At Giant Machines, Employee and Client Development Starts With Education

Making learning accessible is the beginning of a more diverse and innovative future.

Written by Cathleen Draper
Published on Jan. 23, 2023
At Giant Machines, Employee and Client Development Starts With Education
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Learning is the foundation for Giant Machines’ quest to change the tech industry with products that matter and talent that is representative of the people who use that software. 

Giant Machines creates innovative digital solutions that meet their client’s specific challenge. They partner to create web and mobile apps to address problems ranging from healthcare access to climate change. In addition, Giant Machines also is dedicated to creating opportunities for those traditionally not provided opportunities in the industry.

Nouran Aly, head of teaching for Giant Machines’ Learn department, says many companies talk about diversity initiatives that are failing because there simply aren’t enough skilled members of underrepresented groups.

To Aly, the pipeline problem solution is obvious, and it goes beyond investing money. 

“Giant Machines invests not just money, but time and resources,” Aly said. “That is meaningful and shows they genuinely care.”

For more than eight years, Giant Machines’ core business centered on building and scaling solutions for clients. But to invest in the future of the industry — and the world — Giant Machines has expanded its departments to include a Learn and Innovate team that complement that work.

The Learn team educates future tech talent and existing tech talent through its pre-career and skills training services. The Innovate team identifies, develops and tests digital opportunities to help clients invest in impactful solutions with confidence. And the Build team works with both departments to create software for customers and to educate their clients’ engineering teams about how to operate and scale those products. 

 

“Giant Machines invests not just money, but time and resources. That is meaningful and shows they genuinely care.”

 

On top of it all, Giant Machines practices what it preaches. Its team is diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation and background, with many employees switching fields to work in tech, thus providing clients with myriad perspectives. The culture that supports their education-driven innovation is one simultaneously rooted in learning. There are consistent corporate social responsibility initiatives, with volunteer time off for all staff and education stipends.

“It is an out-of-the-box thinking company,” Aly said. “Different departments like Build, Innovate and Learn are all doing hard work that matters.”

 

What Giant Machines Does

Giant Machines leverages talent to create leading digital solutions. Their services span innovation, product design, engineering and education. Giant Machines’ services focus on research-backed strategy, on-shore full stack engineers and best-in-class learning experiences that emphasize inclusion.

 

 

Digging in

Aly took an interest in computer science during her days as a biology teacher. A computer science teacher at her school invited her to attend a coding event. Aly said yes, and shortly thereafter, she was hooked.

She dug in and discovered the Summer Teaching Fellowship at Upperline Code, which was acquired by Giant Machines in June of 2022. 

Founded by Giant Machines Chief Learning Officer Danny Fenjves, the company is now Giant Machines’ Learn department, and continues its initial mission (and then some): making computer science accessible to more students from diverse backgrounds, particularly students of color — both demographics that are less likely to attend a school that offers computer science courses. 

 

“It’s a privilege for them to host these students and to bring their perspectives, lives and experiences into the company. They’re the ones who make the company richer.”

 

The fellowship is a six-month, paid program for professionals interested in improving their computer science teaching skills. Fellows spend time building their technical foundation, then attend a one-week immersive CS teaching bootcamp and finally put their skills to practice by co-teaching summer courses with support and guidance from Giant Machine’s instructional coaches.

Aly completed the fellowship in 2020. After seeing how impactful it was, she wanted to be a part of the organization. Three months later, there was an opening. This January 11, she celebrated her two year anniversary.

 

Tech That Matters to Nouran

“I think about the students I teach. It could be a simple algorithm that helps them match people based on their Spotify playlists, or it could be as wide and as deep as building AI or programs that help with climate change. As long as an individual invests time, and it’s meaningful to them, brings them joy or helps solve a problem that they’re passionate about, that to me is tech that matters.”

 

The students who learn from the fellows often go on to intern at companies that Giant Machines partners with. Not only do they have the skills these organizations are looking for in tech talent, but they also bring perspectives that are currently much needed.

Aly hopes the Learn team opens clients’ eyes to understanding that the students often have more to offer the company than vice versa. 

