Corporations and tech startups alike are desperate to get their hands on programmers who know Java, said Neelima Parasker.
“Big organizations have it embedded in their systems, and they’re dying to get some Java resources,” the SnapIT Solutions CEO said. “And don’t get me wrong: So am I.”
A new partnership between SnapIT, the Full Employment Council and University of Central Missouri-Lee’s Summit aims to train entry-level programmers who can be plugged into Kansas City tech firms that are hungry for quality talent. For a flyer about the program, which debuted this spring,
“There are hundreds of thousands of technology jobs out there that are unfilled, and it’s only going to increase because of the lack of talent in the pipeline,” Parasker said.
The U.S. now has a record 6.6 million job openings — a position for every American actively looking for a job, the Washington Post reported earlier this month. It’s in large part thanks to the mismatch between job requirements and the skill sets of those looking for work, the newspaper concluded.
“It’s likely that the United States will soon be in a situation where there are more job openings than job seekers,” The Post reported.
Kansas City already is getting a taste of that future. Though the metro saw a net gain of 11,000 tech workers in 2017, according to a new report from the KC Tech Council, about 3,000 jobs remained unfilled.
And with fewer immigrants coming to the United States to work in such highly skilled positions, Overland Park-based SnapIT and other firms find themselves facing a hiring dilemma, she said.
“There are only two options: Find that talent offshore or pay for the resources here. But it’s hard to find here — and expensive,” Parasker said. “And even if I consider paying the market value price, I’m still competing against bigger organizations that probably can provide way more benefits than a smaller company like SnapIT does. That means we’ll have to settle with mediocre skills, and that’s just not acceptable.”
The answer? Create a third option.
Re-filling the talent pool
SnapIT’s training partnership benefits from the Full Employment Council’s resources, Parasker said.
“With their bandwidth, they’ve identified students who are willing to learn a new skill or try a new industry,” she said. “We’ve had students who have maybe been in the tech industry for many years, but have not dwelled in the latest technology and don’t have these skills. And they’ve lost a job because of that.”
Prerequisites are minimal for the training classes, which are accredited through UCM and taught by SnapIT’s stable of professionals.
“It would good if they come to us with a four-year degree in anything. Seriously,” Parasker said. “That sets the stage for discipline. They have invested in their career. They’re not wasting their time or ours.”
But the program doesn’t exclude those who haven’t yet attended college or didn’t have the financial means to do so, she added.
“That should not be the end for these kids,” Parasker said. “I would love to bring in people who are intelligent and hardworking.”
The program shares characteristics with corporate mentorships, she said, noting experts with real industry experience pass down their knowledge to the junior programmers.
“All of our senior developers at SnapIT are part of the training,” she said. “I told told them, ‘You need to give back.’ Most developers are very focused on their work, and it’s difficult to find someone who can see my vision and this mission. We identify professionals who have a flair for training and teaching, even though they aren’t themselves trained for it specifically.”
Herself a veteran of tech giant IBM, Parasker said supporting such apprenticeship ideals is important in corporate life.
“It’s rare that a senior is expected to just do ‘the job,’” she said. “They’re challenged to be team leaders and help develop others.”
Giving IT a facelift
Rama Midigudla, a lead developer at SnapIT, accepted that challenge.
It’s about breaking down simple concepts — like the step-by-step nature of programming — when approaching a classroom setting, he said. Often, Midigudla begins the course by asking students to give him instructions to write on a dry-erase board with a marker.
“Usually, they just say, ‘Rama, go over there and write on the board.’ So I go, but I don’t take the marker. I just stand there,” he said. “Eventually, they’re like, ‘Oh, OK. Pick up the marker, go to the board and write.’ But when I follow those instructions, I keep the marker closed. Then they have to realize, ‘OK, I have to give every step because that’s just how computers would interpret the instructions.’”
The basic exercise exposes students to the importance of getting the details right, as well as giving instructions completely and in the correct sequence, Midigudla said.
“I believe that if you can’t explain something to third graders, then you don’t really know what you’re talking about,” he said.
When successful, the classroom-based program plants the seeds for growth, Parasker said.
“Training the workforce is a tedious and slow process, but if you’re not starting it somewhere, what is the impact?” she said.
SnapIT has hired a handful of the program’s graduates, Parasker said, noting the training helped her to avoid simply hiring more overseas workers to get the jobs done. The company now has eight employees in Overland Park, seven in India and four in Bolivia, she said.
“The reality is that I have six developers here who I wouldn’t have found, but who are now productive. They might not be at the level of someone with a master’s degree in computer science, but they are productive nonetheless,” she said. “These are from our community, not just sending these jobs off somewhere else.”
Parasker’s junior developers work in concert with one another under the direction of SnapIT’s senior programmers, she said. They are not tasked with critical projects that must be completed quickly, rather their work centers on projects that match the appropriate timeline and required skills, she said.
“Once they come in to work, they need to like each other, they need to like the environment. That’s where they can take small milestone steps, but are still moving forward,” Parasker said. “My job and my senior staff’s job is to remove obstacles — or sometimes place obstacles — so they can continue growing.”
The team recently helped unveil a new look for the Kansas City, Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s website.
“Our designers and developers on this project were happy to bring a new facelift to this wonderful and hardworking organization,” Parasker said in a KCK Chamber news release accented by a photo of her diverse staff’s beaming young faces.
“My feedback to students: If you want to get into technology, you need to give it time,” she told Startland. “Anybody can get in — there are different roles where you can fit — but you need to be persistent.”
– By: Tommy Felts