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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

2021 Digital Forecast Whitepaper

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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:

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

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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.

Alumni Success Stories: Coding a New Perspective in Tech Accessibility

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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.


UX, Visual, or Graphic: Which Type of Design Is Right for You?

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UX Design Image
  • CC Image Courtesy of Thomas Brasington on Flickr

You can be pardoned for feeling confused about all the terminology and job titles floating around in the design world. What is the difference between graphic design, visual design, and user experience design? Do each of the three roles provide a different service? For visual and graphic designers, the difference may lie mainly in the job title and salary expectations. However, a user experience designer has very different end goals and responsibilities from a visual or graphic designer. Below is a breakdown of what each of these designers does within the design industry, to help you decide what type of design is right for you. Continue reading

12 Must-Read Digital Marketing Books

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A question I often get asked by students is, “What is the best digital marketing book?” 

It’s not easy to answer; the majority of digital marketing books don’t have a long shelf life. The information around best practices needs to be fluid as algorithms change, marketing tactics lose their effectiveness, and the platform rules constantly shift

While digital marketing books that are rich on marketing tactics continue to be updated and recycled, there are a number that have managed to withstand the test of time. Included in the list below are also the books that every digital marketer should read for developing a well-rounded understanding of behavioral psychology, growth mindset, and a few other areas that will help you stay ahead of the pack.

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

It may have first been published in 1984, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of best marketing books that doesn’t include this ageless text.

Widely regarded as the marketer’s bible, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” provides a succinct and effective outline for understanding what leads to us making decisions. Cialdini uses storytelling and real-world examples to seamlessly guide readers through six principles of persuasion of which a B2B marketer has been called upon to compose email copy, frame social media ads, and devise practically every memorable marketing campaign in recent history.

While you can’t expect to learn specific channel tactics from this digital marketing book, the application of reciprocity, consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity will ensure your digital marketing strategy is laser-focused on achieving conversion outcomes.

2. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

Claude Hopkins was a man far ahead of his time. While A/B testing and statistical significance are commonplace in today’s digital marketing world, Hopkins was teaching early interpretations of these all the way back in 1923 in “Scientific Advertising.”

I find myself regularly returning to this book when looking to return to fundamentals surrounding ad creative and influencing buyers. At just 120 pages, you can almost read it in one go and won’t find a page that doesn’t offer a quick tip applicable to effective digital marketing today.

3. Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson

You will find iterated teachings of “Expert Secrets” within countless social media and digital marketing courses across the internet. Yes, it may have been published 4 years ago (which is like 40 years in digital marketing) but its valuable content is likely to remain a mainstay in the years ahead.

The appeal of “Expert Secrets” is that it provides a practical framework that takes the guesswork out of email marketing, content marketing, and copywriting. It helps you recognise expertise in areas and how your intimate knowledge of a subject can lead to the development of a successful business and massive audience. Author and ClickFunnels Founder Brunson is one of the most recognised figures in the digital marketing world, and the book really reads as a collection of the best practices he has discovered through the constant refinement of his own digital marketing strategy.

While everybody will have unique takeaways from this digital marketing book, I am constantly revisiting his tips towards the end on conducting the perfect webinar. He outlines the structure, the perfect timings between sections, and evergreen tips for keeping your target audience engaged — a must read!

4. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

I read this book cover to cover on a plane trip from Sydney to Los Angeles and it’s fair to say it had me, well, hooked! 

“Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” is an excellent product and marketing book for learning what it takes to create habits in consumers. You’ll learn how to create triggers, get customers to take action, reward them, and encourage investment following the fundamentals adopted by many of the world’s leading technology companies. There are few digital marketing books that will provide you with better end-to-end insights into optimising the user journey of your audience. 

It’s packed with relevant examples of these techniques in practice and I found it refreshing that author Nir Eyal ended the book with some wise words on how to apply these teachings ethically while keeping your consumer’s well-being top of mind.

5. Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

In my opinion, this is the best book that’s been written on social media marketing strategy thus far. “Jab Jab Right Hook” was my first exposure to the teachings of Gary Vee, and his celebrity status should be of little surprise to those who have read about the common sense approach he preaches here.

The book asserts the importance of social media marketing in today’s landscape while providing a winning blueprint for developing an engaging community that will reward you in the long run. We all want sales, but it’s through adding value to our audience first that we earn the right to ask for something in return.

