At Accelirate, an automation startup, few newcomers to the IT staff claim to be experts in critical areas like robotic process automation (RPA) or machine learning, but everyone has the chance to become one.
The Edison, N.J.-based company, which was launched last year to assist companies on the automation track, is now up to 120 employees, 90% residing in IT, and it has debuted on Computerworld’s annual Best Places to Work in IT list as the No. 11 small organization. Since RPA and related technologies are treading new ground, Accelirate found itself facing a dearth of expert talent, which could put a damper on its plan for fast-paced growth. The solution: building an in-house, three-month training program that gets all new IT hires, both first-time job holders and seasoned veterans, quickly up to speed.
“Not too many people have prior experience with the platforms or technologies we were working with — finding someone who’d done RPA before was few and far between,” says Ahmed Zaidi, Accelirate’s chief automation officer. “We realized we’d have to build our own workforce.”
Step one on that journey is finding the right candidates — those who have an aptitude for automation technology, but who are also passionate about what they do, Zaidi says. There’s both an art and a science to that effort, he adds, and Accelirate employs a rigorous interview process to help unearth whether a candidate is the right fit for Accelirate’s culture of continuous learning and high performance.
“The real indicator for passion is curiosity — the person will dig deep into things and not just superficially perform a task,” explains Zaidi, who quizzes job candidates about how things work, from processors to cars, to get a read on their thought processes. “I look for cues on curiosity and their ability to make connections between what they’ve done in the past or what they’ve learned academically to this new paradigm of delivering automation to business.”
Once onboard, the newly hired are indoctrinated in the RPA and automation training. That practice was particularly appealing to Cameron Herwig, an automation engineer who joined Accelirate this past year right out of college. Herwig was hungry to learn as much as he could about the new field, and after participating in the training, he got so immersed in the curriculum and methods that he was handed responsibility to refine and evolve the program. “This is a small company and there are a lot of shoes that need filling, so if you are capable, you can take on whatever responsibility you want,” he explains.
Accelirate’s culture also frowns on a rigid hierarchy, instead encouraging team members to share experiences, ask questions and confer on projects either face to face or through the firm’s group chat platform. “There is open communication between everyone, from the CEO down to the first entry-level employee,” says Robert Booth, senior automation engineer, who came on board as one of the first employees in January 2017. Booth says the company’s culture also encourages people to think outside the box and promote their ideas as part of building their own brand.
“Everyone understands that their voice matters,” says Gabriela Enriquez, Accelirate’s chief human officer. “If you see something while in the training program or find a workaround when on a client project, you are encouraged to write about it or put it out there to educate others.”
While the RPA field is very specific, Accelirate staffers also have plenty of room to explore other areas of interest, such as infrastructure, business analysis or data science, since there are well-established experts leading those disciplines. “There are a variety of roles and technologies they can grow into,” Zaidi says. “People don’t have to figure it all out by themselves — they have a mentor who can help identify what they’re good at, which allows for people to move around and learn new technologies and further strengthen their abilities.”
Team-building and collaboration are also fostered through in- and out-of-office activities, including socials, game days, formal training exercises and a twice-annual staff retreat. All team leads have their own monthly budgets to take out the junior staffers for lunch or dinner so they can bond over work or their personal lives without the close watch of executive management.
“The fact that you can go out a few times a month with trainees and juniors fosters creativity,” Booth says. “Because it’s a fixed budget, it makes it easy to put those things together.”
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