One solution to the tech talent shortage: Companies, train your own software engineers.
For six months last year, Center City-based telecomms giant Comcast piloted a program intending to train its frontline employees — technicians and call center agents — for careers in engineering.
The program, Grows to Code, graduated 12 members of its first spring cohort last year. The dozen employees spent six months in the bootcamp and apprenticeship program to learn coding skills that would lead to an entry-level engineering role with the company. Comcast partnered with LaunchCode, a national nonprofit specializing in building talent pipelines across the country and locally, for the curriculum.
The participating employees were paid full time at their average hourly rate to complete the coursework and training in the 40-hour a week program. All 12 employees are now working as engineers for Comcast, the company said.
Philly native Shelina Watts, who has been with Comcast for about six years, spent the first five and a half years of her tenure as a field technician. She’d been consulting with her sister early last year about possible paths for career growth when she heard about the Grows to Code pilot.
“I didn’t have any coding experience, it was all new to me, but once I got into the program and saw how much support I was getting, it made me feel like this was something I could do,” she told Technical.ly. ” When I was initially applying, I was enticed to see the other side of the business, it was like completely two different worlds.”
Watts is currently working on an app designed as a care tool for agents, which is used throughout the whole company. While she said she still feels like a newcomer in certain meetings, Watts said she realizes her experience in the field as a technician brings a certain insight into how she works on internal tools.
And learning coding tools also drew Watts into turning one of her passions, collecting sneakers, into a tech side project. For her final project in the program, Watts built a digital, searchable encyclopedia of sneakers, which she was able to use in her annual sneaker drive to provide shoes to children in need.
Since the first cohort of students, Comcast has rolled out the program again, but with a larger cohort in its second round. This year, 31 people in Philadelphia, Denver and a handful of other locations in the company’s central region are joining the program. The group started in May and will graduate to what Comcast calls its Engineer 1 role in November.
“Our frontline technicians and care agents represent a deep, wide pool of incredibly talented individuals who understand our technology and the unique needs of our customers better than anyone in the world,” said Tom Karinshak, EVP and chief customer experience officer at Comcast Cable, in a statement. “It’s incredibly exciting to find yet another way to tap into that reservoir of talent, as we work to fill critical needs on our software engineering teams.”
Although the program seemed intimidating at first, Watts said her best advice to fellow technicians is to apply and see what could happen. Your cohort will be there for support, and it’s opened up her career in a way she couldn’t have predicted, she said.
“Do what you have to do, take that leap. Career changes are scary, but I advise everyone that the program is set up for you to succeed,” Watts said. “And watch out for imposter syndrome — it hits hard, but everyone is going through the same things.”