The audiobook is read by Gary Vee himself and he frequently deviates from the script to adding yet another nugget of social media gold. Whether you’re wanting to learn about creating content specifically for a social media platform or how to build an Instagram following from scratch, you’ll find something here to put into practice.

6. Content Machine by Dan Norris

“Content Machine” is an absolute must read for anyone looking to develop an epic content marketing strategy that drives commercial success.

The book details the exact content marketing strategy used by Norris to build a 7-figure business that was fuelled by an outstanding blog. You’ll learn that there is far more to winning the content marketing game than just creating the most blog posts, and the search engine optimization techniques and tools mentioned by Norris remain as relevant as ever in today’s digital marketing landscape.

7. Lean Analytics by Benjamin Yoskovitz and Alistair Croll

I won this book at a startup event and I’ll admit that the title didn’t win me over at first. However, after a colleague recommended it I decided to give it a try and couldn’t put it down.

I haven’t come across a book that better equips you for doing digital marketing in a tech startup than “Lean Analytics.” You’ll learn how to measure, but more importantly what to measure depending on the stage and focus of the company. 

If you’re intimidated by digital marketing jargon such as AARRR, CAC, CTR, and Virality, then this should be your first step. It’s as close to a startup digital marketing textbook as I have found, and will equally help B2B and B2C marketers level up.

8. Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

Any book by Seth Godin is a worthwhile read, but few have influenced my own approach to marketing strategy more than “Permission Marketing.”

While other digital marketing books will jump straight into tactics, Seth’s 1999 guide focuses on the importance of building a relationship with your customer over time. Marketing is most effective once your target audience has given you permission to market to them, and to get to this stage we need to provide consistent value from the get-go.

A true highlight of this book for me was the variety of case studies Godin uses in detailing the evolution of marketing over time. You’ll certainly walk away with plenty of things to try for yourself.

9. StoryBrand by Donald Miller

In the words of Donald Miller, “Pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things.”

There are plenty of great books on copywriting, including classics like Gary Halbert’s “The Boron Letters” and David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” My personal recommendation however would be to start with “StoryBrand” for a more holistic and modern take on how to delight your customers with your digital marketing creative.

Too often businesses and the business owner position themselves as the hero in the story. What customers really need is a guide who can help them successfully solve their problems. Miller will help you use content marketing to make your potential customers the heroes of your story and how to create your digital marketing assets accordingly.

10. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abrahams

This book helps us understand how incredibly simple it is to have an impact on the commercial success of a business.

While they’re not specifically about digital marketing, the teachings of this book will help shift your mindset to one that is always on the lookout for internal growth opportunities. You’ll end up with a range of ideas surrounding email marketing, search engine marketing, social media promotion, and conversion rate optimisation.

Abrahams helps us to identify the value of our loyal customers, what we can do to increase that value, and how to find more of our ideal potential customers. So simple, yet so very effective!

11. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

It’s a mistake to consider a user who gets stuck on our website as foolish. If a potential buyer is unable to complete an action on our website, then it’s on us to change.

“Don’t Make Me Think” is a book you’ll find on virtually every UX designer’s bookcase and with so much of digital marketing depending on an excellent user experience, this is a book we simply can’t ignore. The journey from an ad click to conversion depends on reducing friction, limiting distractions, and maximising accessibility. You won’t find a better guide to achieving this than Krug’s classic, which remains the go-to resource on web design 20 years on from its first publication.

12. Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

It’s only entered our vernacular in the past decade, but growth hacking has quickly made its way to the top of every company’s digital marketing wishlist. Growth hacking focuses on finding faster and more cost-effective solutions to success, and it’s only fitting that the godfather of the movement’s work makes the list of must-read digital marketing books.

Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacker in a blog post back in 2010, and went on to co-author “Hacking Growth” seven years later alongside renowned digital marketer Morgan Brown. The book walks through the humble beginnings of some of today’s biggest companies — Airbnb, Facebook, Uber — and the methodology behind their unprecedented growth. 

You won’t find a better methodology for attaining, retaining, engaging, and motivating customers than “Hacking Growth.” It will completely change the way you approach your digital marketing strategy and help you to use data to deliver driving cost-effective results.

Alumni Success Stories: From Student Developer, to Hiring Manager

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When Marc Whitman graduated from General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive1 pilot program in 2012, he probably didn’t think he’d be back so soon — especially as a hiring manager. But after securing a promotion as the manager of Sailthru’s Implementation Engineering team, he knew exactly where to find fresh software engineering talent. Learn how he used his background in the music industry to transition into tech, while helping others pursue their passion along the way

I’m a technical generalist, a live music fanatic, a wannabe guitarist/bassist, a dad, and husband with a wonderful family living in the New York metro area.  

