Our Plan to Reopen GA Chicago

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It’s a season to assemble. After over a year of Zooming and screen sharing, we’ve missed rubbing elbows with our community of students, instructors, and tech leaders. 

We’re thrilled to be safely opening our new Loop campus and giving students the option to return to in-person learning. We’re kicking things off with an Open House Night on October 7th with free headshots!

Check back below for upcoming in-person workshops, and click here for complete details about how we’re keeping campus visitors safe, plus answers to questions you might have. If you have any additional questions, please email us directly at chicago@generalassemb.ly, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

In-Person Events & Workshops 

Note: Attendees are required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks at all times. See complete safety policies.

  • Campus Reopening Open House with Free Headshots (Oct. 7)
  • Intro to Coding (Oct. 14)

In-Person Long-Form Courses

Note: In-person students will need to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination on or before the first day of class.

  • Software Engineering Immersive (Nov. 15)

Browse All Workshops

Our Plan to Reopen GA Seattle

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It’s a season to assemble. After over a year of Zooming and screen sharing, we’ve missed rubbing elbows with our community of students, instructors, and tech leaders. 

We’re thrilled to be safely reopening our downtown campus and giving students the option to return to in-person learning. We’re kicking things off with an Open House Night on October 7th with free headshots!

Check back below for upcoming in-person workshops, and click here for complete details about how we’re keeping campus visitors safe, plus answers to questions you might have. If you have any additional questions, please email us directly at seattle@generalassemb.ly, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

In-Person Events & Workshops 

Note: Attendees are required to wear masks at all times. See complete safety policies.

  • Campus Reopening Open House with Free Headshots (Oct. 7)
  • Intro to Coding (Oct. 14)

In-Person Long-Form Courses

  • Software Engineering Immersive (Nov. 15)

Browse All Workshops

Our Plan to Reopen GA Boston

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It’s a season to assemble. After over a year of Zooming and screen sharing, we’ve missed rubbing elbows with our community of students, instructors, and tech leaders. 

We’re thrilled to be safely reopening our downtown campus and giving students the option to return to in-person learning. We’re kicking things off with an Open House Night on October 7th with free headshots!

Check back below for upcoming in-person workshops, and click here for complete details about how we’re keeping campus visitors safe, plus answers to questions you might have. If you have any additional questions, please email us directly at boston@generalassemb.ly, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

In-Person Events & Workshops 

Note: Attendees are required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks at all times. See complete safety policies.

  • Campus Reopening Open House with Free Headshots (Oct. 7)
  • Intro to Coding (Oct. 14)

In-Person Long-Form Courses

Note: In-person students will need to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination on or before the first day of class.

  • Software Engineering Immersive (Nov. 8)

Browse All Workshops

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.


Find Work You Love

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

Webinar Recap: Marketing Skills for a Post-COVID-19 Era

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Everything — including the way marketers used data — came to a halt when the pandemic hit. Given that all data builds upon the past, many companies found that what worked in 2019 suddenly became irrelevant in 2020 — a quick and jarring pivot.  

The effectiveness of marketing is measured by the consumer behavior it’s designed to predict. What can marketers do to meet the challenge of consumer behaviors that have changed due to COVID-19 and wider shifts in cultural psychology?

In an hour-long, intensely detailed, and conversational webinar, Matt Tumbleson, brand director for P&G Ventures and GA marketing instructor, sat down to talk post-COVID marketing strategies with Ben Harrell, CMO for Priceline; Philip Markmann, CMO for L’Oréal; Salim Holder, Co-founder + CEO of 4th Avenue Market and GA instructor; Rebekah Rose, director, P&G Ventures; and Rory Sutherland, vice chairman at Ogilvy UK. 

Three Things We Learned

Changes in consumer behavior necessitate changes in how we think about marketing strategy. This expert-driven webinar encouraged marketers to rethink their approach in three key ways: 

1. Data doesn’t drive everything.

Marketing strategists have increasingly found themselves taking a back seat to big data. This is not to say that data-driven marketing strategies have no value, but COVID-19 caused many businesses to flounder as the data they relied on was no longer as informative and impactful as it had once been. 

All told, what became expected consumer behavior morphed in a way that was not effectively predicted by marketing data; there was no precedent in the data most businesses were leveraging to address the psychological and emotional impact that a global pandemic would have on how consumers spend.

2. Marketing must be future-focused, not past-focused.

An ever-present consequence of data is that it’s reactive and not proactive. Ben Harrell sums this succinctly: “What worked yesterday won’t work today. What worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow.” Never has that been more true in a post-COVID-19 era, when many consumers have altered not just how they shop, but why they shop and where they shop. Many are questioning whether they need a product at all and opting instead to purchase products or services that deliver deeper meaning or enhance their connections to other people. 

