The problem with cutting-edge tech is that it changes so rapidly that it can be difficult to find talent with specific experience. Interapt, which builds technology solutions for large enterprises, has a solution to that problem: growing its own talent.
Louisville Future spoke with Interapt’s founder and CEO Ankur Gopal about how he is using the traditional apprenticeship program for technology.
Let’s talk about your spin on finding and developing talent.
Gopal: People have always asked me how I could build a tech company in Kentucky, where there is little tech talent. But there’s no utopian society out there where the war for talent isn’t a problem. If I was in San Francisco, then I would have talent problems. There’s a little bit of a geographic bias against Kentucky.
Instead of seeking people from New York and San Francisco to come here, I realized that I was just going to have to find people who like living here and skill them up.
We have hired senior level people through LinkedIn, college recruiting and all the typical ways. But we also go out in to the community and find ‘diamonds in the rough.’ We invest in them, scale them up really fast, and put them on a team as an apprentice. We not only buy talent, but we also build it. We’ve changed a lot of lives and gotten work done at the same time.
Our whole premise is that we can solve skilling and growth problems, as well as the equity problem that we face in America, by creating jobs and skills for people that typically were left behind from the tech economy.
The members of the apprenticeship program are very diverse.
Gopal: One of our participants found out about our program while at a women’s shelter. She passed the coding test and is now in the program. We started with a very rural population and then an African-American population. Same metrics, same results, with the common thread being that these people have the drive. [To hear more individual stories about Interapt’s apprenticeship program, you can watch this video from PBS News Hour.]
Tell us about how the tech apprenticeship started.
Gopal: We began by offering locals a simple coding test with instructions. We took 50 people, and 35 of them passed. The actual training program is 2,000 hours, qualifying it as a U.S. Department of Labor-certified apprenticeship and not just a coding camp. We have to put in the time to make sure no one is left behind when we cross the finish line.
We also pay people while they learn, and we do not ask for any of the money back that we invested in training. You can’t expect someone to learn something hard and take time out of life if they’re worried where their daughter’s next meal is coming from.
Did the pandemic affect your plan?
Gopal: I think the pandemic helped us in a sense. It proved you can still work on a world-class project or with world-class companies, while living in anywhere you want. For example, we went to Appalachia. We knew people wanted to live there but they needed access to markets that didn’t exist for that area. So we created an onramp for them to do that.
I have friends who work for Silicon Valley companies, but they live somewhere else. They fly there once in a while, and they come back, because they like living here. Louisville is poised to take advantage of this. We’re going to see a tremendous boost to our economy and see more companies located here, with more workers wanting to live here.
What are the advantages of being located in Louisville?
Gopal: There are several. One of the big things that comes to mind is that we’re one of a few high-growth tech companies here that are working together. I can call a CEO at one of those companies if one of their employees has applied at my company, and I can make sure my hiring that person won’t cause some kind of hardship or friction. There’s a lot of back-and-forth channeling that happens. We have courtesy and respect for each other’s companies and share the all-boats-rise-together mentality.