“Oftentimes it feels like companies say, ‘We’re doing this work. We’re opening our industry to students who don’t traditionally have access to tech,’” Aly said. “But it’s a privilege for them to host these students and to bring their perspectives, lives and experiences into the company. They’re the ones who make the company richer.”

 

Manny Rodriguez and Nouran Aly participate in a team building event
Giant Machines

 

Building is like making bread

The Build team at Giant Machines is responsible for creating the products that meet clients’ needs. But the work of the Learn team doesn’t end with the fellowship. 

The pre-careers section of the Learn team creates and facilitates programs for high school and college students who are underrepresented in the tech world, with the goal of preparing them to enter the world of software development and computer science. The skills training section of the Learn team designs and delivers a curriculum that allows clients to operate and scale similar solutions on their own or in collaboration with the Build team at Giant Machines. In both cases, the curriculum must be specific to client needs while malleable, as participants of all ages bring their own identities to the table.

Curriculum and Instruction Specialist Manny Rodriguez compares customized products to making bread. When Giant Machines builds a solution for a client, the ingredients start the same. But the ratios change.

Experience tells Rodriguez and his team what can and cannot be changed. They also make sure each product stays true to one of Giant Machines’ core values: education.

“It’s a matter of balancing structure with empathy and flexibility so that participants can best learn and connect to the material,” Rodriguez said.

 

Tech That Matters to Manny

“Tech that makes life easier to navigate or comprehend in some way. It's tech that's accessible, ubiquitous and ultimately allows for more innovation. That is the best tech.”

 

And as the industry changes and new innovations emerge, internal and external teams want to learn about those as well. That’s where flexibility really comes in to play for Rodriguez.

“We try to incorporate courses and make those technologies available to individuals of all backgrounds and to our clients,” Rodriguez said.

 

Six people sit around a sign that says Afro Tech
Giant Machines

 

A new team with a unique approach

Though education is at the center of Gayatri Mohan’s work, it shows up differently in her department. As a lead design strategist on the Innovate team, which Giant Machines formed last year, the education piece is internally focused.

The Innovate team deeply researches problem spaces and the changing landscape of clients’ industries to help them better understand how the solutions that Giant Machines builds for them can improve their business and the future.

The Innovate team is small with a diverse skill set that ranges from strategic foresight to business model innovation to user-centered research. Tying their backgrounds and knowledge to impactful solutions and strategy for clients requires constant curiosity, research and learning.

“We need to learn how to bring our skills and techniques together in a meaningful way to create our unique approach to innovation and strategy,” Mohan said.

“You can’t keep rinsing and repeating known frameworks and processes and tools,” she continued. “There’s quite an appetite on our team to learn new skills.”

 

Tech That Matters to Gayatri

“Sometimes, tech that matters is about making existing solutions more accessible, usable, efficient or effective, and connecting the right people to the right solutions. Solutions that address real and urgent problems that we’re seeing in the world today, whether that’s climate change and accelerating our transition to a cleaner economy, or improving access to education, healthcare and other resources. It’s not always new tech for the sake of it.”

 

Mohan has used the company’s education stipend to take two courses to refresh and build upon what she knows. That is just part of the team’s practice, she said.

To further avoid rinsing and repeating, the Innovate team focuses on outcomes, not processes. That is especially important given that Mohan’s colleagues come to the table with different tools, techniques and processes they’ve learned in previous roles. 

 

“We need to learn how to bring our skills and techniques together in a meaningful way to create our unique approach to innovation and strategy.”

 

It’s in that focus where diverse perspectives and a desire to learn from one another matter most.

Mohan recently hosted a public talk on foresight as a strategic tool, and she and the audience completed an exercise to show how optimistic or pessimistic each person is about the future, and how much agency they believe they have in shaping it. 

“With just that question, completely diverse perspectives emerged,” Mohan said. “Imagine how that’s amplified when you bring in these perspectives to envision different futures or new solutions to existing problems.”

That’s what her team does. It’s also what they need to do independently and in their partnerships with the Build and Learn teams to create tech that matters.

Because at the end of the day, Mohan, Rodriguez and Aly want to meet client objectives while building a better, more inclusive future in tech.

“We all have a sense of ownership in doing that for this company and for the world that we work in,” Mohan said.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed company.

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