On this episode of Recode Decode, host Kara Swisher ventured to Louisville, Ky., where she was joined by four people bringing tech jobs to the states not covered by “the coastal elites.”
- Leanne Pittsford, CEO and founder of Tech Jobs Tour
- Ankur Gopal, CEO of Interapt
- Crystal Adkins, a student from the Interapt program
- Rider Rodriguez, founder of Code Louisville
The round table discussed how to teach entrepreneurship (and to what extent it can be taught) and how to bring jobs — in tech and otherwise — to parts of the country that have seen rampant unemployment.
You can read some of the highlights here, or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Kara Swisher: Recode radio presents Recode Decode coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as someone who would be a huge fan of the Louisville Cardinals, if only I knew what sport they played. But in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in.
You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play Music or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today we’re going to do our first ever round table on Recode Decode, and this week I have been visiting towns in West Virginia and Kentucky, learning about the future of tech jobs in an area that is a little different from Silicon Valley. I’m joined in the studio in Louisville, Kentucky by the CEO and founder of Tech Jobs Tour Leanne Pittsford; the CEO of Interapt, Ankur Gopal; Crystal Adkins, a student from their program; and Rider Rodriguez, who founded Code Louisville, who’s working with the government to bring more tech jobs to the area. Welcome, everybody.
[from the group]: Great to be here.
KS: Good. So, it’s a lot of people, so I’m just going to just go slowly, and make sure everyone has a say. It’s a really amazing couple of days I’ve spent here, in both West Virginia and Kentucky. There’s been a lot of focus this past election on jobs, and on bringing back coal jobs, specifically in this region, which I think is kind of misplacing where the future is going. And then there’s a lot of efforts in the area that we’ve seen to try to diversify the economy. One area is in tech, which means everyone here is competing with people globally, in Silicon Valley, and all over everywhere. It’s a really interesting attempt to do it. It’s an interesting attempt to train people, and we’re going to talk about it.
Let’s start, Leanne, first with you. This is the Tech Jobs Tour, which I went on with you, and we visited Paintsville and Pikeville, Kentucky, and we were in West Virginia and Charleston. Can you just give a very short description of what you’re trying to do here?
Leanne Pittsford: Yeah. So it’s the Tech Jobs Tour, so we’re going on tour across America. It’s one year, 50 cities, 100,000 jobs. Right now in America there are over half a million open jobs. At the same time, there’s this intense growth of nontraditional talent. So, online courses, coding bootcamps. I work with a lot of tech companies, and they really don’t know how to hire from this new generation of technical talent.
So, we wanted to go across America, especially post-election, and really find out what’s working in each city because there’s so much innovation and incredible talent across America. Essentially, what we’re trying to do is bring together the ecosystems. Oftentimes — you know, this was our 10th stop, in Louisville — and the employers and the people who need jobs actually just need to connect. It’s sometimes as simple as that. We’re really trying to do that, and then figure out how we can scout and scale things that are working in each market.
KS: You were trying to call attention to it. It’s America’s Hiring, #AmericasHiring.
KS: Now, we have lower levels of employment right now in this country, but it’s shifting people to the jobs that are better and pay better and they are not part of a dead-end situation where things are going to be going away.
LP: Right. It’s more than jobs, it’s economic opportunity, right? It’s the promise of the American dream. Right now the average salary for Americans is about $20,000. The average tech salary is over $80,000. That’s a huge increase. That will change your entire life.
KS: So explain super briefly what you’re doing. You’re going to these towns and holding events. Give me a quick ...
LP: Yeah. We throw events in a different way. We say, it’s networking that doesn’t suck.
LP: So we have ... So many events you go to, and you’re just like ... and there’s 10 people walking around, and maybe if you’re lucky there’s a beverage of some kind. But we really pull in all the leaders. There’s so many incredible people, so we start with them. You know, what’s actually going on. We do a career fair in most markets. We have something called speed mentoring. So, 30-minute sessions. We usually combine the talents that you’re looking for. So we put the designers together, and the coders together, and it’s about 30 minutes each session, 5 minutes apiece.
Some of our mentors come and say, “I’ve given more advice today than I have in years. This would take me 10 coffees to set up.” People who are looking for a job are like, “Wow, I’ve just never had so much incredible advice.”
KS: Which people in Silicon Valley do all the time and every day.
LP: Right. But getting that type of access for people ... Our events are free. We actually work with some of the best companies in the country getting their people to come and mentor other people.
KS: Right. So people are desperate to find people in these areas, and at the same time, people don’t know where they are or are not aware of them.
KS: All right. Ankur, can you talk a little bit about what you’re involved with here? Because you look like right out of Silicon Valley right now, I gotta say. I missed you people so.
Ankur Gopal: I did spend time there, so maybe that’s the influence. But, no, I’m a Kentucky native, born in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I know when growing up, like many Kentuckians, success meant leaving and getting out.
KS: So you went to high school here-
AG: I did.
KS: And college, or ... ?
AG: No, I went to University of Illinois.
KS: Mm-hmm. Not far.
AG: Not far. But kind of a different world, almost. It was ... I went there for undergrad. Wound up working at Accenture, cut my chops in consulting and really gained a lot of experience by working in the Valley, working in D.C., Chicago.
KS: So why didn’t you come back? What was the ... ? People talked a lot about that on this tour, that people are not coming back. That they want to live here, but they have no opportunity to do so.
AG: I think you just said, it’s the opportunity. I mean, there’s not a ... Especially when I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of technology out there. I was a gadget guy. I liked innovation. I liked technology. So I wanted to work in that, and Accenture afforded that to me. I was teaching and guiding large companies on IT strategy and what they should need to be investing in, so it was really a rush to do that kind of work. But you know, as you keep consulting you go into the Road Warrior mode, and eventually it wears on you. I said I wanted to do something a little more impactful. That was starting my own company.
KS: And when you were here, you were a gadget guy. I like to go in back to people’s backgrounds. Was there anything that would push you that way, or it was just something you just were interested in computers, or ... ?
AG: I think it goes back to my parents. My dad educated his way out of India, and it was a blue collar family, and he got a Master’s degree here. My mom’s a physician, and she worked in a small western Kentucky town, and she never turned a patient away. She saw the Medicare/Medicaid population a lot of physicians may not have wanted, so I gained a lot of that empathy from her. But mostly they always guided and inspired me to try new things, follow my passions, and when they saw me interested in tech, they helped me, buying me a computer.
KS: Was there a lot of focus on tech here within the schools, or not? You just liked, what? What inspired you?
AG: No, it was not, I mean ...
KS: Steve Jobs. It’s got to be Steve Jobs, right? I mean, what was it? It’s always Steve Jobs.
AG: I think what inspired me was that when I went out, if you will, into the cities, I saw how many people were just like the people I grew up with in Kentucky. Plenty of smart people. I realized that it’s not about getting out, it’s about giving people guidance.