Sutherland importantly notes that “People don’t buy what something is; they buy what it means”.

3. Engage relationally, not transactionally.

Marketers must keep pace with changing customer profiles. Consumers saturate the internet, but COVID-19 accelerated already prolific online activity. As Sutherland explained in an intriguing keynote speech, “Understanding consumers’ wants, needs, motivations, and fears has become much more important following COVID-19.”

This is hardly more visual than with Gen Z, which is distinctly digital-native and cause-driven. Marketing challenges change with every generation, and companies must adapt to how upcoming generations effectively respond to marketing, but Gen Z has proven to upend many cultural marketing expectations. It’s a generation that values an emotional, authentic approach and is quick to flee from companies too heavily focused on the traditional transactional method. If Gen Z is an indication of a longer-lasting trend, marketers really must be quick to adapt.

On to the next. And next…

As Salim Holder of 4th Avenue Marketing pointedly asks in the webinar, “Do we know our consumers as well as we think we do?” This question helps define big ideas you’ll experience in this engaging webinar filled with actionable insights from a panel of marketing experts. Watch the entire webinar here.

Want to learn more about how General Assembly can help you unlock marketing skills for a post-COVID era? Get in touch.

Webinar Recap: Demystifying Big Data & AI

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AI is a powerful tool that can help businesses achieve monumental success. For the last few years, AI has been inaccurately depicted as a tool that will steal jobs from humans. The media, movies, and more have consistently created a false image of AI, what the technology is capable of, and what it means for businesses and society. Truthfully, it’s the people behind AI that determine the outcomes of its use  — not the technology itself.

Gonzague Dromard, our head of France, sat down with the co-founder of Siri and Renault chief scientific officer, Luc Julia, for a webinar discussion on demystifying AI and the big data that makes AI function. Here are the top three things we learned from that discussion.

Essentials To Know 

AI is more than just a buzzword and less than the harbinger of the next tech-driven apocalypse. Instead, AI is a tool with the enormous potential to uplift industries and workers worldwide. Yes, this is daunting — but, no, this does not make AI dangerous.

1. AI’s Framework: It’s Older Than You Might Think 

Although AI may seem to be a modern invention or trend, the groundwork has existed for decades. Artificial intelligence and big data are built around maximizing the efficiency of repetitive processes. Leaning into his new role at Renault, Julia highlighted how the car industry has been using automation for decades, starting in the 1960s with the introduction of industrial robots capable of simple tasks like spot welding. Lan Turing’s landmark paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” was published in 1950, giving us decades to properly define, create, and deploy early concepts of AI.

Although not as “smart” as some might expect, AI, at its fundamental level, is a repeatable set of rules that a machine follows — an instructional map, but certainly not the driver.

2. AI Does Not Destroy Jobs — It Accelerates Them in New Areas

Among the biggest questions that stymie wider acceptance of AI is whether the technology will replace human workers, destroying the livelihoods of millions of people. Dromard and Julia spent a significant portion of the webinar dismantling this misconception by underlining these AI truths:

  1. There are multiple levels to artificial intelligence. If it becomes possible, we are far from a future where AI will completely replace human workers in most industries since AI relies on repetition — and the world at large is dynamic, not static.
  2. Organizations must be proactive and introspective by identifying where efficiencies could exist and how AI can be used. 
  3. Companies thrive and innovate best when existing teams — with diverse backgrounds and experiences — are trained to use big data and AI.

When applied properly, AI creates entirely new industries and provides existing workers the chance to reskill while working alongside AI systems that make less enjoyable, routine tasks easier to accomplish. Since these tasks don’t change, the big data backing them can perform those tasks more quickly and efficiently than human workers. 

3. AI Programmers Must Counter Personal Biases 

News-making examples of bias within AI systems, such as facial recognition technology and hiring algorithms, have raised legitimate questions about whether AI will always be applied ethically. Dromard and Julia also took on this challenging question with strategies for how to ensure that the big data working in the background mitigates the risk of bias in AI systems:

“If we see that people can use it the wrong way, we have the responsibility to raise the flag. Data can be biased because the people designing and creating the data can be biased.” 

As AI integrates more into daily life, data ethics has become imperative to ensure AI does not harm societal equity.

Take the Next Progressive Step With Big Data & AI

As Julia noted in our webinar, “AI is a tool. We have the hammer.” In other words, if you give that hammer to the right person, innovation will happen. Not all workers will know how to use the tool right away or in the right way, but dedicated and ongoing training can create lasting relevancy for businesses and build loyalty among workers.

