Staying Customer-Centric in a New Landscape: Advice From Marketing Leaders

By

At the beginning of 2020, most of P&G’s products were sold in brick-and-mortar retailers. When COVID-19 struck, they had to go back to the basics: refocusing on website quality, partnerships with e-retailers, and making information available online to sell brands without in-store promotions. In other words, they had to rechannel their path-to-purchase strategies to serve consumers when consumer behavior changed drastically and quickly.

Over the last 18+ months, large and small CPG companies have grappled with these same challenges: the explosion of eCommerce, the rising demand for sustainability, a shift in consumption from makeup toward skincare, and a massive increase in time spent on social media. As the pandemic accelerated the impact of technology and shifted consumer behaviors seemingly overnight, businesses have had to become even more innovative and agile to keep up. 

In a space where the only constant is change, we talked to leaders in CPG and marketing experts to understand their most effective techniques for adapting to the ever-changing digital landscape and equipping their marketing talent for success. The top answer? Getting even more customer-centric with deeper and more frequent connections to their consumers.

Let’s break down what this means in three steps:

1. Consumers expect peak digital experiences that call on marketing to transform.

The growth of digital shopping last year was shocking, and it may be slowing down — but not by much. 2020 showed a 25.7% surge in eCommerce sales, and eMarketer predicts 2021 will bring another 16.8% gain, taking the global eCommerce sales pie up to nearly $5 trillion. Alongside this behavioral shift, consumers have experienced widespread emotional trauma that shifted all life priorities. This changing landscape sped up the need for digital transformation in marketing — not only in reaching consumers through digital channels but using technology to understand what they need in this new context. 

“It’s easy for brands to sound tone-deaf,” recalls GA instructor Terry Rice, digital marketing expert, business development consultant, and writer for Entrepreneur magazine. Marketers need to “[take] the time to learn about consumer behavior shifts — and take the time to deploy empathy in marketing: we hear you, we understand you, and we’re here to support you.”

The social trends of the last 18 months have challenged marketers to up their game, particularly when it comes to winning over Gen Z. “They stand up for their values, they stand up for diversity and inclusion, and they have a big push in demand on sustainability,” says Philipp Markmann, CMO of L’Oreal and member of our Marketing standards board. In this climate, you have to bring real value beyond the product you make and tell consumers the causes you stand up for.

While this emotional challenge doesn’t fit with the classic business models of maximizing shareholder value (at least in the short run), CPG marketers across the board understand that they can’t fall into the trap of trying to optimize toward a past that no longer exists. Luckily, this is a challenge that cuts right to the heart of marketing principles, and marketers are best-prepared to create the solutions.

“More and more business questions will become behavioral questions and psychological questions because relying on past data to predict future behavior is increasingly unsafe,” emphasizes Rory Sutherland, vice chair at Ogilvy UK. “We vastly need marketers to elevate themselves in status and influence… understanding wants, needs, motivations, and fears have suddenly become 10x more important in 2021 than it was in 2018.”

2. Stay plugged into evolving consumers through innovative digital collaboration.

Shifting alongside consumer behaviors means mobilizing the digital transformation work that brands across the CPG space have been doing. Companies like Shiseido, P&G, and L’Oreal have invested in digital infrastructures to prepare for this future.

While L’Oreal has spent over 10 years building on digital marketing capabilities, COVID-19’s “massive digital stress test” required marketing and commercial teams to be bold and try new things. This required creative thinking and experimentation across teams — what L’Oreal calls a “company collaboration accelerator.”

“In March 2020, every machine learning algorithm you had for optimizing traffic was worthless, Ben Harrell, CMO at Priceline and member of our Marketing standards board, pointed out.  “Data from yesterday and today is what matters.” Yet amidst this rapid consumer change, the marketing industry has seen a steep decrease in the cookies and other data streams they once relied on for personalization, meaning marketers need to rebuild the customer journey practically from scratch.

That’s where data literacy comes into play. Marketers need personalized customer data from other in-house teams, which increases the need for tight internal systems and communication of first-party data. This requires not only a shared digital language across marketing, data, and product but a digital literacy about information systems like MarTech. “Then you can start having meaningful conversations with your engineers to say, hey, I want to do XYZ with this consumer segment…can we potentially integrate a third-party service that is API-led?” Ogilvy’s Sutherland illustrates.  

This type of collaborative innovation requires marketing to have the vocabulary to work with other teams to help solve complex technical problems, as well as the growth mindset that is so fundamental to digital culture.

In the long run, CPG leaders expect this tight-loop connection with customers to get even faster. Beyond simply protecting user privacy, the democratization of data is giving consumers more ownership of their data, which will ultimately challenge marketers to innovate commercial models directly with the customer based on the value of that data.

Salim Holder, founder and CEO at 4th Ave Market, is working toward making that vision a reality in this decade: “In 2030, we’re integrating our business model with the community we’re trying to deliver value to… and we provide financial incentives for the community.” This might mean discounts in exchange for sharing information and building strategy around the way communities engage with products organically. “As a result, the data that we get will allow us to make all the decisions… and [source] the information and the knowledge from the community that is also there to provide value in itself.”

3. Skills for a dynamic world — and the culture that keeps them fresh.

When it comes to enabling marketing teams to innovate, marketing leaders are unanimous: there is a need for constant learning.

“Instead of looking at ROI, we should be looking at the cost of inaction. If consumers have a pain point, it’s on us to solve customer problems,” Matthew Tumbleson, P&G entrepreneur-in-residence, stresses.  “It needs to be an ongoing thing where we are upskilling forever.” When consumers have a good experience elsewhere, it’s on your brand to do it better, or you’ll be creating the conditions for you to lose. This means making sure they have the “hands-on-keyboard skills” — those that they’ve historically outsourced to agencies — in-house. “Even at P&G,” he says, “it requires continual improvement.”