For example, in Owensboro, Kentucky, I have friends in college who sold companies to Yahoo, and Google, and they’re in New York and San Francisco doing amazing things. So I know it’s not a lack of intelligence, right? They also left, and they found their opportunity because somebody guided them along the way. When I came back here and was asked by our governor and congressman to take on this effort, I said, “If this works, this could impact a ton of people’s lives, and it’s worth a shot.” Frankly, I’m super proud of our team for doing it.
KS: I want to get later into why you came ... The coming back of people to areas, because it’s happening in Detroit and other areas. What does Interapt do?
AG: Interapt, we have two lines of business. One, we do innovation as a service. IT services firm for large companies, they source out a lot of innovation work to us, and we help road map that. We have another line of business, which is opportunity as a service, which is essentially going to communities ...
KS: Opportunity as a service, that’s a new one. You can’t even pronounce that.
AG: But no, we’ve seen this in action, where we can go into communities, help extract some of the people that could be a good fit for a tech career, guide them, give them the training, and the apprenticeship portion of the program as well, to get them ready for a job in software development.
KS: Okay. And Crystal, you work there, correct?
Crystal Adkins: Correct.
KS: Can you give me your background a little bit? Crystal, how old are you?
CA: I’m 30.
KS: 30. Okay. So you were living here?
CA: Actually, yeah. I lived in Louisville. My husband and I live not too far from here, actually. When he lost his job we had to sell our home because what I was making wasn’t enough to pay our mortgage and all of our bills.
KS: What were you doing?
CA: I was working help desk for one of the big companies here. Which was nice, they let me work remote, so I got to work from home. So when we sold our house, I’m like, “Okay, not a problem. We’ll move in with the in-laws for a little bit.”
KS: Oh, god.
CA: “We’ll get back on our feet ...” Oh, yeah. Well.
KS: Not a problem, how nice of you to say that.
CA: But unfortunately, eastern Kentucky has a bad problem with internet. It’s either really slow or really inconsistent. Unfortunately, the opportunity that was afforded to work from home ...
KS: This is from Louisville, right?
CA: Right, well, I had to, yeah. I moved from Louisville to Pikeville.
KS: Pikeville, okay.
CA: Mm-hmm. Yeah, because that’s where my in-laws were at, and that’s where my husband grew up at.
KS: Just very small town.
CA: Yeah, actually. I think he said there was only like 150 people in his graduating class.
CA: So, yeah, it was really small. So the opportunity I was afforded to be able to work from home was taken away, essentially, because that internet connectivity just wasn’t there, wasn’t reliable. When we heard about TEKY, or when I heard about TEKY on the radio, I was like ...
I hated coding. I have an associate’s degree in information security and network administration, sorry. I took coding classes, and I hated it. I swore I’d never take another one. But I was like, “I have to take a chance on this. I’m unemployed, my husband’s unemployed. How are we going to get back on our feet?”d And I loved it. That change from learning the academic coding to learning how it really works in the real world, I loved it. There’s so much passion there that I never knew I had.
KS: I want you to explain how the program works, because it is ... They hire you to learn to code, which I think is really interesting. We were at Bitsource, which is better known in Silicon Valley and some others. And that’s in Pikesville, right? Correct?
CA: Mm-hmm, it is.
KS: All right. So explain your background. You grew up where in Kentucky?
CA: I grew up in Mount Washington, Kentucky, which is just about 20 minutes from Louisville.
KS: So, it’s close, close into a big city.
KS: And then you moved to Pikeville, which is a couple of hours away?
CA: Yeah, it’s three and a half hours.
KS: In eastern Kentucky, right? Which is a big difference. The differences between the Kentuckys. I’m a city slicker, apparently. I’m misspeaking, but I think that’s correct.
KS: And it’s very much in the mountains. Very beautiful. They were incredible. That’s exactly what they were.
KS: It’s beautiful, but remote. Most people there in Pikesville, when you move there, where your in-laws were, what did they do?
CA: A lot of people worked retail.
KS: Uh-huh. They had been coal miners.
CA: Yeah. They had been coal miners. There’s a lot of displaced coal miners and there’s a lot of just unemployment there just because the coal mines are gone. I mean, people have jobs, but they’re not coming back. Right now, kind of as an outsider, I see how much a program like this is going to help. There are still places that I go that don’t take debit cards, which blows my mind every time. I’m like, “How is this possible?” But it’s getting us trained and taking a chance on us. That’s really what it was, is taking a chance and say, “You know what? I don’t know if you guys are going to be able to do this, but I want to try to make your lives better.”
KS: Sure. So, explain the program you went into. You heard on the radio. A lot of people ... We were talking, everyone heard it on the radio, which was really interesting.
CA: Yeah. The first place I heard it was on the radio. I’ve seen an ad for it on Facebook. Once I’ve seen an ad for it on Facebook, I’m like, “Okay. I’ll check this out.” So, the program was 30 ...
KS: So, you trust ads on Facebook?
CA: Well ... I’d be careful.
KS: You’re going to end up buying a Russian set of nesting dolls.
KS: Right. So, it’s the idea of apprenticeship, which I thought was really interesting. It’s just been an old American tradition. So, you were paid to do this. You did not pay.
KS: And it’s called ... What’s the program called that you were in?
KS: TEKY. Okay. And that was in Pikesville?
CA: Well, actually, it was in Paintsville.
CA: Yeah. So, I drive 90 miles round trip to get there every day.
KS: Yeah. That it was. I did the drive yesterday. It’s a long drive. You went to Paintsville to the Sandy ...?
CA: Big Sandy Community and Technical College.
KS: Right. And were basically paid to learn. So, you’re on-the-job training that you were paid for, which you didn’t have expertise in before.
CA: No. That is correct.
KS: How many people were in your class?
CA: We started with 50. I believe there are 17 of us who made it through the apprenticeship and are now hired with Interapt.
KS: Okay. What happened to the others?
CA: Well, there were 35 of us that made it to the apprenticeship. The ones that didn’t take our offers or didn’t get employed with Interapt actually still got tech jobs around the area.
KS: Around the area. What happened to the others?
CA: There was a lot of ... I mean, it was hard. This was really, really hard. Like I said, it’s about an hour one way to get there. There were many nights I didn’t leave campus until 10 o’clock and I was there at 7 the next morning just because it took a lot of discipline and a lot of just wanting to do this. And I think some people didn’t realize how hard it was going to be and we had that kind of attrition. And then, some people just have personal problems that come up. Things we kind of expected to happen. We like to say that we went through war together and the ones of us who are left were a giant family. It’s a great atmosphere.
KS: One more question. So, a lot of people were telling me yesterday, a lot of people don’t think they can do it. They don’t think of themselves this way or they’re stupid — not stupid, precisely, but, “This is not how I envisioned my life or how I ever envisioned my life.”