Bottom line, people are only innovative if they’re trained with intention. When your teams bring their existing skills to the table — and merge that with newly acquired knowledge — real innovation happens. Watch the full webinar here

Want to learn more about how GA can help you build a data-driven team? Get in touch.

Celebrating 10 Years: Steven Longstreet

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It takes a community.

In celebration of our 10-year anniversary, we are 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 Steven Longstreet, one of our instructors, who teaches data to enterprise businesses to help them upskill and reskill their employees for the future of work and is a member of our AI and Data Science standards board.


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

Steven Longstreet: I work out of the DC campus and live nearby in northern Virginia. I work as an instructor, and I am also a member of the AI and Data Science standards board.

I first discovered GA through a team member, an instructor for GA, who took the 10-week part-time data science course. She wasn’t confident with the content, so I decided to take it with her to support her. I had a blast, and then the GA team asked me to become a data science instructor. 

It was fun to take this class and see how different people were learning and how the program broke down the barriers to data science. 

GA: What is the instructor’s role in learning?

Steven Longstreet: People who sign up for our classes truly want to learn and better themselves. That’s actually one of the coolest things to be a part of. However, the reality is some of the things that we teach are complex, with barriers to learning. My role in learning is making these topics approachable and removing those barriers for each student’s personal journey.

When learning something new, you’re making yourself vulnerable. The instructor has to create an environment where it’s okay to be wrong. It’s my job to understand the student’s barriers and make sure they are okay to be vulnerable and ask questions. 

GA: Why did you get involved in our AI and Data Science standards board?

Steven Longstreet: The whole purpose of the (AI and) Data Science standards board is that the term “data scientists” means absolute dribble. To some people, a data scientist needs to have a Ph.D., and there are other groups who just give out the title to anyone. 

I’ve always struggled with this concept. Part of joining the board was coming together with a group of like-minded people and saying, “What is this term for us? What does it mean? What are the aspects of the new data scientists? What does a career look like? How can we best empower and leverage these people?”

The concept of a scientist is someone who pushes human understanding, and it doesn’t have to be something incredibly dramatic. It can be one microscopic new thing that you uncover that allows human advancement. A data scientist within the organization pushes the understanding of data in a more usable way. We set a clear definition that worked across the range of companies participating in the board.

The other jobs of the AI and Data Science standards board are explaining what a career in this field looks like and making it clear what fields someone can specialize in. We need to be clear about the roles and career path and delineate what these terms mean.

GA: What do you think the most critical data skills are — right now?

Steven Longstreet: Let’s break it into two parts: data engineering and data literacy. 

I’ll start with data engineering because it’s part of your workflow. No matter what. Data needs to be built in the context of the problem you’re trying to solve. These skill sets are both rare and powerful, as a data engineer looks at the needs and resources across the organization to build core data assets with the most powerful and broad applicability. We’ve been talking about big data pretty heavily for about seven years, which can be summarized as more data than you have the resources, skills, or knowledge to wrangle. Maybe 5% of people feel comfortable working with big data, and those people jump into that challenge head-on.

Data literacy is understanding basic data concepts. When I talk about data literacy, I want people to articulate the problem they are trying to solve. Are they trying to forecast something or classify something? It’s about understanding data isn’t perfect and has biases. We build data for a particular context, so you can take the same raw materials and build a pick-up truck or a car, depending on what you’re trying to do with it. In other words, you have to understand why you built your data in the first place.

It’s about knowing what’s possible with data in your field, asking the right questions, and effectively communicating with data people to get the answers.

GA: What advice do you have for leaders who are trying to prepare for the future of work? 

Steven Longstreet: You have to listen to your team, but you also have to recognize that there’s a problem you’re trying to solve. I’m in an industry where people are serving people. Most of my employees are in front of people, but for the last year, we’ve all been working from home. 

The future of work at my company, Hilton, isn’t changing from the face-to-face experience, but we’re listening to our team and realizing many people want flexibility. We are thinking of new ways to bring people together because there are aspects of work that you can’t replicate virtually. 

I think the future of work doesn’t change the fact that human interaction is incredibly important to advance any problem. If one person could work entirely in a vacuum, we wouldn’t talk about Tesla and SpaceX; we’d only talk about Elon Musk. The reality is that a lot of people make work happen; one person rarely solves all the problems by themselves.