At Shiseido, digital literacy is stressed across teams as the basis of good decision-making. That’s why Roxanne Ong, head of digital transformation at Shiseido, invests time and energy in ensuring that there is a common digital literacy across all employees.

“Marketing has become such a monster, if you will, as a disciplinary approach,” Ong says, so it’s hard to ensure everyone has the baseline skills that often aren’t taught in school or MBA programs. “What GA has done is crystalize the fundamentals a true-blue marketer needs to have on a foundational level before they can move on out to an expert level.” Shiseido used GA’s CM1 assessment to get a baseline check on their teams’ skills to identify gaps. From there, she leads teams to aspire to be a “T-skills employee,” one who possesses skills across the board to go deep in one of their functional fields.  

Not only are marketing skills assessments like CM1 good for identifying development areas for teams, Entrepreneur magazine’s Rice points out, “For someone who’s an expert, it’s going to reveal blind spots and opportunities… If you’re an expert, it’s a good way to make sure that you’re aware of what your team’s doing and to make sure you’re up to date with best practices across platforms.”

Ultimately, though, Ong says, “Equally important to skills is culture.” Beyond the specifics of hard skilling, Ong emphasizes the need to invest in digital culture, i.e., take risks, have curiosity, and collaborate — evergreen soft skills. There will always be so much unknown, so you need to create a culture of constant learning to be responsive to consumer changes and build new solutions to problems. “It’s a day-by-day, week-by-week situation. The idea of being data-driven in the digital age cannot be underscored enough: keep your ears on the ground for the data pulses, large and small.”

Beyond curiosity, this takes courage: “Have the courage to try to actually go to a place that’s unknown to you. Understanding the nuance and how to do it well is a whole different story altogether.”  

Want to learn more about GA can help you future-proof your marketing teams today? Get in touch or download our marketing product catalog

General Assembly’s Social Impact

By

Our number one mission? It’s quite simple. We empower people to pursue work they love. 

Core to that mission is a commitment to closing opportunity gaps and ensuring that all people from all walks of life, regardless of their ability to pay, can pursue a career in tech, data, or design. But our social impact efforts and achievements are never solitary — we reach others by reaching out to others. Along the way, we’ve learned that we are most effective and impactful when we team up with partners who share our commitment to access, equity, and inclusion.   Our partnerships are dynamic and in sync with social and global issues — we are always evolving and growing.

Since we launched our first fully funded tuitions seven years ago (sponsored by an alliance of benefactors, including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohananian and hip-hop legend Nas), we’ve provided tuition and innovative financing options to tens of thousands of learners in diverse circumstances. The pandemic has only heightened the urgency for creating pathways to meaningful work, particularly for those who are struggling to find footing in a rapidly changing economy and world. Now, GA is participating in numerous collaboratives to help create pathways to economic mobility, and today, we’re excited to share some of the work we’re doing in the U.S.:

Nationally, we are proud to be a part of Microsoft Accelerate and the Adobe Digital Academy. A little about these core initiatives:

  • Through Microsoft’s Accelerate initiative, we’re teaming up with local coalitions in Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Miami, L.A., and New York to deliver skills training to members of underserved communities, with an additional ten markets on the roadmap — we’re just getting started. Learn more.
  • Our signature collaboration with Adobe, the Adobe Digital Academy, is going into its sixth year. Interested students can apply now for fully-funded tuition for GA Immersives, coupled with opportunities for paid apprenticeships at Adobe. Apply now

We are also excited about the many region-driven partnerships that continue to come out of our community reskilling initiatives launched in 2020:

  • In Houston, we’ve teamed up with nonprofit BakerRipley, tech incubator The Ion, and Microsoft to provide fully-funded tuition to adults with demonstrated financial need. Learn more about Microsoft’s Accelerate program.  
  • In Buffalo, we’ve teamed up with M&T Bank, TechBuffalo, the Western New York Skills Initiative, and a network of regional employers to launch the Buffalo Tech Academy, which will be taught live, onsite at M&T Bank’s new community training center in downtown Buffalo. Learn more
  • In Connecticut, we’ve built a coalition with Synchrony Bank, the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and AdvanceCT to offer free and discounted GA Immersive programs throughout the state of Connecticut in Synchrony’s new community training center, opening in fall 2021. Learn more.

Our incredible network of partners continues to expand — ensuring that our collaboration can continue to impact countless individuals’ futures. 

The Takeaway

While we are grateful for the progress made, there is still much work to be done. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for announcements and insight from our partners, our sister training providers, and our incredible grads. The quest to do more and do better is what fuels us — in every aspect of our business and initiatives. 

In a world of uncertainty, you can be assured that our commitment toward continuous progress is quite certain. As our CEO Lisa Lewin says, ‘More to come.”

How To Overcome the Top 5 Hurdles CPG Companies Face

By

We work with CPG companies to successfully transform their traditional marketing teams into high-functioning digital marketers, helping them drive their top-end goals: eCommerce sales growth, omnichannel experience, and reduced dependence on agencies.

When companies come to us, they’ve often been trying to transform their marketing functions on their own — and, despite their best efforts, do not see the results they want. Their teams may demonstrate a grasp of digital concepts or familiarity with new data-driven technologies, but those wins aren’t yet translating to meaningful changes in digital goals.

What holds these CPG companies back? Well, there are telltale trends. In our experience, overcoming these five common hurdles helps clients make their marketers successful.

Hurdle #1: Investing primarily in engineers and data-driven specialists to drive transformation.

