In our current period of uncertainty and economic and social upheaval, businesses are concerned about the future of work and the well-being of their workforce. How will companies ride out the waves of change and emerge stronger and more relevant? How can employees, both current and prospective, thrive in a new work landscape?
Cognizant, one of the world’s leading professional services companies, is responding thoughtfully to the tech industry’s quickly evolving needs. One element of Cognizant’s workforce strategy is teaming with 2U, Inc. to recruit talent with technology skills.
For several years, Cognizant has recruited candidates from our university partners’ boot camps to fill critical software engineering roles for its clients. The company has also created a specialized program through 2U Enterprise to train and recruit boot camp participants in key markets, with a special emphasis on technical skills needed by its clients.
We recently sat down with Richard Comerford, a digital technology consultant at Cognizant, who oversees a team of several hundred software testers around the globe, to talk about Cognizant’s goals, advice for budding technologists, and why tech roles will continue to be important in the future. Read on to learn more about Cognizant’s relationship with 2U.
How does Cognizant’s relationship with 2U contribute to the company’s business objectives and goals?
As a large Fortune 200 company, Cognizant has a robust hiring and recruiting structure. But it can be difficult to recruit locally for our clients in certain regions. For example, my team primarily serves our insurance clients, so naturally we focus on Hartford, Connecticut, known as “The Insurance Capital of the World” for the vast number of insurance companies based there. A lot of my candidates are, unsurprisingly, from local schools like the University of Connecticut. It’s easier and more cost effective to recruit and deploy a local UConn Coding Boot Camp participant than a candidate from outside of New England.
By working with local schools, we’re finding local talent. Hiring locally is part of Cognizant’s U.S. workforce strategy. The boot camps also help us find people who are really passionate about software development and testing.
There is a lot of talk in the tech industry nowadays about hard skills (i.e., technical know-how) and soft skills (i.e., interpersonal skills). What is Cognizant looking for?
We look for a combination of both. We initially consider the hard skills, particularly for the specific technical skills that our clients require. These are the basic qualifications for any of our postings.
Soft skills are increasingly more important, especially as companies shift from legacy waterfall (linear-phased) software delivery to more modern agile software delivery practices, where teams sit together and collaborate on software development. Interpersonal communication skills are essential for agile development. And with Cognizant’s distributed workforce model, the ability to communicate effectively in a virtual environment is more important than ever.
Our partners’ boot camps employ a hands-on, practical approach to teaching tech skills to learners. What do you think of this method?
I do like the project-based approach, where the students experience hands-on learning by applying their skills to building real products. From that perspective, I think the program is set up well. I believe it is a stronger approach than some of the other schools, where the capstone project may be more theoretical. In boot camp programs, the participants are learning and applying real-world skills by creating real products that they can touch and feel or use.
Given the current economic climate, do you think there is a continued need for tech talent?
Yes, there is still a need for tech talent. Companies are considering how the needs of their customers have changed. The products and services that they offered three months ago now must adapt to their customers’ new needs today. For example, people are driving less, and staying at home. So banking and insurance products are changing through the use of software. There is a need for tech professionals to not only support and maintain those changes, but also to create new systems to adapt to the changing times. So I don’t see a decrease in the demand for tech talent.
How do you see the boot camps benefiting Cognizant long term?
Our clients engage us because they’re looking for sustained tech talent. Other firms are hiring for short-term staff augmentation labor. We’re looking for long-term, strategic relationships. By finding people through boot camps who have a stronger skill set at the get-go, we can then cultivate those connections. This helps differentiate Cognizant from many of our competitors.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a person who is interested in pursuing a tech career? What is one skill you would encourage them to learn?
If you want to get into software development, you should have a real passion for it. The rate of change within the industry is faster than it’s ever been before.
As far as the skills needed, Java and Python are two really good entryways to get into programming.
I would also definitely learn about cloud-based technologies, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. That’s a no-regret move, because everyone is looking to cloud services to improve their business. Understanding that infrastructure and ecosystem will get you through the door that much faster.
Another skill area is artificial intelligence and machine learning. When I interview candidates and tell them I represent insurance clients, they may initially think that the industry is not very exciting. But when you look at the way insurance companies use data and information technology to solve insurance business problems—for example, using drones to assess natural disaster damage or GPS data to geofence a homeowner’s property—it becomes a lot more exciting.
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