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Talent Pipelines in Tech with John Danner

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In this episode of the Learning While Working podcast Robin chats with John Danner from Dunce Capital – a company focused on investing in the future of learning and work. In this episode, John shares his insights as to why tech companies need to be focused on developing their own talent pipeline as opposed to continuing to bid from a dwindling supply of senior engineers.

About John Danner:

In the 90’s John co-founded Net Gravity, which was one of the first online survey companies. He then sold it and pursued a Master of Education to become a high school teacher. Then, in 2006 John co-founded Rocketship Education, a not-for-profit charter school network focused on providing equal learning opportunities to low-income and minority students. He now runs Dunce Capital, where the focus is on investing in the future of learning at work. Through his varied professional experience, he’s gained a deep expertise that crosses over technology, learning, and business.

What should a talent pipeline for a tech company look like?

Ten years ago, there weren’t nearly as many tech companies with a need for senior engineers and the more prominent companies like Apple and Netflix were able to pay the salaries to scoop up the available ones for hire. But now, we live in a time where the demand for senior engineers is higher than ever before, but there isn’t a pool of candidates big enough to fill the need.

We'll see companies bring in young engineers, and then either internally or through external partnerships, train those engineers for the first couple of years so that they're not a liability. So that would be my prediction about what's going to happen in the tech industry over the next few years, and I think it’ll be a big advantage  – John Danner

Key takeaways

  • The demand for senior engineers has far surpassed the available demand meaning that the future of hiring and training of engineers will need to change.
  • Tech companies are going to advantage themselves by figuring out how to bring in much younger engineers and train them in their own culture and how to be an engineer.
  • When companies invest in developing their employees and create clear career paths for them to work toward, they’re likely to get better retention.
  • It can be a challenge for both small and large companies to train from within - each size company has its own set of problems.

    “An earlier stage startup doesn't have the capacity to do great training because the number of senior folks they have that would be capable of mentorship is just not strong enough yet. And you have the more mature companies, which until today have just been able to use the market to get the scarce resources that they need” – John Danner

    In neither case are companies really focusing on how to develop people from within.

    “A lot of the companies, I think look at it as somebody else's problem still, and they wish that they could just find people that were ready to hit the ground running, and I think that's been true up to maybe five to 10 years ago in tech, but it's fairly clearly not true anymore. There is not a large enough supply of hit the ground ready folks anymore.” – John Danner

  • The focus should also be put on bringing diversity into tech so that there can be a representative group of people that mirrors the population. Companies can’t wait for the elite schools to become broadly representative and deliver them with diverse grads. And that’s why some of these post-grad accelerated Computer Science programs are so important; they help promote the diversity that elite schools and companies aren’t yet focusing on.
  • The sooner companies get onboard with internal training and development programs, the better positioned they’ll be. The time of bidding up senior engineers is over.

Segment time stamps

(1:51) What should a talent pipeline for a tech company look like?
(6:37) Investing in employee development as a means of retention
(8:13) Can smaller companies compete with the professional development larger companies can provide?
(10:41) Achieving the proper ratio of junior to senior employees
(12:07) Focusing on building diversity in tech
(13:53) Should accelerated tech schools have a role in helping people once they start in an organisation?
(16:24) John’s advice for developing a talent pipeline

Links from the podcast