Naturally, your corporate transformation strategy requires engineers and data scientists to get your digital enterprise up and running. But a common mistake we see from CPG companies is focusing their investment in high-tech roles without upskilling the teams that connect to and support them. CPG companies need fluency across their organizations in order to create a coordinated go-to-market push, both across and within teams, that successfully implements modern techniques.

L’Oréal took a more comprehensive approach: they focused on driving digital literacy across 85,000 employees worldwide. Beyond focusing just on specialists, L’Oréal defined a company-wide standard for digital skills and measured all current employees and new applicants against it. For anyone who needed to improve, they provided personalized online learning paths and in-person deep-dives to provide more sophisticated training. This broad foundation of digital skills enabled L’Oréal to coordinate digital strategies across teams so that they could leverage data to personalize recommendations and, ultimately, grow their eCommerce business to 25% of total sales.

Hurdle #2: Relying on historical insights about your customer (and how a household brand embraced change).

Let’s say you’re a household name, and you have decades of experience in successfully reaching your target audience. So it makes sense to keep what’s not broken, right? Maybe not. Today’s consumers are demonstrating seriously rapid changes in consumer behavior, with the pandemic accelerating the shift to eCommerce in five years. That’s not to mention evolving gender norms, family life-cycles, increasing prevalence of DINKs, greater demand for sustainability and social responsibility, in addition to rapidly-accelerated digital platform usage. Today’s customer-centric strategy requires an ongoing connection with consumer trends and an openness to go against the “time-tested truths” of a traditional CPG. 

One of our Fortune 100 CPG clients is known for its best-in-class brand management, which challenged GA to help it use digital techniques to improve its marketing function. This client invested in proficiency-focused bootcamps designed to build hands-on skills per digital channels for both practitioners and SMEs, giving marketing teams hands-on training in digital marketing specialties like eCommerce. Investing in modern, customer-centric marketing skills helped them to better deliver on strategic initiatives to compete with new “digital native” brands. 

Hurdle #3: Under-leveraging data… and not generating insights.

A key piece of that customer-centric mindset requires generating ongoing data-driven insights about what your specific customers want and do. However, the best approach to data-driven marketing requires coordination across functions. For example, “Is my purchasing data demonstrating niche markets I can engage with tailored marketing messaging? Or, “What are the customer engagement channels that drive consumers to buy products in-store?”If the systems for tracking these datasets do not talk to each other, you miss out on opportunities to identify channels for improvement. A global children’s entertainment and toy company honed in on data-driven marketing as an area to improve their sophistication. Through GA’s “Data-Driven Marketer” workshop, they honed skills on optimizing digital spend by focusing on the highest ROI channels, reducing reliance on data teams by de-siloing access to data, and choosing the right KPIs for their goals, helping them interpret data and reveal insights for data-driven decisions more independently. 

Hurdle #4: Overreliance on agencies.

A common issue among CPG clients is that they don’t have the in-house skills for key digital functions, like using MarTech, generating data-driven insights, or interpreting marketing analytics, so they outsource a bulk of their digital marketing to agencies. This leaves brands facing a “black box” in terms of what their agency partners are doing, without the skill set to collaborate deeply or specify strategic areas for partnership. This often results in brands not owning the data or strategies needed to close the loop and drive innovation. By building up capabilities and possibly taking some functions in-house, you can better own your customer journey.

For a global CPG master brand looking to reduce agency dependence, GA helped them build internal capabilities to improve collaboration. Through GA’s Getting the Most Out of Your Creative Partnerships workshop, the marketing team worked to increase their skill at using data to generate actionable customer insights, developing personas, charting their customer journey, and pitching creative briefs. By taking the drivers’ seat with these capabilities, CPG companies can have more leverage in making partnerships successful.

Hurdle #5: Underdevelopment of key functions.

Even as you build towards this closed-loop control, any weak link can pull down the opportunities for advancement in your marketing organization. What good are great customer-centric insights if you only get them from your agency at a single point in time, and you don’t have the tech infrastructure to maintain and update them? Or the MarTech knowledge to activate them and drive results?

This is where it is critical to not only have broad digital literacy and strong core marketing skills (like leading with customer insight and applying data-first marketing) but to invest in cutting-edge instruction of marketing specialties. Digital functions like eCommerce, SEO, and Content Marketing evolve at a rapid clip, and staying up-to-date on them is key to applying the future-proof skills that will take your team from skilled traditional marketers to fluent and innovative digital marketers.  

That’s a wrap!

Getting over these five hurdles can be the difference between maintaining the status quo (despite your talent investment efforts) and seeing a noticeable improvement in your KPIs and bottom line. At GA, we specialize in helping CPG marketers make a deep, sustainable transformation in their marketing functions across insights, creative, channel activation, data usage, and marketing technology.

Want to learn more about GA can help you future-proof your marketing teams today? Get in touch or download our marketing product catalog

A Preview of Our Chapter in
“Workforce Realigned: How New Partnerships are Advancing Economic Mobility”

By

Our work at the intersection of education and economic mobility gives us a unique perspective on the roles of education and workforce development when addressing challenges brought on by the pandemic. These challenges — accelerated technological change, deepened inequity, and systemic injustices — have renewed urgency as the world strives to move forward.  

In the spirit of collaboration and our commitment to positive change, we were honored to join Social Finance and the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Philadelphia to contribute to “Workforce Realigned: How New Partnerships are Advancing Economic Mobility.” This new book, recently released in this summer of 2021, draws on the insights of federal and state policy leaders, researchers, and workforce development experts to highlight not just the aforementioned issues themselves but the ways that organizations are collaborating to create new solutions in this ever-shifting world.

