Factora boot camp: hitting the ground running

Traditionally at Factora, we’ve grown our own people. It’s almost impossible to hire the array of skills we need, or the depth, so we tend to hire straight out of university and train.

Training has been through mentoring; each new hire would be assigned to a mentor. Besides the value of the training itself, there were many benefits, among them the bonds it built between newer and older staff, and the knowledge transfer.

Clearly, the model’s been working. Today, we’re the people that others come to when they have a tough system integrator problem.

Running into scalability

The problem was that the model didn’t scale well. It drew heavily on the time and resources of our senior people. And it left too much up to chance – new people tended to be trained on whatever projects were ongoing, rather than a selected sample covering the breadth of what we do.

We’re big on leadership and personal development at Factora, we’re the only system integrator I know of that has a full-time executive devoted to it. So with the growth we’re experiencing, and the need for a scalable training model, the executive team decided it was time to ramp up.

Running the numbers

I was the one chosen to build it. Apparently, I have high standards and am hard to please.

But – we’re still Factora – we don’t start anything without a strong business case. I started running the numbers for a formal training program in September 2016.

With a formal program, we could put new employees in front of the customer with confidence, sooner, and at better rates, knowing they were fully ready to contribute and perform. We would be placing less demands on the time of our senior employees, and the demands we did make would be spread out over several employees, earning a better return. Finally, the formal model was scalable, able to keep up to our new rate of growth.

The business case turned out to be even stronger than I’d expected. Just a few months later, in January 2017, we started the first session.

Up and running

Long story short, we’re now in the middle of our 3rd bootcamp. One of the ways we know how successful it’s been, and how needed, is that customers have already come calling, asking if we’ll provide this as a commercial model, training their employees.

Our four-month program begins with 8 weeks of classroom training by a senior consultant. We’ve developed a complete list of topics, some done in-class and in-person, some online.

Next, we move into the bootcamp component, the pseudo-project. It has a project manager, a technical lead, and dedicated internal training servers. We cover everything through the product life cycle.

Of course, it’s more complex than it sounds. As an example, our second bootcamp was tailored to software analysts, a more specific role, with slightly different content. Again, it was a mixture of lectures and practical work, with assigned projects.

The practical nature and the toughness of the boot camp assignments are what make the difference. Attendees really have to dig in and understand. That struggle in learning and pushing through it ­– while still having a safety net – it’s the best way for our new hires to learn.

Truth and consequences

Like any bootcamp, this one has consequences. Those who don’t perform don’t stay. We’re not just training, we’re looking for commitment and hard work and dedication to problem-solving. All assignments are graded.

However! We’re not looking for a high grade-point average. We’re looking for a trend, specifically an upward trend. Who’s willing to learn and grow? Who’s able to?

We look for other qualities as well. Some you could guess immediately – teamwork, the ability to work with and contribute as part of a group. Others are a bit less obvious, such as the ability to follow best practices. Or finding that right balance of pushing through when you have to, but raising the flag when you need help.

And we imprint our core values, particularly through the tech lead. If you’re reading this and you’ve worked with us before, you’re familiar with the values I mean.

Bootcamp results are already in

Bootcamp grads are strong in critical areas like design, debugging, and analyzing the design of existing devices or systems. In my career, I’ve met many people with many years’ experience who don’t own the skill set that our bootcamp grads have. It’s funny, I’m the one who put together the list of everything that’s in the program, and I realized recently there are things on that list I would like to learn.

Factora doesn’t sell software or a platform. So Factora people have to be resourceful. We don’t arrive at your door with our one system and implement it; we investigate and analyze, then design and build a solution with the best available tools. A Factora employee’s required toolset is dictated by the customer problem, not the other way around.

Some of our juniors who’ve graduated have already surpassed people a little more senior who didn’t attend. They pick things up faster, they can work on projects with less help. They contribute so much faster.

Next steps

At one point we may be looking for a training manager. We may also develop videos, although the pace of change in our business is so fast that this may not be an option. Plus, we gain a lot from the bonds built through person-to-person training, seniors and juniors working together.

For now, the bootcamps are meeting their strategic purpose, allowing us to keep up with the ramp-up in hiring, and put new employees in front of the customer earlier and even better prepared. Win-win all ’round.