CA: You know, when I started, I’m like, “I don’t think I’m gonna like this. I don’t think I can do it. But you know what? If I just make it three weeks, that’s three weeks of pay that I didn’t have that’s going to help me get back on my feet.” And I had to take that chance because for me it’s not about, “You know what, this is the same routine I’ve been in. I’m comfortable here.” You have to take risk if you want to make your life better. And so, taking that risk for me was the biggest thing. I can’t be scared just because I think I’m not gonna do it. This was the best thing. I finally found a career that I’m so passionate about and I love coming to work every day.
KS: All right. Now, Rider, you work for the city of Louisville. Explain Coding Louisville.
Rider Rodriguez: Sure. Code Louisville is ...
KS: Code Louisville.
RR: Yeah. Code Louisville is a way to learn coding by leveraging online content, but with a support system. So, it’s not just: Pay here, go log in, and do it at your own pace whenever you want and maybe six months later you learn something really basic. This is, we take the content, curate it, put it around into 12 week chunks, have you meet with other people who are going through it at the same time. You’ve got weekly targets that you need to hit in terms of how much you complete. You not only get together with other students, but mentors, and we recruit software developers who do this for a living, who do this throughout the day and then come in, volunteer their time in the evening to help coach people.
KS: And these are classes in Louisville or across the state?
RR: It’s in Louisville.
KS: Louisville, only?
KS: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
RR: Yeah, so I’m the person that would have gone into ... who would’ve been a developer if when I was going to college, it wasn’t practically a math degree.
KS: Where did you go to college?
KS: Are you from-
RR: I’m from Jersey, born and raised, and I was in the army for a few years, so when I got out, I was like, “Great. So, what’s next?”
KS: Why Kentucky?
RR: Louisville. I mean, I’d been at Kentucky before, but I wanted a city that was ... Because I grew up close to New York City, but I wanted some of that, but something a bit smaller, a bit more accessible and Louisville seemed to fit.
So, yeah, after I got out of the army ... I was doing tech in the army for nine years. But yeah, I wound up doing political science because this computer science degree was basically a math degree. And I did four years in high school in New Jersey with computer science and loved it. It was very much more applied. We were always hands-on keyboard. It wasn’t just sitting there and listening. That I loved.
KS: Academic coding, which Crystal was just talking about.
RR: Yeah. So, I built Code Louisville. That was the thing I would have loved to have done when I was 19.
RR: Back then I remember buying C in a box, 32 disks and a big buck. Well, good luck. That was the only way if you weren’t going to do it in school.
KS: Sure. And you had to do it yourself.
RR: Exactly. Yeah. I didn’t become a developer because that was kind of a lift. I didn’t manage to get over the hump, but I came to Louisville. This challenge was presented that there weren’t enough software developers here. Where we looked at kind of the traditional way, the four-year schools, there is no way to ramp it up so you get enough people learning it in any amount of time.
KS: And so you came here and started this? I mean, this was your job? Or you were doing something else here?
RR: Yeah. So, I landed ... First was working as a project manager. Then I got connected with a job in the city in workforce development. So, all sorts of helping people get skills to get jobs, helping companies find people with those skills. Code Louisville was just a project underneath it. Kind of fell in my lap because I’ve done tech for so long and just had a passion and an interest for it.
KS: So, how many people have gone through the program?
RR: We’ve graduated over 600 unique people, and most people do more than one of the 12-week courses because it just takes a while.
RR: Some people are able to do 12 weeks and get a good job.
KS: And what do they do after? They do these courses in lots of different areas.
RR: Yes. We’ve had 150 people get jobs or move up, something related to Code Louisville, but we also have a lot of people who are just trying to learn for their own interest. We were intentionally very open and very broad. We try and prioritize people who have more of a need, but just intentionally, we want to accept as many people who had an interest and a passion because we have you do pre-work. It’s 20 or 30 hours that you have to spend on your own. We don’t charge you, but you have to put in your own time.
KS: Put in your own time. What kind of people are these people looking for?
RR: 18-to-67 year olds. Primarily in the 25-35, so people who get out of college, get into the workforce and were like, “This is not ...”
KS: “I don’t want to work at Walmart.”
RR: Exactly. And they want to retool. So, that’s the majority, but it’s a huge spread from GED to PhD, and that’s kind of powerful if you are the person who didn’t get your high school diploma, but got the GED and you’re keeping up as well as the person with a PhD. That is incredibly empowering.
KS: And you don’t charge at all. Then who pays for this?
RR: Right now, it’s grant-driven.
KS: Grant-driven, and not by the city, but the city’s pushing it to get diversifying the economy ...
RR: Correct. That’s correct.
KS: ... to try to do that. And that’s a big push here.
RR: Yeah. And it’s not necessarily about tech in particular. It’s about these skills applying to any industry.
KS: Any industry.
KS: Some of which is coal, correct?
RR: Not in Louisville.
KS: Not in Louisville, right. But coal is a highly technical industry.
RR: I mean, that’s part of why the ... I guess the traction is pretty comparable, but the number of jobs are down.
KS: Right. Exactly. And are probably not going back up. Although, they seem to hope that here. Ankur, can we talk about that a little bit, because what’s really interesting is that a lot of people ... One of the people who is working for the State of West Virginia, at least it’s the same story, was that they’re focused on coal. It’s a one-industry series of states. Although, Kentucky certainly has other, bourbon and horses and everything else, but a lot of coal going on. Leanne’s laughing because she drank so much. But it’s a one industry and they were talking about they want to turn from coal to corn flakes. Like, anything they can do with coal, but it has to change. Is it hard to find employees here? Because that would be your biggest challenge, correct?
KS: Qualified employees and not just contract with someone in Romania or India or wherever.
KS: Where they’re already well down that path.
AG: Sure. Exactly, right. We identified talent here. We said, “Hey, some of the universities were teaching kids curriculum that we didn’t really need for the kind of work we’re doing.” We’re working on the bleeding- and cutting-edge tech and Android, iOS, etc.
One of the biggest things as we interviewed people is that we found that — like Crystal mentioned — academic coding was not real-world coding. They didn’t know how to work in a true software development life cycle. So, all these lessons we learned from people who didn’t make it, we kind of put that into our curriculum.
And I think that when you talk about coal being a one-economy area in eastern Kentucky, it’s not just the coal mine that’s affected. It’s all the various industries that are around it. It’s a ripple effect, so all of them have declined. We’ve seen people who had their own companies at one point supplying ...
KS: Supplying coal miners. I think it’s one coal miner represents eight jobs, or something like that.
AG: Right. And we know that if we create a tech job, it creates ... What’s the ripple effect, Leanne? It’s five ...
LP: Five, but they were saying that eight was based on the taxpayer’s attrition.
KS: Taxpayer’s attrition.
LP: So, actually it’s the same. It’s about five.