I currently run the Implementation Engineering group at Sailthru and Emma, two SaaS companies that are now part of the larger Campaign Monitor Group. CM Group is a conglomerate of some of the best marketing technology brands in the email marketing and larger “Martech” (marketing technology) space.

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

I had been in and out of numerous digital marketing gigs in the music industry (including Live Nation and Musictoday to name a few). I really loved the music industry, but over the years, I had run into a number of issues with acquisitions and working at not-so-profitable companies where — despite working with some really amazing people — the economics made it difficult to really progress in my career and feel like I was making a true impact.

I felt I was being held back by my career choices but also because I lacked certain technical skills and knowledge. At almost every turn, I was working with engineers, developers, and product managers — and soon learned how important web technologies are to a variety of businesses in the music space. It was an exciting time in the digital music space, but I consistently felt hampered without the proper tools and skills to actually build what I needed or what could be

What was it about web development that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What was the defining moment (or moments) that pushed you forward?

In my final gig before the Web Development Immersive at General Assembly, I was basically running my own digital ad network and collaborating with some awesome websites and partners in the live music space. While I was able to set up one of the largest digital ad sales in the small company’s history, I was barely able to handle the technical needs of the campaign, especially with the little support I received. 

At that point, I had sort of “had it.” I was not seeing much potential for growth in my third music industry role, and I was simultaneously seeing technology changing the industry in so many ways. I had already had a number of moments where I wanted to be a part of that technological change, so that one was the final straw for me. That’s when I decided I wanted in on the tech space.

I had dabbled in a variety of online coding schools (like Code Academy, Treehouse, etc). Those initial courses were a great spark for me, but I found it difficult to truly grasp the concepts. I also knew that I would have difficulty fitting it into my free time during nights and weekends, so I felt I needed to have a more regimented course to push me forward. 

As a part of the pilot program in 2012, what motivated you to choose GA over other programs? Additionally, what compelled you to choose a bootcamp vs. traditional schools? 

In my early phases of learning, I took an introductory course taught by ​​Chris Castiglione — one of GA’s first lead instructors. I had also taken an intro to Ruby on Rails taught by Avi Flombaum (who eventually started Flatiron School), and that helped me realize I really needed something a bit more full-time. I remember considering programs at both Flatiron School and GA, but when it came to GA, I remember liking everyone that I met during the interviews. They seemed young, driven, smart, and really set on making the Web Development Immersive work for anyone willing to take the plunge (even someone a bit on the mature side like me — I think I was only one of two people in the class with a kid at the time!).

I honestly don’t think I was really even looking at other more traditional colleges or schools at that point — going back to a “college” just wasn’t even on my radar. I had dealt with a year of being laid off, having my first child, and quickly starting a new job that did not work out. Ultimately, I was a career-changer in my mid-30s looking to make a quick and drastic move, and GA’s Immersive program offered a three-month commitment to make that all happen. It just seemed like the right fit for me at the time.

What was the best thing about Web Development Immersive (WDI) for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

WDI allowed me to completely change my career path, while also making use of all my previous digital marketing experience. In one sense I “started over” in tech, but in another sense, I was able to use that new skill set to build on top of what I already knew. 

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

When I came out of the program at the end of 2012, it was so new at the time that GA did not really have a set process for helping new grads land tech roles. However, the GA team was very committed to helping everyone land a new gig, so they set up an “internship/contractor” scenario to help transition WDI grads to various startups. I — along with two other grads from my cohort — joined a startup in the email marketing space at Sailthru. The company was basically looking to hire anyone with basic HTML & CSS skills to build out email templates because of their rapid growth. We started working as a team and gradually took on various tasks for new clients during their implementation on the platform. I was able to get up and running fairly quickly with Sailthru’s technology, so after my three-month contract was up, they decided to offer me a job as a full-time implementation engineer. 

From that point on, I worked my way up the chain over a few years. Thanks to my past experience managing people, I was promoted to the manager of the Implementation Engineering team. I still manage that team… though my role has evolved quite a bit through some promotions, inclusion of other areas of our platform, and other brands in the larger CM Group.

How do you think your background in music helped you in your career as a software engineer? And how about the skills you learned at GA?