Our chapter, “Access to Opportunity: The General Assembly Career Impact Bond,” offers a deep dive into a first-of-its-kind program we launched with Social Finance. To put it simply and clearly, the GA Career Impact Bond is rooted in our shared belief that individuals with fewer resources can, with the appropriate support, succeed at the same level as those with more. In addition to an income-share agreement (ISA) program in which students pay zero up-front tuition, our initiative also provides access to full-time social service professionals who directly support student needs and an emergency fund that offers ready financial assistance for students to cover unexpected costs.

The chapter also features insights and lessons learned from our work with the Career Impact Bond, including these testimonials from Career Impact Bond participants:

“I spent decades in prison and was able to learn about coding as a member of the Last Mile Program. After my release, I didn’t have a job or credit and was starting over, but wanted to continue what I learned with The Last Mile. This ISA helped me enroll in General Assembly’s immersive software engineering program and continue my journey.” 

“I didn’t have a lot of money or options and was making $20K a year. I have a son and needed to find something that would improve our lives. This ISA has put me on track for a new career, a new salary, with new skills. The emergency fund helped me during the pandemic to pay my bills when I could no longer work.”

We hope our contribution — and the book as a whole — provide leaders across business and government with concrete examples of the ways that collaboration between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors is creating new pathways to economic mobility. Curious to dive in and explore all the details? You can get your own copy of “Workforce Realigned: How New Partnerships are Advancing Economic Mobility” by downloading it here

We look forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to read it and to continuing the conversation about how we can best help and support workers from all underserved backgrounds in navigating the rapidly changing world of work.

Want to chat more about anything you’ve read here? Reach out to us via cheers@ga.co

Alumni Success Stories: How This Grad Used Data to Build AR Filters — and a Business

By

What began as a hobby soon became his own technology startup — with help from a few machine learning skills he picked up in between. Learn how GOWAAA Co-Founder and CTO Boon Jun is combining art and what he learned in General Assembly’s Data Science Immersive (DSI) course to create augmented reality (AR) filters with some of tech’s biggest companies.

My name is Boon Jun — I own an augmented reality (AR) creative technology company, GOWAAA, that specializes in creating AR effects for brand activations. I started off creating AR effects as a hobby with nearly zero relevant knowledge back in 2019. I got so hooked on AR creation that it got me to enroll in a GA data science course to help me understand how machine learning models used in AR works. Since starting GOWAAA in 2020 (after I graduated from GA), it has become an official Spark AR partner of Facebook and has created AR effects for multiple brands, NGOs, and government agencies in the APC regions.  

What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?

I was an environmental business consultant before I went to GA. Other than the reason I stated above, I also find that I lack hard skills that will keep me relevant for my future career. Furthermore, I have always been interested in data science and coding, so the Data Science Immersive course at GA was perfect for me!

What was it about data science specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What were the defining moments that pushed you to move forward?

I am always intrigued by how machine learning models — such as face tracking and person segmentation — function because of my work in AR. Data science is the foundation of understanding those machine learning models, and that’s what motivated me to take up the data science course. 

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

Among all the data science courses I have found in Singapore, GA has the most established and holistic curriculum, which gave me the confidence that the course will be worth my time. 

What was the best thing about DSI for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

The best thing about DSI is that it covers a wide range of data science topics, which helped me understand the foundation of machine learning quickly. Overall, I have a very positive GA experience as my instructor, Divya, was very helpful during the course. Even after the course, my career coach, Stefanie, helped me get exposure by inviting me as a speaker at an online GA event, as well as setting up this interview!

Since you graduated in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic happened halfway through the program. How did you stay resilient, especially with the state of the job market at that time? 

I would say the start of the pandemic is definitely not the best time to start a company. It was not easy, especially during the first few months. Thankfully for us, our digital AR service is the exact solution most brands are looking for to continue engaging with their followers during lockdowns. 

Tell us more about your company, GOWAAA. What inspired you to start your own business? 

GOWAAA creates augmented reality effects for brands to creatively engage with their target audiences on social media platforms. Since the start of 2020, we have created over 100 AR effects for brands, NGOs, and government agencies in the APAC region. My interests in AR and computer graphics are what drove me to start my own business in this field. Seeing that most consumers are already bored of the usual video/image advertising content, I believe AR will play a huge role in the future of digital marketing. 

You describe GOWAAA as an “art and technology” company. Can you speak to how you balance those two disciplines and how new professional or technical skills can create opportunities for artists and their work?

AR itself is already a new form of art. Here at GOWAAA, we combined the knowledge of digital 2D/3D design, understanding of augmented reality, coding skills for game logic and visual shaders, and also UX/UI to create all the AR effects for our clients. All of these disciplines are equally important, so understanding the constraints, duration of the project, and the target audience is essential  to finding the balance. 

If you are an artist that is not familiar with digital creation, you can use AR not only to  engage with your audience creatively but on a deeper level through real-time interaction as well. With the support of National Arts Councils of Singapore, GOWAAA has collaborated with four Singaporean artists to transform their non-digital artwork into AR effects. Those are some of my most satisfying projects because of how all the different disciplines came together.

How do you think your background in engineering and project management prepared you for your current role as a co-founder and CTO? 

Engineering helped me appreciate technology in general, which keeps my mind open to different technologies — and starting a company is not possible without some knowledge of project management. I am glad that all of my past experiences actually came in handy as I venture into a new stage of my career!

How has GA been a resource to you in terms of starting your own company? Additionally, how did the skills you learned at GA help you launch your company?

The machine learning knowledge I gained from GA helped me to understand how AR machine learning model works, which helped me manage my clients’ expectations around AR effect performance.

What has been the coolest project you’ve worked on so far?

The coolest project I have done so far is a real-world AR effect that GOWAAA created for Avène to promote their biodegradable sunscreen. The AR effect encourages you to keep the ocean clean by allowing you to plant corals wherever you are! The more coral you plant, the more marine life you will see, signifying the importance of corals for a healthy ocean!