AG: But it’s more, right? I think that’s what inspired us to go and tackle this problem. Being from Kentucky and a small town, I knew there were smart people everywhere. I said, “What if they just need the opportunity and the guidance that I was lucky enough to have when I was younger?” Like Rider said, he wished that was there when he was 19. There’s tons of stuff that I wished I knew when I was 19 as well. But I said, if I can help someone shave three to five years off their journey by giving a little guidance, that’s going to be really rewarding. That’s what we inspire our whole team to go do this.
So, what we learned about the people that we selected was that they’re very hard-working, very driven. In Crystal’s case, she said it was hard. She said there was probably times when she felt that she wasn’t going to pass the hump, but she did. That’s a testament to the people in our program, like Crystal, that said, “We’re not going to give up on this.” It was really inspiring to see how that helped make a little mark in a place that didn’t see a lot of tech historically.
KS: Well, great. When we get back, we’re going to talk more about that, the perception of what a techie is, and some of the discussions I’ve had with people around being stupid, not being able to do it. The “hillbilly” mentality, you know what I mean? “This is not who we are,” which is really interesting. And that’s been a big issue in this election and everything else. When we get back, we’ll talk about that and more.
We’re here with a really great panel talking about America’s Hiring, a Tech Tour that is taking place, to try to bring more tech jobs across the country, which has been a big issue.
Today’s show is brought to you by Audible, which has an unmatched selection of audiobooks, original audio shows, news, comedy and more. And you can listen to all of that, wherever you are, even in Kentucky, thanks to Audible’s free apps for iOS, Android and Amazon devices. I’ve been listening to “Shattered” about the Hillary Clinton campaign while I’ve been driving. It’s on a streaming or rental service with Audible. You own your books. Everyone give me one book I should listen to next. Leanne, why don’t you start? Very quickly.
LP: “Handmaid’s Tale.”
KS: Very disturbing tale. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Crystal?
CA: “The History of Everything.”
KS: Oh, great. That’s a great one.
RR: “Norse Gods,” Neil Gaiman.
KS: Oh yeah. That’s a very popular one. “Norse Gods.” And?
AG: And “The 10% Entrepreneur.”
AG: It’s a fantastic book. It’s about becoming an entrepreneur in your spare time.
KS: Your spare time?
AG: It’s a little bit more than that, but it’s really, really well-written.
I am here in Louisville, Kentucky, drinking heavily. No, I’m not. I don’t drink. And we’re doing a first-ever round table on Recode Decode from here, talking about bringing jobs to different parts of the country. In this case, West Virginia and Kentucky. A lot has been written about trying to revive coal jobs here and other jobs. But this is an effort to try to bring Silicon Valley here.
Let’s talk a little bit about that, Crystal, first. The idea is that all around the country there’s, “We’re gonna make Silicon this.” It’s been going on for years, but things are changing in tech where you can work remotely, where you don’t have to create these analog hubs that are competing. Can you talk about sort of the ideas of how people have of themselves here? You know, a lot of people in your class, people dropped out. Do you have to think of yourself as a tech hub in order to be that?
CA: I don’t think so. You don’t have to, because where we are at, a lot of people, like I said, they don’t really know a whole lot of tech. Like we talked about yesterday, when we met in the Paintsville office was, you can love art, but you can still go into tech. You can work in design or UX and UI, and things like that. I think a lot of people don’t realize that they have these passions for this other stuff that you can translate into tech and that can essentially transform these small towns that are dying because of the coal’s decline into booming places where people can live and thrive and can let their families grow up there.
KS: They want to stay there? Someone was saying they want to stay in the mountains. They like it here and then have no choice but to leave.
CA: Right. That’s what my husband did. He got a Bachelor’s degree in CIT and he said, “I can’t do anything with this in Pikeville. I’ve got to move to Louisville.” That’s where we met, but now that he’s been unemployed for a while, we had to go back. That’s the biggest thing we’re seeing is that he’s been unemployed for almost two years. We’ve been back in Pikeville for a year and a half now. He still can’t find a job there. There’s just nothing there.
It makes me sad to see all these people — they’re so smart — holding on to this idea that coal is going to come back and it’s going to make things so much better for everybody, when the fact is, it’s a finite resource and we’ve got to find a way to move away from it. And doing stuff like the TEKY program in these areas is the best way to get people to realize that, “Maybe you don’t think you can do tech. Maybe you can’t, but you don’t know until you try. If we can get this to work, then look at what we can do for your cities.”
KS: Right. Right. Exactly. So, when you’re talking about ... You’re from Kentucky, Ankur, and Leanne you’ve traveled all around the country. How do you change perceptions, Leanne? How do you get people to shift from what they imagine? Because they have a version of techie: Mark Zuckerberg, essentially.
LP: Yeah. They think a white guy in a hoodie. Honestly, that’s the mindset in San Francisco still, right?
LP: It doesn’t matter where you live. That is what you imagine when you think of a technical person. I mean, one of the things we’re really trying to do is around visibility. So, hometown heroes. If so many people ... We had an event, our stop in San Francisco, a couple of weeks ago, and we asked people where they are from. And it was all across America. We said, “Come on tour with us. Come back to your hometown. Let’s raise you up. Let’s tell your story. And then people in your hometown will see you, see what you look like.” These are women and people of color that have jobs at Google and Twilio and Pinterest. That’s part of it, as sort of making visible what is invisible, in some of the markets.
It’s also what you are talking about. It’s not just this backend technical job. It’s building something beautiful. So many times people think it’s a Facebook app, but we use technology to solve the world’s most challenging problems. I think for a lot of people it’s just connecting those dots, that you don’t have to do something like build an app so you can talk to your friends more, so you can date. You can build something around art or social justice.
KS: So, you go to 10 cities. What other cities have you gone to?
LP: We’ve been to Cleveland, Baltimore, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle.
KS: And where else are you going?
LP: Everywhere. If there are cities that you want that are not on our list, we will go. So, we’re getting 50 ... I think it’s actually up to 54.
KS: Do they have anything in common? Like, this concept of jobs or where the future ...
KS: For people to understand what’s going to happen ... not just in code, but everywhere else. The auto industry, for example.
LP: Every city has its own individual issues and things and opportunities, right? Some cities are more known for something versus the other, but when we come into places, I think, one of the things is there is a true pride of where people live. And they’re really concerned that we’re coming in and taking jobs away. So, that ends up being a big part of the conversation. We’re actually really wanting to do the opposite. Obviously, we want people to have jobs and if there are only jobs in another city, then that’s really important. But this is the longing, right? So, how do we get companies of all kinds, because everything is tech now, to think about opening offices in other cities besides San Francisco, New York or Boston? Or thinking about working remotely, right?
One of the companies that came with us this trip is from Automattic.
LP: Wordpress, which a third of the internet lives on Wordpress. And they’re fully remote, so they don’t actually have a hub.
KS: They never did.