I don’t see too much correlation, but I do think my love of improvisation has helped me in a variety of ways in my current role, at least in terms of adaptability and switching gears on the fly. Coincidence or not, I have hired two former professional musicians who turned into engineers.

What do you love most about your current role? 

While there are various tasks I often repeat and do frequently, everyday brings a unique set of challenges, so no day is quite the same. The product and platform evolves constantly, and we’re always having to keep up with the latest technologies to stay current. 

I will also say that one thing that has been really amazing is that once I became a manager, I was able to go back to General Assembly to hire new grads to my team. Since transitioning to a manager role, I have hired a total of five WDI grads to my team — three of which are still at the company in various roles. There’s just something really special about hiring new GA grads into the exact same role that helped me make my transition into tech. I get to tell them my story — how I made the transition — and then bring them on the team to help them find their own new career path. Of all the things I’ve accomplished since my time at GA, I think it’s probably the thing I am most proud of.

How has GA made an impact in your career?

It absolutely changed the game for me. I have autonomy, I get to use my technical skills and past experience, and I get to return to GA to hire new grads and help them do what I did back in 2013.  

If you had it to do all over again, is there anything you would have done differently?

Not really. I don’t like to second guess things. I could nitpick about learning more JavaScript or spending more time on CS fundamentals, but ultimately, I ended up in a much better place. With the right amount of effort and grit, I know that I will always have the capacity to learn new technologies.

Since graduating, you’ve worked consistently in development over seven years. How important has continued learning been to stay competitive? 

As much as the web keeps evolving and the latest frameworks come and go, I feel like a lot of the core fundamentals of web development stays the same. There are subtle changes and evolutions, but the combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript along with some back-end knowledge and an understanding of REST APIs are all still relevant. 

You began as an implementation engineer and are now a senior manager of that team. After working your way up, what do you look for in new hires? What’s it like being on the other side of the interview table? 

I honestly look for smart, driven people who understand the core web development concepts and show they can pick up new things quickly. Given the role I am usually hiring for, I actually try to find the career changers who are driven, know they have a lot to learn, and are just super eager to keep learning. 

As far as things that might get overlooked, I think maybe it’s finding folks with that drive and eagerness to learn who can also easily overcome all the imposter syndrome that comes with that process. That feeling never truly goes away, so I love finding people who embrace it, admit they don’t know things, and just roll up their sleeves to figure them out — because they have already proven to themselves that they can do it. 

What advice can you give to those who are trying to break into tech? 

This is a tough one, but I would say you really need to be driven and relentless in your pursuit, but be open-minded to which kind of role will work for you. In other words, a lot of web development bootcamps train you to become a full-stack engineer, but you don’t have to be exactly that to make use of your new skills or be happy. I mean, that is super awesome if you can make that work, but it’s not necessary and is not for everyone. There are lots of ways to break into the space. Just keep pressing ahead, look for your angle, and make it work for you.

In respect to development, 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 hope my story helps inspire others to make a change. I would say that General Assembly helps you realize that you can be a lifelong learner and continue to evolve your skills as long as you are persistent and driven. I would also encourage you to view your career path as a long-term journey, so you should give it time and just try to very gradually make progress each day or week. Over time, it’ll eventually add up to a pretty amazing evolution.


1 General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive (WDI) was updated and relaunched as the Software Engineering Immersive in 2020.

Celebrating 10 Years: Kimberly Graham

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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 Kimberly Graham, who works as an AI transformation leader at Sage — one of our incredible clients. Over the past six months, Kimberly has partnered with us to upskill engineers on data and AI principles for transformation.


GA: Where are you located, and what is your role at Sage?

Kimberly Graham: I’m originally from Southern California, but I’m based out of Hayden, Idaho, about 100 miles from the Canadian border. I’m Director of AI Transformation for the Sage AI Labs team. 

Sage is a leading accounting and business management software company with worldwide customers. Sage AI Labs is chartered with helping Sage become an AI-enabled organization. Our customers depend on Sage to manage their businesses. By enabling AI, we’ll help transform the customer experience and provide efficiency and insight gains.

My role as the director of AI transformation helps facilitate that process and develop a path forward with AI and machine learning. Upskilling our internal engineering resources is a big part of that. 

GA: Why did you need a training partner? What was your goal?

