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Freshers to Frontiers: Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Growth in Enterprise Tech

Freshers to Frontiers - Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Growth in Enterprise Tech

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Freshers hiring season is upon us. As engineering colleges wrap up their final semesters, the tech talent pool is primed and ready for the picking. With our 2024 Freshers Hiring on the horizon, it’s time to address a significant roadblock to career growth that I’ve both witnessed and experienced among peers, particularly in India.

Many tech companies prioritize creating the best platform or product, but few invest as much in training their people to reach their full potential. Ideas2IT stands out as one of those rare companies that does just that. They prioritize training as a key component of their approach, even considering it a unique selling point to their company culture. 

Having personally benefited from this dedication and having the opportunity to mentor newcomers myself, I'm eager to share how this investment can transform both employer and employee experiences.

It's not every day you see a solution architect rise to lead the freshers' training panel within about 4 years of joining. While this may sound like boasting, it's a testament to my opportunities for growth within the company. 

My journey from a fresher to a mentor has been incredibly rewarding, and leading the training panel, conducting interviews, and facilitating sessions have been among my most fulfilling experiences, and I’d like to share these with you today.

In this blog, I'll cover:

  • The change in new talent mindset and how you should leverage it,
  • Why I’m writing this - My journey from a fresher to a mentor at Ideas2IT,
  • Our training practices at Ideas2IT,
  • The importance of evolving your training practices with the market,
  • The emerging landscape of AI-assisted talent development.

I’m quite excited to share this so let’s get right in.

Mindset is evolving - Leverage it

Over the past decade from 2009 to 2024, the technology landscape has undergone significant and non-linear changes, characterized by multiple inflection points and dramatic shifts in tool stacks and technologies. 

Observing this evolution, there's been a notable improvement in how students approach problem-solving, thanks to increased emphasis from colleges starting from the school level. This shift reflects a broader trend where colleges are focusing more on training students in problem-solving methodologies

Unlike before, where aptitude was often neglected, today's students exhibit sharper critical thinking skills and this is great news for enterprises looking for top talent.

It's important to recognize the interplay between three key factors: interests, capabilities, and opportunities available within the company. Picture them as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Ideally, you want to find alignment where interests and capabilities intersect with the company's opportunities.

Mindset is evolving - Leverage it

⬆️ This is true for both employers and candidates.

For instance, if there is a demand for a particular technology, the company is more likely to offer freshers opportunities in that area. However, in some cases, the company might prioritize technologies where freshers' capabilities intersect with its needs, even if it's not their primary interest.

It's crucial to prepare freshers for this dynamic. This understanding underscores the importance of continuously developing skills to broaden capabilities, and it's vital to encourage this process. By doing so, freshers increase their likelihood of finding opportunities that align with both their interests and the company's needs.

Where it all began - Fresher to Mentor

Credit where credit is due, my journey from a fresher to a mentor is indebted to the training process I underwent upon joining Ideas2IT back in 2009. Before getting into why I advocate for changes in how enterprises approach their hiring programs today, I think it's important to share this story with you.

My journey began after graduating from a Tier 2 College during the peak of the 2009 recession when job opportunities were scarce. Despite the challenging circumstances, I was fortunate to be selected by Ideas2IT, a company with numerous options for hiring talent. 

Initially skeptical due to prevalent scams, I was reassured by the commitment to interesting technologies and a transparent salary structure. Joining the company required signing a two-year work agreement and enduring a rigorous selection process among thousands of applicants.

The intensive training regime, spanning long hours and demanding dedication, proved pivotal in shaping my skills and mindset. Over time, I realized the value of this challenging process as it equipped me to handle pressure and solve complex problems. 

Recognizing the need for scalability in training as the company expanded, I volunteered to lead the fresher training program, leveraging my deep understanding of the process and its objectives.