LP: They never did. Six hundred employees now, so a third of the internet is connected to 600 employees who work all across the world. They’re really interested in coming here because they want to hire more remote workers all over the country. So, there are other models that doesn’t have to be, we have one office in one place. But we really have to push the funding. I mean, the reality is, for a lot of scalable countries, you have to raise money to grow and pretty much all of the funding comes from New York, San Francisco or Boston. So, we really have to not only increase the entrepreneurial mindset in some of these places, but push our investors and our leaders to invest more across the country.
KS: So, that’s interesting. Ankur and Rider, why don’t you start first. When I was in ... At Bitsource, I think, Rusty who runs it was saying, “We don’t want companies to come and to save us.” He was quite adamant about this idea. And also, they don’t want to be told, lectured at by tech companies, which tech people love to do.
At the same time, he said, “We don’t need to be hired because we’re hillbillies.” It’s not a feel-good kind of thing. Can you talk about the idea of attracting companies in here? Everyone — at least the president — thinks that a manufacturing plant will solve all problems. They’re not going to have manufacturing plants in these places. It’s cheaper to manufacture elsewhere. What do you want from tech companies, most of which are located or headquartered in San Francisco or the San Francisco Bay Area or New York or Austin?
RR: Yeah. Definitely agree with the not wanting someone to save us. I mean, Silicon Valley is a result of a lot of unique factors that came together, so everyone’s going to have their own sort of recipe for success. I think it’s just you get out and see the creative capacity available throughout the entire country. Yes, there is amazing things happening in the hubs, like Leanne said. But you’re missing a lot. San Francisco is only going to get so big. It’s work. There’s only so much growth there and there’s so many people who are not in those hubs that would just be open to other places.
KS: As someone who’s trying to push the idea of people getting more tech jobs here, what would you like from them? Just opening areas or is that their responsibility to do that?
RR: I mean, their responsibility is to shareholders and all that stuff, but I think there’s distinct things that they can benefit from by not being so insular and looking more broadly and recognizing the talents. Again, how many of these companies are populated by people from all around the country? It’s not just native New Yorkers, San Franciscans or Bostonians. It’s all of America that just happened to go there.
KS: You know, I always think that the country now is split — not in the way you think it is. It’s that there’s a group of people at the very top who believe in the future, benefiting the future. The very top of the top, they’re really benefiting billions and billions and billions of dollars. Then there’s a group at the bottom who are not at all, who are losing and will not be onboard, are not onboard or it’s very hard to get them onboard. And then, there’s a whole group, most people are in the middle, where tech is threatening jobs, their current jobs, from driving to warehouses to doctors to lawyers, and increasingly so, who know tech is important and want to be part of this, but are fearful of what’s happening.
RR: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. But I guess from my perspective, was it a 120 years ago where 92 percent of the population worked in agriculture?
RR: I mean, there’s going to be upheaval and it’s going to be terrible for the people who are run over, but we also live a lot longer thanks to some of the things that happened. For most of human history, the average life expectancy was 25-30 years.
RR: Right? So, it’s how do you manage and bring people along, I guess is going to be the biggest threat and that’s why things like TEKY and Code Louisville are important things is to help bring people along because tech at the end of the day is a tool.
KS: Right. So, this sort of the attitude because I think that’s something that relates to ... Again, we don’t want to be lectured to. And then, people have talked about the arrogance. And believe me, they’ve got that. Like, they should export that as a product. It is that idea.
At the same time, they are enormously successful. Why shouldn’t they say, “You should do it our way. We know how to do it”? Can you talk about that idea, because I think it’s created a lot of division in the country, the idea of an elite, the coastal elite. I was making a joke that I was here, and of course, I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane. It was kind of nice to meet the real people and stuff. And I was trying to make a joke about these issues, but they’ve become rather serious, the idea that some are going to make it and some just are not.
AG: You’re absolutely right. I think what we’ve learned is it’s naïve to think that one company is going to solve this problem in eastern Kentucky or anywhere, any region. We definitely don’t think we’re that. We were invited to come, participate in the ecosystem, and that’s what you have to be the end game. You have to have multiple companies, multiple tracks, multiple opportunities. Otherwise, it won’t sustain. I firmly believe that and I think you’ve seen plenty of examples.
For us, a lot of our students, after their success, they were featured on “The Daily Show,” in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. When people read those, we had companies calling us and saying, “Hey ...” and they weren’t trying to be charitable or they weren’t trying to give handouts. They were like, “We have a shortage of a 100 people in this department.”
KS: Yeah. They’re not charitable people.
KS: That’s what I know.
AG: And that’s why I think that we’re not ... None of us have ever said we are looking for handouts. We are looking for work. And I think that’s the ... To be honest, from where I sit — and I talk with CEOs and CIOs constantly — they’re saying, “If you have the capacity and the capability, we’re very interested in having you help us solve our ...”
KS: But would they prefer to hire in the U.S.?
KS: I think some of them do say that, “If we can’t ...” I was talking to people at Apple, and they’re doing this advanced technology funding to vendors, and they’re desperate to have vendors here in this country versus anywhere else. But they’ll get it anywhere else.
AG: At the end of the day, we’re businesses. I’m a for-profit company. It’s a math problem, so when you look at using offshore resources at a low-cost and a metro, if you will, San Francisco, New York resource at a much higher rate, when you talk about billing capacity and capabilities in place like Kentucky, the delta shrinks. So, we’re having companies, when we give our rate card and when we give our project bids, they’re like, “Oh, that’s actually pretty competitive.”
AG: It’s reasonable, and the delta doesn’t really matter to them, so we’re seeing people place a premium on the fact that they can fly one flight and come to Kentucky or they can come visit saves time or some reason that they’ve had failure in the past, that they’re willing to at least take a chance and do that.
We’ve already delivered several projects. We have got 17 other companies that have reached out to us and we’re already discussing how we’re going to staff with them and work on projects with them, so I don’t see this as some sort of lecturing. The results speak for themselves. You have to be able to deliver the quality work, otherwise this is just going to be a novel thing. I’m here to tell the rest of the country that this is not a novel thing. There’s actually capacity and capability out here. They should look at it very closely.
KS: So, Leanne, you talked about the here-sourcing. That’s the word you’re using, right? Here-sourcing.
LP: I think here-sourcing ...
KS: Explain the word.
LP: Re-shoring, on-shoring.
RR: Rural insourcing.
LP: Bringing back jobs to America.
KS: Oh my God.
RR: All sorts of ...
KS: It’s better than “pivot.” I like here-sourcing the best.
LP: You like here-sourcing?
KS: So, explain that to the people.
LP: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty simple. Instead of looking to India or Africa, looking in your own backyard, right? There’s so many talented people and can we hire technical people to do the same jobs? And there are some advantages that just are very striking. Time difference, flights. I mean, I’ve talked to entrepreneurs where having a direct flight versus one stop is the difference in the city they choose.