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: This Woman-in-STEM’s Career Journey From Chainsaws to Software

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From engineer to environmental conservationist — and back again. Sara Laffin started her studies as a marine engineer in college, but after leading a chainsaw crew at a conservation corps, she’s now applying both experiences to her role at Citibank as a software engineer. Learn how she used General Assembly’s Software Engineering Immersive to launch her career in tech and help make way for more women in STEM.

I studied marine engineering in college at the University of Michigan. My mom is from Greece, and we would go visit her family almost every year (which included a lot of time spent on boats). I held a variety of roles in the marine engineering field, mainly in the form of internships, but after so many years on virtual boats, I was ready for a break.

Next, I spent three seasons on conservation crews under AmeriCorps, mainly on national lands in Colorado. Managing crews — and a chainsaw — presented obstacles that helped me grow in unimaginable ways. GA helped me return to my engineering roots in the form of a software engineer. Now, I’m working at Citibank as an entry-level Angular developer.

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

I started at GA in Washington, D.C. about two months after my last season with AmeriCorps. On the practical side, I was looking for health care, retirement savings, and year-round work.

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

My brother and his wife are both in the tech industry! I also really enjoyed the programming classes I took in high school and college. I liked the idea of remote work opportunities as well, since I like to travel and spend quality time with loved ones. Also, the short time span (three months) of the Immersive bootcamp was very enticing. 

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

Good online reviews, the outcomes program, the Catalyst program, and proximity of a campus to my brother’s house motivated me to choose GA in Washington, D.C. 

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

Paula Bannerman, our instructional associate, was the highlight of my D.C. campus experience. Everyone in that building was lovely, but she really went above and beyond to make me feel welcome. After graduation, some highlights were meeting up on Zoom with classmates, going to virtual events, and becoming part of a large global community. I look forward to the in-person graduation ceremonies whenever they start again!

Since you graduated in April 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? 

My classmates and family really helped! Meeting for “stand-up” on Zoom every morning with a few people I graduated with at GA helped me set intentions and feel connected. My brother also helped with interview prep and advice. 

How has GA been a resource to you in terms of finding a job after completing your program? 

Meeting with career coaches for one-on-one sessions, specifically Griffin Moore, helped ease my mind about materials, confidence, and actionable items. Whenever cover letters cross my mind, I remember Griffin’s advice: “Think of them as a quest to get to know yourself and the company better.”

How do you think your background in engineering and environmental conservation programs prepared you for your current role? 

My engineering degree required programming and lots of math which helped me with logic, for-loops, conditionals, etc. My work in the conservation corps had a huge impact on my soft skills. Working with teams, confidence, and grit are all important in my current role.

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

As a front-end developer, I use a JavaScript framework (including HTML and CSS) for all of my coding work. And Git! I’ve taught so many people at my job about Git not realizing people who have a coding background don’t always have Git experience. I’m thankful we had to use it for every assignment. The full-stack part of the course has also helped me communicate across teams, including backend, database, and design teams. 

Being a male-dominated field, can you describe your experience as a woman studying to become a software engineer at GA? 

In our starting class, I think we had about five women out of 30 students. When we were on campus, it was so nice to have those ladies around! I definitely wouldn’t have had as much fun or support if they weren’t there. 

What do you love most about your current role?

I love working with people, pair programming, and sharing productive ideas. I’m also a mentor for a high school intern at the moment, and I love chatting with her. Helping the next generation of women in technology is important to me, and I try to contribute when I can. I’m so thankful my company invests in women in technology programs. 

With your background, you don’t strike us as the sit-down-at-the-office type. How was the transition from a physically demanding job to a tech-driven one? How do you keep that sense of adventure in your work?

I have lost so much muscle in the transition! I miss the team building that comes from physical exertion and shared meals. We would all camp together at the worksite for eight days at a time, trading off cooking responsibility.But keeping the sense of adventure amid a pandemic has been tricky. Since weekend trips were out of the question, I decided to live for a few months in various locations, usually at a loved one’s home but working remote all the while. So far, I’ve stayed in five different states in the U.S., and currently, I’m over in Greece with my mom. It’s nice to see her and try out the second shift (around 5 p.m.–1 am. local time). My love and gratitude go out to my friends and family for helping and hosting me. 

As a woman in tech, what advice do you have for other women who are trying to break into the industry?

My go-to advice is from my college: “Those who stay will be champions”. Follow your passion, have a seat at the table, and help others to do the same. Imagine all the women after you who will be thankful for you. And for anyone who hasn’t heard of whisper networks, look it up and ask around. We are not alone and there are support networks waiting to welcome you in.