Starting with a single batch, which performed exceptionally well, I gradually expanded my role, forming a team of trainers to efficiently handle subsequent batches. Since then, I've been involved in hiring freshers and conducting 600 to 700 interviews for both freshers and laterals

I handle the final round for laterals, even those with 16 to 17 years of experience, but I much prefer freshers' training and interviews over lateral ones due to the advantage of shaping raw talent easily.

By 2022, we had successfully trained over 100 freshers and 75 developers, reflecting the effectiveness of our approach.

My passion for mentoring stems from my own experience as a fresher and the belief that sharing knowledge is a way to give back and empower others.

The Ideas2IT training practice

Our industry operates within a fast-paced, demanding, and at times, unforgiving landscape.  If you don’t help your newcomers understand this from the very beginning, you’re doing them a disservice. 

Our training methodology starts from the entry process itself, where we focus on three essential pillars: 

  • Attitude
  • Passion for learning
  • The ability to think critically
Focus on what cannot be taught

These traits are foundational and cannot be taught, making them critical considerations in our hiring process. Our interviews themselves are focused on logical problem-solving rather than technical problems, with an emphasis on the right approach.

Passion for learning is a given imperative, especially in the rapidly evolving tech landscape. Our training process is meticulously crafted to instill this passion while imparting a solid understanding of various technologies.

Rather than just teaching specific languages or frameworks, we emphasize grasping the underlying principles behind each technology. This approach equips trainees to adapt to changing technologies throughout their careers.

For instance, we generally start them off with Java, but we don’t teach them what Java is or what it can do. Instead, we use Java to teach them object-oriented programming. After all, Java is simply syntax. 

If, in the future, they are required to shift from Java to say, Node.js, they’re ready to adapt because it’s only the syntax that changes.

The idea is simple - help them instill a problem-solving mindset from the get-go.

To simulate real-world scenarios, we integrate elements of pressure and time management into our training practice. Trainees are assigned tasks with strict deadlines and are required to work on Saturdays, mirroring the demands of client projects. 

While you may see this as harsh, these experiences are instrumental in preparing trainees for the challenges they'll encounter in professional settings, where meeting deadlines and managing client expectations are all that matters.

More importantly, however, we encourage self-directed learning, with trainees tasked with researching and presenting topics to their peers in the form of spotlight events or internal webinars. This builds a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing within the company that contributes to their overall professional development.

“Our training philosophy is centered around employee-led development. Trainers are sourced internally to make sure that training is tailored to our specific environment and requirements. At the end of the day, they’ll be working with us so it doesn’t make sense to have someone from the outside train them.”

Regular assessments, feedback sessions, and retrospectives help track progress and address any areas needing improvement, and we make it a point to offer guidance and lend a hand when they need it.

Freshers commit to a three-year work agreement, recognizing the significant investment made in their development. Thankfully, over 90% of our team chose to stay beyond their initial work agreement. They appreciate our culture, the exposure they gain, and even our training process. 

While it may seem challenging at first, many newcomers come to understand its value as they settle in, and for any mentor, that’s a proud moment. We strive to replicate this process to prepare them effectively for real-time projects.

Evolve your training practices with the market

In response to the dynamic tech landscape, we've evolved our training process to stay current with industry trends. You need to prioritize flexibility and regularly update your training programs to incorporate emerging technologies.

We conduct annual retrospectives to refine our training approach, which helps us reflect on past experiences and performance metrics to gain insights into areas for improvement and opportunities for enhancement. 

For instance, after analyzing academic performance data collected via Google Forms, we discontinued on-campus recruitment drives due to their ineffectiveness in identifying suitable candidates. Instead, we now rely on and encourage direct walk-ins, ensuring a more rigorous assessment process.

We also continuously update our curriculum to include emerging technologies like Spring Microservices and React/Angular for instance. Our training needs to stay relevant to be effective. Companies should also proactively update their training syllabi to equip employees with the latest skills.

At the end of the day, it’s really all about nurturing the right attitude among trainees. While in the past, fresh graduates often sought employment without much ambition beyond securing a job, we now come across candidates with predefined career roadmaps. It's our responsibility to guide them, helping them understand their strengths and areas for improvement, and aligning their ambitions with realistic expectations.