And we’re seeing companies look at different cities for the skills they need, right? Actually, a lot of tech companies right now, I’ve heard recently, need sales positions. Some in technical sales, but just sales in general. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of jobs. They’re like, “Leanne, I need coders, but also, I need sales.” And they tend to be the right man just based on what the industry has hired, so they actually do studies. They spend a lot of money figuring out, “Should I go to Louisville? Should I go to Cleveland? Where do they have these skills and I can hire hundreds of people?” And that’s where they decide to open offices.
And the other thing we’ve been talking about is sort of coding bootcamps, right? We were talking about going to school for a few months, a lot of them don’t have apprenticeships. And tech companies, they want to hire from them, but they’re struggling. A lot of people that are in these jobs, they have computer science degrees. So, there is bias around having that type of skill set. That’s the other part we’re trying to figure out. There’s a lot of graduates. I mean, that bootcamp just went out of business. Iron Yard followed that.
What do we do with all these recent grads who happen to be more diverse? Fifty percent of bootcamp students are women, generally. People of color about the same, because it’s more accessible. So, there’s a lot more diversity in this new generation of technical talent. How do we get them that apprenticeship, that first job? Because a lot of companies don’t hire them unless they’ve had that on-job experience.
KS: Sure. So, Crystal, talk about what you do? How does your job work? Do you go into the office?
CA: So, I do work remote one day a week. I like spending time with my kids. I get to do that, but I do. I drive from Pikeville to Paintsville every day. Well, four days a week. It’s a great setting to be in, but there’s just sometimes, I got to get stuff done around the house and what’s great is I can get stuff done at home during the day, and I can code at night, and I can do my work at night. Having that flexibility has been invaluable to my family. We’re talking about how there’s this shift with people hiring and things like that. It always brings to mind that little picture you see sometimes. It’s like, what if the cure to cancer is in the mind of somebody who can’t afford an education?
KS: Right. The Homer Hickam idea.
CA: Right. And that’s the thing. We’re seeing that a lot of us didn’t have education. I did, but a lot of people that I work with now didn’t have that education. And we got that chance. We need more people to take chances like that, to say, “Okay. I know you didn’t get a traditional degree.”
KS: That’s the computer science degree, right?
CA: Right. And because when we started our apprenticeship, we didn’t know if we were going to be hired, so a lot of us started looking at jobs. And the biggest thing that we’re seeing was recruiters will call us. As soon as we say, “We’ve been in a bootcamp, but I don’t have this certain degree,” they’re like, “We have to have somebody who has a Bachelor’s degree.” To know how different that academic programming is to real-world programming, it hurt because I’m like ...
KS: “But I know how to do it.”
CA: Yeah. I know how to do this. I understand that it’s hard to take that chance, but we have to have people to take that chance for us.
KS: Right. Because people come from diverse backgrounds.
KS: But yours was geographical. What about being a woman in this sector?
CA: Well, I’ve always been that girl who had more in common with boys. I always played video games and I love taking things apart and putting them back together. I like knowing how things worked. My original plan, when I got out of high school, was to go into astrophysics.
CA: I wanted to be an astronaut. That was what I wanted to do. Obviously, life happens. But I did know that I loved computers, so when my daughter was a year old, I decided to go get my Associate’s. I actually finished two Associate’s degrees in three years. So, I have one in Information Security and the other one is in Network Administration. There was a lot of those classes where I was the only female, and I outperformed every guy in there.
One of the gentleman who went through TEKY, there at the end, he was like, “You always acted like you were trying to prove something to somebody.” I was like, “I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody. I genuinely love what I do. I was trying to prove to myself that I could do this.” And I think that’s the big ... The big thing for women is they don’t think that they can do these things because it’s not traditional. Sometimes it’s hard to be like, “Oh, I know, I’m going to go into a male-dominated career.” That’s a little intimidating.
But I need more female friends. My best friend now, we come through this program together. She is doing UI, UX design. She’s actually doing information architecture. But I would love to have more friends, more females, more diversity in my group of people who enjoy the same things I do. It’s so hard to get away from, “This is just a guy’s thing.”
KS: Yeah. Even here in Kentucky. Well, hello. By the way, that guy was negging you. You just neg right back. Just so you know. Just FYI.
All right. When we get back, we’re going to talk about entrepreneurship. We’re going to finish by talking about how you get our population more entrepreneurial, because I think it’s the critical part of the whole equation in education and getting people into the mindset that they can do things. Just like you’re saying, there could be someone who could solve cancer in the middle of nowhere and we’re not accessing them.
We’re here talking about the future of jobs. I’m in Louisville, Kentucky and I’m talking with a panel of people who are involved in trying to bring tech jobs across the nation.
Crystal, we were just talking about entrepreneurship. You had said you were that girl who took things apart. I want each of you, actually, to talk about that. You are all entrepreneurial. What motivated you and how do you think we should get people more entrepreneurial? Because I think that’s really the key because jobs are changing and how they’re structured. It’s not a top-down world. You really have to think very fast on your feet anymore.
CA: I think that’s the thing, though, is things are changing so fast, it’s really hard for a lot of people to adapt. We’ve had this set way of how you’re supposed to get a job, what you’re supposed to do. But that’s changing so quickly that people don’t know how to handle that. So, we’ve got to do these training programs and then get companies to see, like, just because you didn’t go to school and you didn’t do this traditionally, doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a great employee.
KS: Right. So, employers have to change that mindset around these people. What about getting people in an entrepreneurial mode? Because a lot of people, again, “I can’t do that,” or, “I don’t know how to do that.” What do you think is critical to developing those skills? Because clearly you’re born entrepreneurial. You seem to be.
CA: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with really just wanting, having that drive. That’s one thing for me is, I’ve always had this drive. I don’t like being told no or I can’t do something. And that’s going to just make me work even harder.
KS: Yeah. Those check check on entrepreneurs. But how do you get people ...
CA: So, I think that’s something that’s really learned, though. If you don’t come from a family that pushes you to do what you want, what you believe in, you’re not going to have that entrepreneurial type of mindset because you’re always going to be like, “Well, this is what they wanted me to do, so this is what I’m going to do.” You have to take, want to take risk. You have to want to better yourself and better other people to be able to change that.
KS: Right. Rider, can you teach it? Is it teachable?
RR: Yeah. I mean, the process is absolutely teachable. There’s some elements of the entrepreneurial mindset that you have to have a little bit, but I’m not convinced that everyone is an entrepreneur. There’s an entire universe of people who could be, so a lot of it is getting out there and showing what’s possible. Changing or influencing local culture to say, “Hey, this is not just a thing that happens in big cities. This is a thing that happens, entrepreneurship happens because of entrepreneurs.”
RR: Right? So, it’s just encouraging, the notion of encouraging creative confidence. That same sort of idea is encouraging the notion of entrepreneurial ...
KS: And then entrepreneurs are different. I did an interview with two guys that wrote a book about there’s four to five different types of entrepreneurs or mentalities and managers. That people have a vision of one single kind that looks, again, like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs or something like that.
