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Home Depot CIO promotes in-house tech boot camp

For companies having trouble finding qualified IT professionals to hire, the solution may be closer than you think. Just ask Home Depot, which now trains IT employees in-house.

Home Depot had a problem. The home improvement giant wasn't finding the right candidates -- or at least not enough of them -- to fill its open IT positions. The company tried several approaches to attract the right talent.

"We tried traditional means, working with external campuses and offering weeklong curricula in our offices," said Anthony Gregorio, director of technology enablement and enterprise architecture at Home Depot, based in Atlanta. "That got us some short-term, incremental changes in skills, but we really needed continuous learning to move forward."

One approach that had some success was hiring people who had recently completed an intensive tech boot camp by a private company that Gregorio said covered the full stack of software Home Depot uses.

But those tech boot camps don't necessarily graduate enough qualified candidates. While programming, data analysis and other relevant skills are taught, they aren't necessarily teaching how to use the software and techniques in the way Home Depot wants it to be taught.

According to Gregorio, CIO Matt Carey came up with the idea of bringing the tech boot camp in-house. Gregorio and two other Home Depot managers spoke at the 2019 Pluralsight Live conference, which was hosted by Pluralsight, a provider of IT training, courseware and certification programs used by many enterprises, including Home Depot.

A separate organization

To make the tech boot camp a unique entity, with its own goals and reporting structure, Home Depot created OrangeMethod, a training program that offers IT training for current employees looking to up their skills, as well as training for new employees.

The idea was to make sure new employees had resources from day one. At the conference, a number of hands in the audience went up when Gregorio asked how many times a new employee started at their company only to find there was no laptop or computer ready for them. With OrangeMethod now a part of the employee onboarding process, they can ensure all necessary tools and resources are readily available.

There are also no tuition charges for the courses. "In fact, we paid them," Gregorio said. "Their salaries and roles at the company are never impacted by their participation. We've made a full commitment to learning that is dramatically different for a brick-and-mortar retailer."

OrangeMethod started with a focus on software engineering, but has since branched out into other areas, including training on UX and product management. There are currently 40 full-time associates at OrangeMethod, whose job is to train current and new employees participating in the program. With Atlanta established, Home Depot has added a second OrangeMethod center in Austin, Texas.

From cashier to HR manager

Participation is not automatic -- there's an application process, followed by interviews facilitated by the HR department.

"We have many amazing stories. In fact, I started as a cashier," said Christina Mehr, senior manager of HR for technology at Home Depot. "As the program got started and word spread, we've been getting cool emails from leaders in finance and other departments who wanted to learn more."

Mehr said working with Pluralsight has also helped Home Depot offer a range of learning options, from classroom to self-paced instruction guides.

"If, say, you want to become a super pro at Java, not everyone learns the same way. So, we're able to offer workshops or a way for self-starters to learn on their own.  We're constantly figuring out ways to support the workforce," she said.

Making digital transformation work

George Boone, senior manager at OrangeMethod, said the company's first tech boot camp in 2017 was a 12-week course for tech-oriented employees who upgraded their skills.

"Over time, we realized, hey, we have over 400,000 people at this company, and a lot of them may want to be software engineers, but they're hidden behind titles that won't allow it," Boone said. "Digital transformation discounts the human element of humans driving change. You have to keep up with technology, but you also have to move people along with it."

Digital transformation discounts the human element of humans driving change. You have to keep up with technology, but you also have to move people along with it.
George BooneSenior manager at OrangeMethod

For Home Depot, the program has been the proverbial win-win.

"They are bringing us more value than we are to them, because they are in the stores, they know the customer pain points and they know our systems," Boone said. "When you add someone like that to a product team, it's an immediate win."

The latest iteration of the tech boot camp is a 16-week course that employees can use to become UX managers or software engineers. There are also follow-up recaps and courses on more specific topics.

Lastly, one of the key factors to the program's success has been the involvement of the HR department.

"We are changing people's lives, but we wouldn't have been successful without the partnership with HR," Boone said.  

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