While many companies are beginning to discover the importance of learning and enablement opportunities for their teams, Giant Machines has always been built on a foundation of learning. And rightly so. According to a 2021 McKinsey survey, more than 50% of respondents said that their companies were increasing their investment around skill building and learning over the next year, compared to 2019. The root of our Learn services is in attracting, training, and retaining top talent, which is built off the 2022 acquisition of Upperline Code. But there’s much more to it.
Our Learning and Development Philosophy
Upperline Code was founded on the idea of training the next generation of software engineers and computer science educators, and when we joined forces, we knew that meant building on how we think about learning–whether that’s internally or externally. We have a dedicated team focused on growing the skills of our teams and the teams of our clients.
In short, our learning philosophy vastly expanded.
There are so many ways to talk about learning in the workplace, the most often of which is typically “upskilling,” but we decided to think beyond that word. Upskilling can imply that a team lacks skill, where enablement is more about utilizing our Learn services to unblock a goal.
“It helps us stay humble and grounded in the fact that we’re working with excellent people and trying to help them channel excellence into new venues,” says Director of Learning and Development Jeff Olson.
The excellent people that make up the foundation of Giant Machines are the focus behind our philosophy around learning. We’re unique in that we have a collection of employees from all different backgrounds and careers.
Because of this, enablement here means there’s plenty to be recognized and utilized from an individual’s unique background—it’s not simply about learning new skills, something that Danny Fenjves, our Chief Learning Officer, sees as a huge positive.
“Most of the folks at GM are career changers. We’ve had lawyers, mechanical engineers, all different backgrounds,” explains Danny. “I think when you’re a career changer, it brings a different level of maturity and also a level of humility that you’re kind of starting again and you have to be a beginner again. You have to be willing to take feedback and criticism and ask questions. All of those are part of our learning philosophy as well.”
Our Foundation in Education
The Learn team is made up of eight former educators who are passionate about enabling teams by creating opportunities for people to learn the requisite skills needed to succeed.
“What my team does really well is help bring frameworks, organization, and structure to the fact that we’ve always been a learning organization,” Danny says.
A recent example is the reshaping of one of our internal knowledge-sharing processes. Danny’s team turned our “lunch and learns” from an ad-hoc idea to a seamless and centrally-organized program that creates a structured learning opportunity for our teams. The demand for learning was already there; it was just about honing in on the potential of the program.
This kind of success showed Danny that the Learn team could bring what they knew worked with structured enablement to other areas of Giant Machines, specifically our Pre-Career and Skills Training services–but also how we hire and train our own talent.
The Pre-Career Services focuses on bridging the gap that currently exists for students from underrepresented communities and the tech world. Starting from a few groups of registrants, this program now serves almost 1,000 students a year.Growing this program each year means implementing the processes from those internal structures on an even larger scale.
“The thing we learned from running programs for hundreds, and now thousands, of students was how to build a scalable system that we can also bring to other parts of the organization. A lot of what we do is training other people to run our programs,” Danny says. “We hire excellent educators, train them to run our curriculum, and then place them in different classrooms or organizations. So what we’ve gotten good at is doing the train-to-train model.”
This has vastly helped reshape how we bring on and onboard new employees.
“I know that this feels like a very hot take but it just is a known thing that sometimes you’ll interview somebody who is very good at interviewing but they’re not the right person to do the work,” explains Jeff. “So, it’s about being really honest with ourselves about what actually leads to someone’s success is their capacity to communicate, collaborate, receive feedback well, and so on.”
Danny agrees with this perspective and always comes back to the mission statement behind our recruitment method.
“I just really believe that everyone is super coachable and can learn. GM’s hiring philosophy is to hire folks who are hungry, humble, and smart. Learning the intricacies of a software programming language or a framework is much more teachable than if someone is excited and ready to learn. Those are things that are harder to foster,” Danny says.
Danny also believes that simply giving someone the opportunity to try something new is what’s missing, particularly for young students in education.
“The quote that comes to mind is ‘talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not’. When it comes to the pre-career services, a lot of the work we do is with exposure,” he says. “It’s giving folks the exposure to coding for the first time, just to see if it takes and if they like it. If we give folks that opportunity, the talent will come out and reveal itself.”
Along with expanding how we interview, we’ve been passionate about implementing a strong onboarding process that can set our new hires up for success at the very beginning. The first implementation of this process was NETO, or the New Employee Training and Onboarding program.
Danny points out that the combination of building a learning structure and the GM philosophy of appreciating the different perspectives that everyone can bring to the table melded perfectly for NETO. The program was built to set up a level of consistency, where even though everyone may learn at different speeds, they’re all going through a foundational course and will know the same skills at the end of it.
Our Ability to Enable Client Teams
One of the ways that we like to bring our enablement and learning philosophy to the forefront is to practice what we preach—meaning we teach our clients the same way we teach each other. It’s a rarity in our industry, but it’s key to how we work and deliver.
“Giant Machines is unique in a lot of different ways, and one big way is when we work with our clients, we work very closely with their teams. We work hand in hand. We have this co-creation model,” says Danny. “So we want to be in a situation where our engineers are on the same page as the engineers we’re working with at our client counterparts.”
It’s the combination of teaching our internal teammates to grow in their careers while also matching up their skills with our clients that helps us stand out from the crowd. “It builds a lot of trust with clients—it’s bottom-up trust,” says Danny. “They learn the way we do things at Giant Machines and it makes us more attractive as partners.”
Learning means allowing space for people to feel vulnerable and ask for help when they need it. It’s about feeling comfortable enough with their teammates to cross-collaborate with more efficiency and openness.
One of the ways that the Learn team fosters this enablement is by creating (oftentimes silly) team-bonding games. “It’s such a drastic change that I see in the before and after in our courses or workshops when we do some of these exercises,” says Danny.
He continues, “This is part of my philosophy—we’re going to play improv games and act like a chicken or something in front of each other. It’s putting you in a position of being vulnerable in front of people you work with. And if you can do that, it’s going to be much easier for you to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I need help’ or ‘Look at my code because something is wrong’. I think that creating that culture where people feel comfortable enough and building bonds that way is really important.”
Not only has this created a positive learning environment at Giant Machines, but it’s a philosophy that’s even catching on with some of our clients. “We’ve actually had clients who have brought us in just to run that stuff,” says Danny. “Not to even teach code, but to run culture building exercises because for team building that’s just as important as the technical piece.”