Find Work You Love

GA Jobs to Be Done: A Series Build Teams To Thrive in A Digital-First World

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The Final Step: Understand What Good Looks Like

As companies across industries race to digitize, maintaining the pace of change required to get across the finish line can be overwhelming — especially for those leading the digital transformation efforts.

We’re here to break it down. 

Through our deep experience across many types of organizations, we’ve seen leaders’ transformation challenges boil down to four key goals:

  1. Create digital mindsets across the company. This includes understanding digital trends, growing digital mastery, and building a product-driven organization.
  2. Upgrade capabilities to reflect cutting-edge technical skills across marketing, technology, and data functions.
  3. Accelerate technical hiring by upskilling and reskilling current employees and new hires. 
  4. Understand what good looks like — a skill necessary in achieving every goal.

This series, Jobs To Be Done, unpacks each of these four goals, providing actionable recommendations that organizations can put into practice to help set their businesses on the path to sustainable digitization and success.

Finally, we’ve come to our final overarching concept: understanding what good looks like. Whether you’re evaluating a digital culture, growing capabilities, or filling talent gaps, it’s hard to know how you’re doing without clear benchmarks. We have some tips.

Defining Success in Uncharted Waters

Congratulations: you’ve bravely inspired your organization to try new things, creating a company with a more agile, empowered workforce, building on the latest cutting-edge technologies and best practices… But what are the details of those practices?  Once you’re deep in uncharted territory, how do you know when you’ve truly succeeded?

It can be difficult to specify what good looks like — especially when the fast-paced nature of digitization often means the goal line keeps moving as you work toward it. A lot of business leaders are largely unfamiliar with the technicalities of digital fields, especially when it comes to the details of the many roles they oversee. This makes it challenging to do simple tasks like mapping out leveling frameworks or evaluating talent.

When it comes to knowing what good looks like, getting an outside perspective can help you chart your way. One of the most helpful, multipurpose tools you can bring into your process is a well-built, quantitative assessment.

The Gold Standard: Map Success Against Data-Forward Assessments

Data-forward assessments that measure adeptness in key skills are tools you can use throughout your digital transformation. They give precise, repeatable data to track over time and leverage in decision-making. 

There are several touchpoints across your workforce pipeline where an assessment can be a big help in defining good — from analyzing candidates in interviews to tracking progress in your reskilling efforts. 

We recommend assessments to help companies improve many areas, such as:

  1. Identify unique skills gaps in existing teams to develop your learning goals. Once you understand the specific areas your team needs to grow, the data will point you in the right direction for your transformation. You can even leverage them to prescribe personalized learning paths that target the specific strengths and areas for growth of each team member, which can be more tailored and effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. 
  2. Benchmark the skills your teams have compared to the industry. With a broadly-used assessment, you not only understand your team’s skills but also how their scores relate to others in your field, allowing you to align your skilling investments with your strategic goals. 
  3. Track improvement of skills over time. Multiple data touchpoints help you learn where you’re making progress and where a new approach may be needed — a key element of an agile workforce. You can also use this data to inform performance reviews, as your top performers set tangible goals and achieve them. 
  4. Guide hiring and staffing decisions. Adding quantitative assessments to your interview processes help remove bias from candidate evaluations and allows you to compare internal and external candidates on a level playing field. In addition, they can identify surprising aptitudes or highlight areas where more evaluation is necessary.

Assessments in the Real World: L’Oréal

One great success story of implementing an assessment into a talent pipeline is L’Oréal. L’Oréal launched an assessment-led program in partnership with us to vet new candidates and encourage continuous learning among its global marketing workforce. 

Leveraging the Certified Marketing 1 (CM1) Assessment, built in partnership with our Marketing Standards Board, L’Oréal defined a company-wide standard for evaluating marketers, which is now fully baked into their talent system. The assessment helps them onboard new hires who meet their 70% benchmark, upskill 85,000 employees worldwide, and identify high-growth candidates for deep-dive training. This approach has driven results in their digital transformation, growing eCommerce sales to 25% of total sales. 

So, what’s next?

Over the last few months, we’ve talked about the top challenges we encounter from leaders of digital transformation efforts. Whether you are beginning to build the broad digital fluency that is a foundation of digital culture — investing in the technical skills upgrade of your teams and expanding top talent, we hope you found valuable tips within these series to help guide your way.

If you’d like to explore the range of courses that GA provides (and get a sense of how your teams stack up to the skills we teach), you can explore our catalog here, which covers roles from IC to strategic leader across digital fluency, marketing, data, and technology. 

Want to get specific about how GA could help your organization? Get in touch. 

This concludes our Jobs To Be Done series. We wish you luck on your digital transformation journey!