RR: Yeah. And you have an entire universe. Well, the four broad personalities and different shades in between and different combinations of things. Some of it, I mean, just some of the mechanics of it are a little daunting. If there’s a way that, as a community, you can bring down some of that friction and make it more accessible, in time it becomes a fly wheel.
KS: What’s your biggest problem here at Louisville in changing those attitudes? Is it the regulators? Is it the government? Where is it, the educational system?
RR: Good question. I think the biggest thing in terms of ... Well, Louisville really took to Code Louisville, right? It’s very much a community-based thing. It’s people coming together to figure this stuff out. It was just, “Here’s a recipe. Let’s go.” So, I think in that respect, everyone took to it. I think in terms of it really spinning up and really growing, I think a few hundred people going through is pretty massive, but I think we can do even more. Some of the companies are just not organized. They’re still there head down, trying to do their thing. They have no capacity to bring on a junior person. And then they wake up one day and say, “Hey, we can only take on people, three or five years of experience.” Guess what? They’re all working, so you have to poach them. So, just being able to transition to that apprenticeship-like model.
I think the next thing is to grow the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s very insular here, so all the entrepreneurs in town pretty much know each other. Now, how great would it be if everyone in town knew about those entrepreneurs as easily as they do ... Or in other cities or here as well as they do the local, the college basketball coaches. That sort of mass socialization of that as an opportunity, entrepreneurship as an opportunity hasn’t quite happened yet. Was it the San Jose Mercury News has got the startups section, right? It’s just normal.
KS: Yeah. Yeah. We like to fetishize our startup founders. It’s taken an ugly turn over at Uber, just so you know, when that happens. Hopefully, we can recover from that. I always rag on Uber, but they deserve it and more.
Ankur, talk about the idea of how you get people elsewhere thinking that way. Because we do. It’s just like the oxygen in Silicon Valley and it’s also the iron triangle of education and VCs who pat these entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurs themselves.
AG: Sure. And I think that there’s always that debate: Is it inherent? Is entrepreneurship inherent and you’re born with it or can it be taught, right? I think it’s both, and there’s different tracks for different people. I know from my own journey, my family came from safe careers, a physician and engineer. They worked in that same field for 35 years. That’s not the case anymore. I had a career path at a large global firm that could have made a great living, but I was missing something, right? I was looking for more ... something, build something, impact more. So, for me, my journey, I’ve had tremendous guidance and mentorship, like I’ve said, and I know where I would’ve ... I can ...
KS: You see the turns.
AG: Yeah. I can model these turns in my life and say, “What if I didn’t meet that person? What if that person didn’t give me that one project? What if that one mentor didn’t have time for that coffee and how it impacted me?” I mean, it could have been a completely different story. And I know that just by putting that sort of nugget in front of some really driven people, like Crystal, I fully expect them to see how a scrappy fast-growing startup works. Maybe they take lessons from that. Maybe in two years they have enough skills to where they have their own idea and start their own company. I mean, that’s the multiplier effect of what we’re trying to do.
It’s funny. Elon Musk has his massive master plan that he put out 10 years ago, which is, like, six lines. I did something similar where I said, “First thing, we got to improve capabilities in Kentucky. Second, we got to get industry validation. Third, we got to scale it.” That’s what we’re working on. We have a larger mission in mind with what we’re doing. Primarily, the endgame is to create more entrepreneurs, create more skills to be entrepreneurial and provide that guidance.
We have a couple organizations, and local endeavors, one that has been tremendously impactful and given me guidance and some of the other entrepreneurs Rider mentioned. I mean, it’s a strong community of very successful entrepreneurs that have been where we are before. I can tell you there’s times I’ve turned to my mentors at the University of Chicago before them and said, “What do we do?” They said, “Oh. This is no big deal. It’s just par for the course. You’ll be fine.”
KS: Right. So, in Silicon Valley they can turn to 20 people over coffee and quickly figure it out or call someone. Those kinds of networks have got to be built.
AG: That’s right. I mean, yesterday at the Tech Jobs Tour event, I meant it when I said if anyone wants to have coffee with me, ping me, tweet me, DM me. Doesn’t matter, I will do it. I know when I ask people for a few minutes of their time, they always gave it to me. CEOs of Fortune 100s, entrepreneurs who are running billion dollar companies. That’s the first step. You’ve got to be able to go and get that feedback, guidance and mentorship.
KS: Or people who have done it.
AG: That’s right.
KS: We’ve had from education point ... Getting kids thinking they’re entrepreneurs because I don’t think we teach that. There was something about a coloring book of entrepreneurship at Sandy ...
CA: Yeah. Yesterday they said they were going and doing one of the K-12 initiatives in eastern Kentucky to make kids get or to teach kids to be in the mindset of, “I can be an entrepreneur. I can do whatever I want.”
KS: You live there. What do kids think their future ...?
CA: Honestly, I’ve only been there two years, a year and a half, and ...
KS: You have kids in the system, right?
CA: I do. I do. A lot of them, I don’t think they really realize their full potential just because they don’t have the opportunities that a kid in Louisville would have. That’s what I really hope we can bring, though, is those opportunities, so they can see, like, “Oh, look at all this stuff I can do. Oh, I can do it from home. I don’t have to leave my family.”
It’s been really great, even if I’m living with my in-laws, it’s been really great to have my kids around their grandparents. When we lived in Louisville, all of my family had moved off. My mom and brother and sister, they all live in Texas, so we didn’t have any help here. To be able to go back and have that help and to see what that family is like, and know that we could do this for so many other families, that’s what I really wish.
KS: Well, at their very best, small towns are fantastic. At the very worst, they are just awful. You know what I mean, in lots of ways.
AG: One point I also mentioned, as an example of that. People we have tend to taught, the 35 who kind of have gone into a tech job that was not theirs eight months ago, they’re teaching their kids code on weekends and at nights. Like Crystal ... It makes her feel really good when she talks about the flexibility because we want to build business skills, technical skills and life skills.
I mean, I’m happy that she can be flexible and work from home and be with her kids. But at the same time, providing that guidance and demystifying tech for that group of people, they’re running with it now. I mean, they’re saying, “Hey, I know now what I need to teach my kids or guide them to potentially be entrepreneurial or potentially have a career in tech.” So, that’s another positive effect of what we’re doing.
KS: Right. Leanne, how do you teach entrepreneurs? You’ve been seeing them all over the so far 10 cities.
LP: So much of what we think we can do is based on our experience and our culture and what we see around us. I grew up and I come from a military family. My dad was a teacher. Everyone thought I was going to be a teacher, even though I was doing things like having bike-share companies in my backyard when I was a kid.
KS: Leanne, you were running the show.
LP: I was running shit.
KS: Where was this? Whatever army base you were on, you had the lemonade consortium.
LP: I definitely had one of those businesses. I would go to the candy store.
KS: You probably franchised it. I can see that.
