Developing Diverse Technical Talent From Those That Don’t Have a Technical Background

🕑 7 minutes read | Oct 27 2021 | By Becky Gendron

A conversation with Magda Bukala, Diversity Inclusion and Social Responsibility Manager II and ATA Global Project Manager at Akamai Technologies on the Brandon Hall Award Winning Akamai Technical Academy (ATA) training program.

As the workplace and technology continue to rapidly evolve the demand for technical skills is quickly rising. While many individuals have an interest or desire to obtain technical skills, they are unsure where to begin or lack the necessary skills to get started in the IT field. As an organization, how do you develop a technical workforce of diverse talent with those that do not have a technical background? The Akamai Technical Academy (ATA) training program has successfully done this. Akamai is a global content delivery network, cybersecurity, and cloud service company that has hired almost 9,000 employees globally and serves over 6,000 customers with approximately 325,000 servers in more than 135 countries and nearly 1,435 networks around the world.

In a recent episode of “Bring Out The Talent,” we spoke with Magda Bukala, the Diversity Inclusion and Social Responsibility Manager II, and ATA Global Project Manager at Akamai Technologies about the Akamai Technical Academy (ATA), a training program for diverse talent, specifically for people with the aptitude for technology who might not come from typical technical backgrounds. In our conversation Magna shares many aspects of this program, such as the candidate process and experience, the profound impact ATA had on Akamai and its employees, and how the program went on to win a 2020 Brandon Hall Group Award for Excellence in Learning.

In this blog, we share some highlights from our conversation.

Q: What is the Akamai Technical Academy (ATA) and what inspired it?

A: The ATA program is an incredible training program for diverse talent, people with the aptitude for technology who might not come from a typical technical background. Imagine that you have worked as an elementary school teacher, always had a passion for technology. Our typical audience is interested in pursuing their paths in technology but never had a chance to start in the field. I figured we would create a program that would grow our internal talent and find very smart people on the market who want change.

Q: Where did you find these individuals and was there a certain demographic you were seeking?

A: For the demographic looking at the experiences that we had so far and right now, we are currently finishing the ninth edition, we are looking for people between their 20s and up to their 60s. We have had some seniors and I’m always very excited to have senior participants in the program. It also depends on what country ATA program is being held in. In terms of the volume of candidates that apply for the program in Krakow, for the 9.0, we had over 600 applicants. Then in Costa Rica, we had over three thousand five hundred applicants. If you can just think about the numbers when we only had 15 positions to fill.

We think about what makes Akamai successful and those who feel the strongest connection to the company values. We look at diversity quite holistically, so you have the cognitive diversity, how you think, what you’re trying to solve problems, and the identity diversity. We decided to launch this great program and give the opportunity to those amazingly talented people to start working in Akamai.

Q: It’s great for TTA to be a part of a program that has so much substance. Can you tell us a little bit about the program’s structure such as duration and topics?

A: The program can be divided into two parts. The training is a five-month-long endeavor that ends with a placement process. This is the critical moment where all the cohort members are distributed among the Akamai teams. After that, we have a couple of months of phases where the cohort members get exposed to their new tasks. In total, we are talking about a program that lasts for about 11 months. Also, remember we are talking about people from non-technical backgrounds, we really wanted to build a solid base for them to start working in IT.

We are running seven technical modules, including those that are critical for Akamai as a whole. We have some personal development workshops led by the coach who is always with the class. I want to include as much Akamai-specific content as possible because the aim here is to grow the network of people that the ATA folks are going to know when they finish the course. Instead of being familiar only with the recruiter and the manager, like for a regular hire, you start working knowing your fellow classmates, people from the business, sometimes even the CEO, Dr. Tom Leighton, who is a huge advocate of the program and always pays us a visit. You have the network; you have the support group.

Q: There are a lot of moving pieces to a program like this, especially one that’s five months long and touches on so many topics, and has soft skills and hard skills all mixed together. What role is it that you saw TTA playing throughout a program like this?

A: I just couldn’t be happier that we are working on this together. First, TTA helps select the best technical instructors for the program and provides high-quality technical content. The instructors are delivering all the technical courses. They are leading the assessments and labs that we are doing at the end of every course. Also, I learned throughout the years, TTA is really keen on managing risks and surely puts customer interests at first. We do all of that with a great sense of humor, which always helps. always had a fun experience and I really like that.

Q: We understand the process for selecting candidates is very involved. Could you tell us a little bit more about this process and how you came down to the group of people that are in the program currently?

A: It’s a very complex process, and it takes a couple of weeks to get the final group. It’s also a huge team effort, so we first do a targeted campaign in the place where the ATA going to be. We are searching for the right profile of candidates. Next, we ask the recruits to go through an online analytical test. Then we ask them to do an English comprehension test because we want to make sure that all of them are going to be able to successfully go through training and they are learning in English no matter what the location. The last stage is meeting the project team and the recruiters for group activities and the one-to-one recruitment sessions. It’s really a long process. I really want to get to know every single person from the final group of candidates. So, I usually interview 50 to 70 candidates.

Q: Tell us some of your favorite things about the ATA program.

A: I recently had a conversation with my husband about this because he asked something similar, and I came to discover that I really like it when the cohort members start asking difficult questions. They start getting impatient. They become quite demanding. At this time I really know that we created a healthy environment where they can feel comfortable to ask questions, to discuss, to test the solutions that we are giving them. It exemplifies how it is to work in diverse teams because it’s not always easy, but it’s surely creative and liberating.

Q: Have you had candidates leave the program because they could not handle the demands of it?

A:  The answer would be no. No matter the location, we just make sure that we have the right candidates, and they fit the profile within the company culture. There is also a huge support system. So, I’m the spokesperson for the interview, but we have a whole team. We have someone who has gone through ATA program and she’s still with our team right now. She joined the diversity and inclusion team and is also running the A-Team with me. Akamai is keen on keeping all the people that successfully go through the program. We make all the attempts to do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone is going to be successful and happy with the program and in the end, happy with the company as well.

Q: What measurement techniques were employed to gauge the effectiveness of the program?

A: I really hate measuring things, but I know that it’s necessary, especially for the business. We use satisfaction surveys after every technical module to make sure that the instructors are doing a good job and that classmates are really feeling happy about how the classes are being led. We do assessments and we finish every block with a practical case study. And in 2020, we won the Brandon Hall Group Silver Award for Excellence in Learning together with TTA. This speaks for itself that the program has a long history of success and that we are making everything we can to make sure that that’s how it’s going to be.

For the full podcast episode and to learn more about the ATA program click here. To find out how TTA can help you develop diverse technical talent, speak to a TTA Learning Expert today!

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