Kimberly Graham: Sage AI Labs is a team of individuals with AI, machine learning, and infrastructure experience. We’re working with General Assembly to bring that skillset into the business outside of the Sage AI Labs team — within our product groups. By upskilling a subgroup of our engineers who don’t currently have AI and machine learning training, we can learn from GA and then work in concert with our more tenured AI and machine learning resources. The work that we’re doing with you leverages very current and effective GA training processes to upskill our engineers rather than tackling the upskilling externally.

GA: What made you decide to partner with General Assembly, and what has the experience been like?

Kimberly Graham: I was very picky when selecting a vendor and did a lot of due diligence since it’s such an important decision. When I found General Assembly, it was a natural fit. Working with the GA team feels like a partnership — and I sensed that immediately. We wanted to find a long-term partner to build out a customized training process; GA not only had a strong program but an outstanding reputation and excellent reviews. So, we wanted to start small with a pilot.

The initial pilot included a small group of participants so that we could work closely to understand the experience and content as they worked through the 10-week pilot program. It was very clear that General Assembly understood our mission, what we were looking for, and delivered on that. 

Working with GA has been a true partnership. Communication has been very candid, very thorough, and regular — we initially met weekly to set expectations, hear best practices from GA, and provide feedback. What has impressed me the most is feeling like GA is an extension of our team rather than a vendor. 

GA: You have been running your program throughout COVID-19. Can you tell me about your experience with live remote training? 

Kimberly Graham: When COVID-19 hit, the entire Sage organization went remote. Luckily, the Sage AI Labs team is close to 100% remote anyway. Our team is dispersed worldwide. Therefore, while there were many impacts of the remote working situation due to the pandemic, the impact on our team was somewhat minimized.

One thing that has been wonderful with our first full cohort post-pilot is that we chose participants from Western North America and India. We included participants from Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, and India. It’s brought together engineers from different Sage product lines and engineering teams that wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work together otherwise. The feedback from our participants has been outstanding.

We wouldn’t have done an in-person course anyway due to our distributed team. So, the fact that General Assembly offered remote upskilling was beneficial, seamless, and very easy to roll out. 

GA: Your first cohort is just about to end — congratulations! Have you seen any immediate impact or results through this training? 

Kimberly Graham: One of the things that struck me the most during our initial pilot was midway through, just five weeks into the program when Sage hosted an engineering team hackathon. Two of our pilot participants teamed up and participated in recommending an AI feature for a Sage product based on what they had learned from General Assembly in the data science pilot. They won a prize in our hackathon, and five weeks later, they co-delivered the idea as their capstone project for the GA course.

Post-program, they went on to present it in various engineering meetings, an AI brown bag, and more. We’re currently in the process of building and implementing that feature into our product. These two developers were able to address a long-standing product challenge through AI and machine learning. This problem couldn’t have been solved with traditional programming — and that was just five weeks into our pilot program!

The participants from the full cohort will be delivering their capstone projects this evening, so our first cohort of 30 engineers is close to completion. I’m looking forward to seeing what they deliver and am really excited to see what they come up with!  I’m also looking forward to continuing our partnership with the GA team to review the program and modify as needed, moving forward, as we expand with additional cohorts.

GA: How does Sage think about the post-program experience for participants?

Kimberly Graham: The sense of community that is created during the course, such as collaborating, sharing resources, projects, and tips in the Slack channel, is extremely important. I monitor those closely. It’s very collaborative.

I’ve picked up on the need for an ongoing community post-General Assembly upskilling since our participants have valued the collaboration and learning process so much. I’m in the process of working on creating an internal community so that our team members can continue to interact and learn from one another. We already have things such as a Yammer group that I’ve created for AI collaboration, but I want to take that a step further — that’s going to be key. It’s not just a matter of being educated, and then it’s done. It’s very important that our engineers continue to interact, experiment, and collaborate.

GA: When it comes to transformation, many organizations think about technology before people. It sounds like Sage has a different approach. Can you tell me about that? 

Kimberly Graham: I moved over to the Sage AI Labs team a year and a half ago and came from a customer success and marketing background. Our team’s executive leader identified the need to have somebody from the business that didn’t have a technical background come in and understand what it takes to transform the business.

This is my first role as part of an engineering team, and I’m far from technical. Regardless of technology, we’re people who need to adopt technology to make our business work and be at the forefront of our customers’ needs. A big part of the transformation process is to look at things from our customers’ perspectives rather than just technology. One of the biggest elements of our transformation process is factoring in how we can use technology for the betterment of employees and our customers rather than just technology for technology’s sake.

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