Have Instagram? Try it yourself!

How has GA made an impact on your career?

GA expanded my knowledge of data science and machine learning, which helped me understand how machine learning models are used in augmented reality. Since my capstone project involved using neural style transfer, the GA data science course has also helped me to see the huge potential of digital art.

With respect to data (or your company), what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?

Most people use their coding and machine learning skills to solve practical needs, which are important and helpful to our daily life. However, I prefer to use the skills I learned from GA to create visuals that can make everyone GOWAAA (go “AAAH”)! I believe digital art will serve the same purpose as traditional arts but with a much bigger impact.

Find Work You Love

Alumni Success Stories: How Learning by Doing Led to His Own Design Studio

By

Any freelancer knows that good work gets more work. That’s why Sergio Gradyuk, a self-taught freelance visual designer, turned to GA’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program to take his technical skills and career to the next level. Read on to learn how he used General Assembly insights to strengthen his portfolio, stay ahead of competition, and co-found his design studio, Oakland Studio.

My name is Sergio, and I run Oakland Studio, a design studio based in Brisbane, Australia. Design and business are my two major interests so that led me to a career in UX and launching my own design studio.

Instead of enrolling into a university after high school, I designed an app for the cafe I worked for to help customers order ahead of time. After pitching this concept to a number of venture capitalists (VCs), I was able to get a sponsorship to pursue the idea in the U.S. for three months. I was young, naive, and completely new to the startup world, let alone the product world, so I didn’t get too far with it. 

What I liked most during the process of building that app and company was the collaboration with freelance designers. When I got back home to Australia, I studied everything I could about design and started doing concept designs for big companies to build a portfolio that I could use to win some contracts.

What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?

Freelancing was great. I learned a lot on my own, but I felt like I was missing key fundamentals. I was primarily focused on the web and knew there was a whole world of product design still to explore. It seemed super daunting, but I knew it was the next step in my career.

What was it about UX design specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What were the defining moment/s that pushed you to move forward?

The first time I learned more about UX beyond the buzzword was when I realized it would be an opportunity to mix visual design with data and business requirements. The part that intrigued me the most was knowing that these key fundamentals would be useful to me in the future no matter which direction I took with my career. 

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

Seeing its success in America with the world’s leading companies and most exciting startups validated General Assembly as the source of truth for learning the fundamentals.

What was the best thing about UXDI for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

Learning by doing. There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t have an exercise to apply the knowledge we had spent hours learning. Also, our legendary GA instructor, Ron, was super supportive, dedicated, and patient, making sure everyone truly understood the why behind the process.

Describe your career path after completing the program. How has GA been a resource to you in terms of finding a job? 

After completing my GA Immersive coursework, I faced a job search which proved difficult with my young age. I was eventually offered a UX position at an agency. GA helped me find opportunities in Sydney, as well as Brisbane when I moved back up. What was really helpful though was having access to all of the learning resources even after the course ended. It meant that I could keep refining and revisiting my process, and it has been instrumental to my professional development and confidence.  

Tell us more about your company, Oakland Studio. What inspired you to start your own business? 

Oakland is a boutique studio focused on brand, visual direction, and product design. The majority of our work is taking an idea for a product — whether it be a startup or an enterprise company looking to do something new — and take it to the minimum lovable product and beyond. 

The inspiration to start my own business was seeing an opportunity in the Australian market to meet a global standard and relevance with work. I’ve always planned to start a business and saw this as an opportunity to gain exposure to startups, VCs, enterprise, etc., while focusing on what I love.

What do you love most about being your “own boss?” What’s been the most challenging?

The biggest thing is owning your wins and losses. When you lose, it hurts. When you win, there’s no better feeling to know that you’re growing and investing time into something you own. It’s always challenging and requires a lot of work, but every stage of growth brings something new to learn and fun problems to solve. 

Do you have any advice for GA students who want to start their own business?

I had to sacrifice both my personal and professional life for a while as I got started. It’s not for everyone, and I disagree with the glorification of “entrepreneurs.” What’s important is to audit yourself, identify your priorities, and know that it’s something you absolutely must be dedicated to. 

How has GA made an impact in your career?

If it weren’t for GA, then I wouldn’t have a UX Career.

In respect to UX, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?

The change I want to see is for graduates and designers to open themselves up to the entire sphere of design, especially in digital products. Don’t lock yourself into just UX — understanding and being able to execute in the whole value chain from UX to development (and even in brand and marketing) will make you a force to collaborate with. Keep learning by doing and jumping into those challenges.

Find Work You Love

2021 Digital Forecast Whitepaper

By

For more than a decade, business leaders have sounded alarms about the shortage of tech talent, often using language more appropriate for the battlefield than for the boardroom. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for tech jobs, like software developers and data-related roles, will continue to grow rapidly over the coming decade. And recent research suggests that tech hiring has continued to trend upward as the country makes its way out of the pandemic.

For business leaders, the need to understand the evolving role of tech skills in the labor market has, in some ways, taken on renewed urgency in the wake of COVID-19. Facing a rocky road to economic recovery, policymakers and employers are in search of new strategies to not just get Americans back to work but also ensure that the country’s workforce is prepared to navigate a volatile and increasingly tech-driven economic landscape. The events of the past year have also cast a harsh light on the pervasive and painful equity gaps that have always been endemic in American society — and sparked new efforts to create economic mobility paths for workers who face systemic barriers to advancement and opportunity.

Against that backdrop, the demand for tech skills continues to spread across a range of industries. It’s a shift that presents opportunities and questions: What fields are seeing the greatest increase in demand for technology skills, and how can the needs of those fields be met? How do the perspectives of enterprise tech and talent leaders align with and respond to shifts in demand? How can a better understanding of what’s happening now help us understand what may happen in the future? 

