapidly expanded our geographic horizons and how we think about talent and recruiting. 

The world moves quickly and staying flexible and adaptive will be critical with any tech-oriented education, but making strategic longer-term investments in education for underrepresented groups is the best way we can support our communities while filling the global IT talent gap.

By Carolina Navarro, Co-founder, Wizeline Academy
By Carolina Navarro, Co-founder, Wizeline Academy

Aisha Owolabi

Posted by Aisha Owolabi on April 7, 2021