How does AI fit into freshers’ hiring?

“AI tools offer valuable time-saving capabilities in our projects, but they should serve as complements, not replacements, to foundational knowledge.”

I anticipate this year will pose more challenges for us in terms of fresher recruitment. Typically, candidates express varied interests when asked about their preferences, spanning from the front end to Java or other domains. 

However, I foresee a common trend emerging this year: a heightened interest in Gen AI, given its undeniable significance in shaping the future.

With the emergence of AI and generative AI as significant new developments, we need to ask ourselves how we are preparing for the upcoming fresher hiring cycle. Incoming candidates have to have a clear understanding of AI, machine learning, and data science concepts. Many newcomers often confuse these terms when entering the workforce. 

That begs the question, How are we equipping ourselves to address this and guide candidates effectively? 

Our approach must involve carefully listening to candidates' preferences and integrating our standard training process with tailored education on fundamental concepts such as data science and data engineering. 

Last year, we observed success in transitioning selected individuals from the fresher batch to specialized training in Python, data science, and data engineering. This year, we aim to execute this transition more systematically.

We may consider incorporating basic data science training into the general curriculum to ensure all candidates receive exposure to these critical concepts. We need to educate candidates on the distinctions between machine learning, AI, and Gen AI, dispelling any misconceptions they may have encountered.

Additionally, there's a growing concern regarding the potential displacement of developers by AI. I think it’s important to clarify that AI complements rather than replaces developers, particularly those who remain informed and adaptable in the face of technological advancements.

With AI in the picture, I think it’s more important to closely monitor candidates' utilization of AI tools. Are they leveraging AI to complete tasks effortlessly, or are they genuinely engaging with the material

By assessing both interest and capability, we can align candidates with suitable training streams, such as data science or Python, ensuring a structured and effective learning experience tailored to their strengths and aspirations.

With that said, we can’t rule out AI-assisted development. Recently, we've begun evaluating various development and testing tools incorporating AI technology. While some are relatively basic, others could potentially reduce up to 45% of the software development lifecycle time, particularly in development and testing. 

However, when considering this from the perspective of newcomers or freshers, I believe it's important to understand that AI-assisted development doesn't entail complete automation by AI.

In the early stages of their careers, freshers should focus on grasping fundamental concepts rather than relying solely on AI tools. Mastery of these concepts allows for more effective utilization of AI assistance later on. While AI can provide supplementary support, freshers need to develop a solid foundation of knowledge before delving into AI-assisted development extensively.

During our training phase, we discourage heavy reliance on Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) initially, emphasizing the use of basic tools like a good ol’ notepad to instill coding fundamentals. This approach encourages freshers to understand core programming principles, promoting a deeper understanding of coding practices.

While Gen AI undoubtedly represents the future of development, it's important for individuals to first acquire a strong understanding of programming concepts and principles. In my current project, for instance, Gen AI has streamlined development processes, contributing to a 20% to 30% reduction in development efforts, but only after a thorough understanding of programming fundamentals was established.

Although AI tools can be beneficial and have demonstrated time-saving capabilities in our projects, they should complement, rather than replace, foundational knowledge.

Final thoughts

From our discussion surrounding enterprise-level data science and talent development, it's clear that our journey is one of constant evolution and adaptation. In the ever-changing tech landscape, staying ahead means embracing change and fostering a culture of growth and innovation.

At Ideas2IT, we've seen firsthand the impact of investing in our people. We’ve prioritized flexible training methods and stayed current with emerging technologies. By doing so, we've equipped our team with the skills needed to excel in a competitive market.

Yet, it's not just about technical prowess. Our focus on nurturing the right mindset and aligning ambitions with reality has been pivotal. It's about empowering individuals to face challenges head-on and to continually push boundaries.

As we move forward, let's remember that our greatest asset is our people. By continuing to invest in their development and fostering a culture of lifelong learning, we can steer the complexities of the tech world in the right direction with confidence and purpose.

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