But despite – or, perhaps, because of – all this attention, the actual term “digital skills” is not always clearly defined. And trying to pin down a more precise definition is not always a straightforward task. In fact, the most important question to answer may be a more fundamental one: what do we mean by “digital skills” in the first place, and how do those skills manifest in today’s complex and volatile labor market?

To begin to answer some of these questions, we joined forces with Emsi Burning Glass to develop the Digital Talent Forecast, which draws on our unique collective viewpoints and taps into the real-time talent and skill needs faced by both employers and geographic regions at this time of economic change. The report incorporates original research from Emsi Burning Glass, as well as insights from our standards board members, to shed light on the present challenges and opportunities facing a labor market that is increasingly defined by digital skills.

Get a sneak peek of our findings by having a beer with Emsi Burning Glass below:

Digital Skills: Everyone is Looking for Unicorns

You can download the full report here

Want to chat about how to set your teams up for the future of work today? Get in touch.

Celebrating 10 Years: Nathalie Doré

By

It takes a community.

In celebration of our 10-year anniversary, we’re highlighting some of our best people, partners, and instructors. Over the next few weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to be inspired by some incredible stories that have driven the success of our enterprise business.

Keep reading to meet Nathalie Doré, who works as a transformation leader at BNP Paribas Cardif — one of our incredible clients. Over the past three years, BNP Paribas Cardif has partnered with us to upskill their employees to prepare them for the future of work.


GA: Where are you located, and what is your role at BNP Paribas Cardif?

Nathalie Doré: I have two answers for my location. Physically, I’m in the Paris region, but I define myself as a worldwide citizen — I work for a very international company. BNP Paribas Cardif is present in 33 countries across Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As the chief digital and acceleration officer at BNP Paribas Cardif, my role is to accelerate the development of the company and its transformation.

GA: What are some of the innovations and transformations in-process for BNP Paribas Cardif?

Nathalie Doré: Right now, we are focusing on being a tech-driven company. Our transformation plans span about five years. The first plan was from 2010–2015 and focused on digital transformation. The second transformation was from 2015–2020, and it was more about having digital everywhere in the company, reinventing the customer experience, the partner experience, and the employee experience. During this second transformation, in 2018, we created our upskilling program with General Assembly to make sure we will get the right skills all along our transformation journey because it is a continuous effort.

Our current focus is being a tech-driven company, with making insurance more accessible as our mission. 

So, what can that mean? For instance, it means offering to our partners BNP Paribas Cardif as a service or as a platform, with digital capabilities at its heart. And of course, it means providing our customers with the right solutions to reach their goals and supporting them through difficult situations. For instance, we developed an “employability ecosystem” with a local partner in Latin America, alongside our unemployment insurance.

GA: How does learning fit into all of these big transformation plans you have?

Nathalie Doré: When you have a plan to grow and drive your company’s growth, the first asset you must think about is your human capital. We have 8,000 employees around the world. They are experts in insurance and our model of distribution. We see people as a big asset. Because things are moving very fast, the challenge is to accompany the 4th industrial revolution by bringing the skills of the future to our people. This is why we wanted to launch the program with GA: we had this vision of having a very international workforce with an entrepreneurship mindset. At the same time, we could see new skills happening around data, UX design, and agile methodologies. We knew we had to do a continuous upgrade of our employee’s skills. 

When we launched the program with GA, we knew we were the leading company in creditor insurance, but we didn’t want to take our place in the very challenging personal insurance market for granted. There are always new players coming in, so we wanted to have a culture of being a learning company. When I say a learning company, it includes having people learn new skills. This is what we did with the Skill Up program we built with GA. We set a goal to upskill and reskill more than 1,000 people between 2018 and 2022.

GA: Can you tell me about the Skill Up program? 

Nathalie Doré: We launched the Skill Up program in 2018 with the sponsorship of our CEO. With our transformation plans, we wanted to be more agile and to have our people feel comfortable with our plan, knowing they had the tools and skills at their disposal to be proactive and embrace the change. 

It was important to have an inclusive program to which all employees could apply. Applicants write a letter of motivation explaining why they’d like to take part in the upskilling or reskilling program.

As I said before, the ambition was to reskill and upskill 1,000 employees by the end of 2022. We are on track, having already trained more than 900 unique participants from all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and Latin America. An important part of this program’s ambition was to make sure it was truly international and build a strong universal vocabulary and skill sets across geographies. 

Participants are from different areas throughout the business, including operations, finance, accounting, and marketing and communications. 

Overall feedback was really good.

GA: What impact has this program had on your workforce?

Nathalie Doré: We saw an impact on the mindset of employees. The idea that someone studied marketing but can be a UX designer tomorrow… I think knowing they can learn new skills without having to leave their job encourages people to think differently about what they can do in the company and what their career path could be. Having access to lifelong learning inside the company is a perk and not one you’d necessarily think of first when joining a big company. 

GA: You also deployed leadership training. Why was that an important step? 

Nathalie Doré: When we launched the Skill Up program, we knew that managers would understand why they should embrace the transformation, but we realized they might need training of their own to understand the necessity of the new skills.

That’s why we worked with General Assembly to create and deploy managers’ workshops. It’s a two-day training that explains why it’s important to be customer-focus, data-centric, and digital-ready. 

Managing people is developing people, and once we demonstrated that we were giving them the tools to do just that, it was easier to get them on board.  

GA: What advice do you have for leaders taking on digital transformation? 

Nathalie Doré: You should be convinced that people are your first assets; we are talking about human capital. That is the most important thing. Then you must make your employees feel that too, that they are important to the company. Fulfilled employees make for satisfied customers, who make for contented partners: it is a fully virtuous circle. 

