How to inspire and make way for innovation
Virtually every employer struggles to hire people with needed tech skills. But Amrith Kumar, CTO of the OpenStack database-as-a-service company Tesora, is fighting the talent crunch in the future. He's investing some of his time in working with college students, making sure there will be more available hires with OpenStack expertise. In an interview with The Enterprisers Project, Kumar explains why this work is so important.
The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Tell us about your work with college students. Are you creating a pipeline for Tesora or preparing them in general for the work world?
Kumar: I am explicitly not building a pipeline for Tesora but rather trying to help students to develop skills and experiences that will make them immediately employable and equipped to stand out in a crowded field. As an example, I recently collaborated on a presentation to the students at Boston University, and now we are following up to bring more OpenStack curriculum into the classroom in the next academic year. Within weeks of our presentation, two students contributed fixes and reviews to the Swift object store and Horizon dashboard, part of the OpenStack project. Additionally, I participate in a mentoring program managed by the OpenStack Foundation where I get a chance to help new contributors.
TEP: Many college students are graduating already deeply in debt. Do you help them deal with this burden or do you have guidance for them?
Kumar: As a startup, we are not able to help students with the financial burden as some larger firms may be able to. However, one way in which I try to help students with this is to improve their odds of getting employed, and able to pay back their loans and debts.
TEP: For the same reason, many young people these days are choosing not to go to traditional four-year colleges. What do you think are the best alternatives out there for students who want to work in areas such as databases or cloud computing? What advice would you give a graduating high school student about these options?
Kumar: While a four-year college is a not a requirement for our new-hires, not attending a four-year college may be a risky choice. Some of the best engineers I've seen are self-taught and have liberal arts backgrounds. I strongly urge all students, those in traditional four-year CS/EE courses and others to participate in open-source software development. Not only does this give students very useful software development skills but it gives them targeted knowledge that makes them much more employable.
TEP: Most technology companies are struggling with the talent crunch. How does working with students benefit Tesora in this area?
Kumar: I don't look to help students with the aim of helping Tesora specifically. I am self-taught (I don't have a computer science education), and I have been lucky. I think it is much harder in today's economy to get a good first job. I believe firmly that a good first job is crucial to putting a person on a stable career trajectory.
My only interest is in helping students as they enter the job market put their best foot forward and build a solid career on a good first job. When we go out looking for people to hire, one of the things I've noticed is that there is not a lot of knowledge about OpenStack. No matter what facet of computer science happens to be interesting to you, there is an OpenStack project which probably works in an approximate space.
TEP: What advice would you offer other tech executives about working with students?
Kumar: I encourage other tech executives to take some time out of their busy schedules and work with their local universities or their alma maters, and work with students especially in the sophomore and junior years. I believe that it is invaluable for students to know what kinds of things hiring managers look for in candidates, and help them prepare themselves for their entry into the workplace. If they are able to take interns at their companies, that is a very significant way in which to help as well.