LP: It’s actually kind of true. And no one was pushing me towards that. “You’re gonna be a coach, you’re gonna be a great basketball coach.” I mean, they didn’t know I was gay at the time, so it was really ... They probably regret saying a lot of those things now. But fast-forward and I don’t even think I met anyone close in my life that had their own business until I was in grad school. And it wasn’t actually until my brother passed away that it sort of reframed the way that I thought about risk-taking.
So many people think starting your own business is so risky. And it is. There’s ton of privilege, you have to have the resources, you have to raise the money to make that happen. But it’s actually, I think, one of the safest jobs. You create your own world and it takes a couple of years, but I see so many people, they’re at the whim of their boss, their company. They can get fired, things change. But it’s that culture of risk-taking that you have to instill by showing the upside of what’s possible, but it’s so much in who you meet and your community and your network.
Even the last couple of years spending more time in the east coast, I met so many more people that have opened so many doors. I can literally go back to moments where if I wouldn’t have met this person, my life would be totally different. What we’re really trying to share is that the power of events at community, especially for women ...
KS: Local communities.
LP: People, they don’t see that meeting one person ... They’re either so focused on doing the work and having the skill, and that’s important. But it’s more than that. You have to have the relationship.
KS: No, it’s critical. I had someone come up to me the other day and said, “You had this coffee and then it changed my life.” And I was like, “I don’t remember you at all, but you’re welcome.”
I want to finish up talking a little bit about some tips that we can give to entrepreneurs, because I think one of the hardest things in somewhere like this — it’s a lot easier, again, in somewhere like Silicon Valley or New York or Austin — is the idea that you can do that. When you’ve been so beaten down by an economy that just seems so hopeless, you turn obviously ... Opiates is a big problem here in Kentucky and elsewhere. You just turn to hopelessness. It sort of cycles in and of itself and then it becomes almost impossible to pull people out because they don’t think of their lives that way.
Each of you, let’s start ... Go around, we’ll start with you, Ankur. And this is Ankur Gopal and your company is called Interapt. How many people do you employ?
AG: We have about 38 right now.
KS: 38 now. Okay. A tip, thing that you did right and wrong. Very quickly.
AG: Oh gosh. We only have an hour?
KS: No. No. You have four seconds.
AG: Yeah. Right and wrong. I think one of the things that I did was that I always sought guidance. I never was satisfied. I always asked people who knew more than I and I followed up that advice. That’s a really strong trait of mine. I take feedback and guidance well, and I measure it.
What I did wrong: A lot of entrepreneurs fall in this track is that they look up to someone as a mentor, but really that mentor isn’t delivering to them. So, I would suggest to — and I’ve had that happen a few times that I no longer do — my advice is to, any man who mentors you, hold their feet to the fire too — whether it’s an investor, whether it’s a mentor — because their responsibility is to give you proper guidance, feedback and continual feedback that will help you evolve. So, don’t get caught in that rut by someone who’s apathetic and not giving you the advice and mentorship you need.
KS: Okay. Rider Rodriguez from Code Louisville. Louisville, right?
KS: Louisville. My son’s name is Louis. I call him Louis now.
RR: It’s a team game. So, those listening to the podcast, your last podcast, that you referenced. I’ve learned my strengths and my weaknesses, and I try to get a team around me that complemented ... not so much complemented me, but that we complemented each other because it is a team thing. So much of the notion of the entrepreneur is kind of the solo hero entrepreneur, but it really happens because of the team together. So, it’s hard to be self-aware, but try and cultivate self-awareness and find people that you can do great things with.
KS: And mistake?
RR: Well, I don’t know. I got here because of mistakes. Really the only big mistake is to stop. You just have to keep going. You either fail fast or whatever, but it’s just, okay. Learn that thing. Keep going. Just no matter what. Step after step after step. Keep going. You’re going to make mistakes.
KS: And that feeling of learning that failures are all right is harder here because they’ve had so much more failure recently.
KS: I think that’s the hardest part. Team, I think, is absolutely critical. You know that expression, there’s no me in team? But there actually is. Actually, it’s right there. Two of those letters are sitting right there. That’s funny, Leanne. I know it is.
All right, Leanne, and then we’ll finish up with Crystal. This is Leanne Pittsford who’s running the Tech Tour going around the country talking to people about tech jobs.
LP: I think running mini experiments. I think some of the things ... even the things that I assumed would be true, testing those with mini experiments in a short way, so you can ... I mean, it’s cliché but it’s true: So you can fail fast and figure out what’s working. I think doing a lot of those early. Now I really know what makes a great event. I can do that in my sleep and it’s because I ran a series of experiments and have seen in different communities what really works.
I think some of the mistakes are around, for me personally, just slow creep. I love to do everything all the time and I love to say yes to everything and try to make it work. Sometimes you do have to stay true to your focus and the problem you’re trying to solve.
KS: All right. And mistake? That’s your mistake, so okay.
LP: Oh yeah.
KS: All right. Crystal? You work at Interapt now. You’re living in Pikesville, Kentucky. What do you think the key lessons are to try the changes? And everything is on your shoulders, just so you know.
CA: Oh goodness. You know what? I’m not sure. I know that we’ve ... There’s so much that has to happen. In eastern Kentucky, there’s so much that needs to happen for the people there to come together and say, “Okay. We know that we don’t have a degree right now, but we need to change.” The biggest success for TEKY was we’ve got all these people now that have proof that we’ve got the knowledge there. So, hopefully, that kind of takes off. I guess for me that’s really important.
My kids are in elementary school right now and we talked yesterday. I want to do robotics. Like a robotics or teach coding. And I’ve reached out to the principal to see what can I do to do this because I know they don’t have that there. I want them to. When my son sits beside me when I’m coding, I want the joy that I see on his face and the questions that he asks me, I want those from other kids because I know he can’t be the only one with those questions and that hunger to know these things. And I think we’re going to need to start there when they’re young. That’s just not what they have right now and I’m more than willing to put my extra time in to teach these kids that because even though I’m not from Pikeville, I have a passion for that area because I see what these people can do and what things kind of that we can bring.
KS: So, are you hopeful?
CA: Yes, actually. I am. I think now that we’ve seen the success of TEKY and things like that, people are going to be more willing to say, “Okay. So, maybe we do need to change. Maybe we’re not thinking about this right.” And that’s going to help make things better for everybody. We’re going to be able to realize, just because you work at the hospital or a doctor’s office, it doesn’t mean you don’t need someone to help make that more accessible with tech. Or, hey, maybe you need an app for that to make it more accessible for people who can’t get in and out. It’s a 30-minute drive for me to get to anywhere to go shopping. So, you try to think about those things and solve those problems. I really think that we’ve started that.
KS: Well, fantastic. Thank you so much all of you. This has been a really fascinating discussion here in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s great talking to you all and thank you for joining me on Recode Decode Kentucky edition.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.