Investing in training programs puts your employees at the heart of your transformation. They need to know that this is a win-win situation: the staff gain new skills and the company has exactly the skills it needs. 

GA: What excites you most about the future of work? 

Nathalie Doré: I’m an optimistic person, I always see the glass half full, so there may be biases in my answers. First of all, I would say it’s very exciting because career paths are so open. When I think about my grandparents, they were in one job for their entire lives. Right now, you can do multiple different jobs, even while staying in the same company. 

I have been working in the BNP Paribas Group for 20 years and have held many different positions. I’ve lived in various countries and worked with a lot of different people. I think it’s very exciting to be able to have such wide career path possibilities from companies. 

Another thing that I find very exciting is that in the past, you were working in big corporations or you were an entrepreneur. Today, you can be working in a big corporation and be an entrepreneur. We have programs in our company for people who want to do entrepreneurial projects that are very interesting and nurture our entrepreneurial culture— this is key to staying agile.

So yes, while there can be some fear about the future because we are talking about tasks being automatized, it also brings lots of opportunities. Having the right mindset and tools to seize these opportunities is key. So, I’m quite optimistic about the future. 

Stay tuned for more incredible stories from our team and partners in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about how GA can make a difference in your business today? Get in touch.

Get 2030-Ready With Our Free Learning Festival

By

Our much-anticipated series, The 2030 Movement, is finally back — and this time it’s bolder, bigger, and better! From 20–30 September, join us for a free two-week-long festival of learning for the next thinkers, leaders, and innovators in tech.

Whether you’re looking to dive deeper into emerging disruptive technologies, uncover what the future of work entails, or simply make meaningful professional connections, our robust lineup of future-proof events offers something for everyone. 

Evolving Industry Trends

Hear from leaders in UX, marketing, product, and more to learn where the industry is heading and which trends to look out for.

  • What Is the Future of Audience Targeting?: 20 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6 p.m.–7 p.m. AEST
  • How Will the Role of Product Managers Change in 2030?: 22 Sept., 12:30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2:30–3:30 p.m. AEST
  • Purpose-Driven Innovation: What Are the Trends To Thrive?: 22 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT // 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. AEST
  • Is Data Killing UX Design Instinct?: 23 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Will Influencer Marketing Still Reign in 2030?: 23 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST
  • Are You Building a Brand or a Bland?: 29 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST

Future Workforce

The way we work has been impacted forever, yet this hasn’t put a stop to the growing innovation and demand for skilled employees. Hear how the workforce and workplace are evolving for good.

  • Future Talent: Should We Buy, Build or Borrow?: 23 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • How can You Leverage Your Outsider Advantage to Break into Tech?: 24 Sept., 12:30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2:30–3:30 p.m. AEST
  • Why Do the Best Companies Not Care About Your Background?: 27 Sept., 12:30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2:30–3:30 p.m. AEST
  • Are You Real if You Don’t Have a Solid Digital Presence?:  28 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • How Can Companies Meet the Changing Needs of Today’s Workforce?: 29 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Are Physical Workspaces Still Vital in a Post-COVID World?: 30 Sept., 12:30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST

Shaping Culture

Sustainability, mental health, and social wellbeing are front of mind for consumers, employers — and now businesses. Stay up to date on the relevant challenges and opportunities to navigate a better future.

  • Can Businesses Save the Planet by 2030?: 20 Sept., 12:30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST
  • How Do We Build a Mental Health First Culture?: 21 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Can You Truly Live a Zero-Waste Life?: 27 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST
  • How Do You Reboot Social Interactions for the New Norm?: 27 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • How Do We Deliver Bite-Size Content?: 28 Sept., 12.30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST

Transformative Technologies

A whole new era of tech is dawning on us. From edge computing to cryptocurrency, learn about the disruptive tech making big waves and changing our economy, lifestyle, and workplace.

  • Is Edge Computing Data’s Next Game-Changer?: 20 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1 –2 p.m. AEST
  • Ditching Old Money Rules: What is The I-nance Revolution?: 21 Sept., 12.30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST
  • Can VR/AR Sell More __?: 21 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST
  • Cryptocurrency & Blockchain: Hot Today, Not Tomorrow?: 23 Sept., 12.30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST
  • Is The Future Of Coding Code-Less?: 24 Sept., 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1 –2 p.m. AEST
  • Is HealthTech the Next Fast Lane for Investors?: 28 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST
  • Big Tech: Big Problem or Big Opportunity for Business?: 29 Sept., 12.30–1.30 p.m. SGT | 2.30–3.30 p.m. AEST
  • What Tech Are Investors Betting on Now?: 30 Sept., 4–5 p.m. SGT | 6–7 p.m. AEST

Be 2030-ready. Join the movement.

Alumni Success Stories: Coding a New Perspective in Tech Accessibility

By

From smart watches to smart homes, technology can vastly improve the everyday lives of people living with disabilities. Ironically, this same technology is often designed without their specific needs or challenges in mind. Drew Crook, a GA Software Engineering Immersive grad, realized this firsthand after his employer replaced the company’s software with one lacking accessibility (A11y) functionality — when he physically could no longer perform his job. Now, learn how he’s coding new pathways for others in tech as a lead accessibility engineer at CVS Health.

My name is Andrew Crook — I go by Drew. I have a degenerative retinal condition called Lieber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). It causes me to slowly lose more and more vision over time until I go completely blind. I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. As a child I went to public schools where I was able to take advantage of technologies that allowed me to stay on a level footing with my sighted peers. Out of necessity, I became obsessed with technology and the boundless opportunities it could provide. 

After completing high school, I attended Keene State College in New Hampshire. I started my first job out of college at a financial institution and worked there successfully for a few years. Then, suddenly, I was forced to face a very tough reality. The company I worked for changed all of their internal software, and this change resulted in my being unable to perform my basic job functions because the software was never created with accessibility (A11y) in mind. Now, that same technology that I love and rely on was useless to me. I did not let that stop my career growth — I ended up leaving that company and went to work for Apple for the next four years. I used this time to immerse myself in how devices like computers, tablets, and phones operated and also built up a good working knowledge of the Apple ecosystem. 

In 2020 with the world in a tailspin due to COVID-19, I decided it was time to make another change. I decided to enroll in a bootcamp. I have always been interested in technology and how it worked, and I was always quick to point out issues to developers and companies when I noticed A11y problems. I wanted to take that knowledge and compliment it with the technical side of software engineering.

What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?

I was working in an Apple retail store before GA. I loved my job and the people I was able to meet, but my passion was always centered around A11y. I knew that I needed to make a change to be able to realize my dream of developing accessible software. I had participated in beta programs and provided a lot of feedback, but I felt my feedback would carry a greater weight if I could also speak to the underpinnings of how the website/app functioned at the code level. 

What was it about software engineering specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What were the defining moments that pushed you to move forward?

Honestly, the challenge was part of the reason I wanted to pursue software engineering. As a blind person, you do encounter a fair share of folks who either lower their expectations for you because of the disability or outright block you from trying. Thankfully, I have an amazing support system. My parents were always pushing me to do anything I wanted to try as a child. Now, as an adult, I have a wonderful wife and kids who similarly encourage and support my aspirations. I wanted to become a software engineer to help better the world — not on a large scale — but in my own way with any little bit of feedback or code implementation. I was always interested in how things worked, from my legos and blocks as a child to the motherboards, CPU, GPU, and RAM in computers I built with my friends as a young adult. Software Engineering was yet another way to learn how something worked, and it was simultaneously challenging and rewarding.

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

GA was the most accommodating, and everyone throughout my application process was so helpful. I had actually reached out to four or five schools with some concerns about how successful I could be as a blind person using a screen reader in a virtual classroom environment. Every single school except GA sent me a very canned response with a copy/paste of their accessibility policy. GA, however, took it in stride and set up a meeting with lead instructors, career coaches, student success managers, and admissions. They were invested in my success 100% — it was that moment that I knew I’d choose GA. I knew that if I did my work and asked for support when I was struggling, GA would do everything in its power to get me to the finish line.

What was the best thing about SEI for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

The best part of SEI for me was the projects and the people. I met so many fun, interesting, and unique people. GA encourages everyone to be their authentic self and to embrace all the experiences that brought them to the SEI program. The projects were challenging yet rewarding once completed and really helped to complement the concepts covered in class. After completing the program, I would say it was a toss-up between the continued support from the Outcomes folks and the continued friendships that began our very first day and have lasted over seven months removed from completing the program.

How did the GA teams (Student Success, Instructors, Career Coaches, etc.) help you succeed in the course?  

I received immediate support when applying to the program and that support followed me and all the members of the cohort throughout its duration. Everyone from the instructors to student success were there to answer questions, provide encouragement, suggest resources, and generally be there for all of us if we needed anything. It was a great environment for learning and growth because I felt supported enough to try new concepts and learn as much as possible, as fast as possible.

How did the skills you learned at GA help you in your current role as a software engineer?

One of the most valuable sections in the cohort is the team project. We simulated a scrum team and produced a web app. This prepared me very well for the role I’m in now. We follow an agile method called Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise (SAFE). This section got me ready for the fast paced, highly collaborative environment I find myself in now. Another skill not explicitly called out but very important is the ability to transfer knowledge. We learned JavaScript first, then HTML and CSS. We then added Express, React.JS, Python, Django, and MongoDB. All the languages and frameworks we learned helped me understand that once you know one coding language well, you can transfer that knowledge to any language. It’s just a matter of understanding that new languages eccentricities with the syntax.

What do you love most about your current role?

I almost literally have my dream job right out of GA. I am a lead accessibility engineer. I get to combine my passions for assistive technology, A11y, and programming to create experiences for all customers regardless of ability. I get to educate fellow engineers on A11y best practices and also get to work collaboratively with other engineers to solve complex A11y issues in the code.

Congratulations on your promotion! What advice would you give those who think they’re “not capable enough” or second-guess themselves on making a career change? 

The doubt demons are a real thing and imposter syndrome affects everyone in a unique way. I had to battle not only the physical challenges of learning and being able to code with my technology, but I also had to fight myself and the doubt that I’d actually be able to pull it off. What I would say to anyone looking to switch into this career and specifically take an Immersive bootcamp is: you get out what you put in. My second piece of advice would be to trust your instructors and the GA staff. If you are struggling, or need help to understand a concept, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to someone and ask for help.

They say if you want to go fast, go alone — but if you want to go far, go together. Can you speak to the benefits of getting support from others? How did the GA community impact your development as a software engineer or professional?

I couldn’t agree more with that statement. I have had to live my life in a collaborative way. My need to work together with others started very early when I would ask friends or family to describe images or movies and shows. This skill was leveled up in the SEI program when I would work together with our breakout groups to solve problems. I would ask for assistance with visual tasks and then provide assistance to others with the code or problem we were trying to solve. It’s a unique way of working together but it translates perfectly to the workforce and how everyone has to work as a team to achieve objectives. If you try to “go it alone,” you may work faster in the short term, but ultimately, you will miss out on the inherent exponential growth potential working as a team.

In respect to software engineering, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?

I want to teach others the impact good accessible code can have and build truly inclusive experiences that anyone can enjoy. I smile when I think that someone halfway around the world could be enjoying their experience on a digital platform for the very first time because of the work that I am doing.


Find Work You Love