Mutual of Omaha finds IT talent in its own backyard

This is a sponsored post by Mutual of Omaha. It was written by Annette Allen, technical solution architect. An underwriting supervisor, a UX designer, a sales compensation analyst, a business systems analyst and a customer service rep walk into a classroom. When they walk out, they’re software developers. It’s not a joke, but a reality…

Photo courtesy of Mutual of Omaha
Photo courtesy of Mutual of Omaha

This is a sponsored post by Mutual of Omaha. It was written by Annette Allen, technical solution architect.

An underwriting supervisor, a UX designer, a sales compensation analyst, a business systems analyst and a customer service rep walk into a classroom. When they walk out, they’re software developers.

It’s not a joke, but a reality for the five members of the first cohort to complete a new IT Talent Development Program at Mutual of Omaha. The program supports current Mutual associates interested in making the switch to a career in tech. 

“Mutual of Omaha is continuously looking for creative ways to invest in its own talent,” said Shonna Dorsey, manager of Mutual’s IT Talent Development team. “It’s not an entirely new idea. In the past, Mutual has offered programs to create pathways into tech for associates. This program builds on the success of those offerings.”

This time, in lieu of in-house instruction, the company is collaborating with Metropolitan Community College (MCC) to send candidates through its Code School. It’s a great fit for Mutual because Metro’s Workforce Innovation Division worked with area employers to define the structure and curriculum of the Code School with a primary goal of preparing students for careers as software developers.

When talking about Mutual’s IT Talent Development Program, MCC Code School Instructor Matt Payne refers to the Nebraska Landscape Analysis prepared by Chapman and Company for the Aksarben Foundation’s Nebraska Tech Collaborative workforce initiative in the fall of 2019. The analysis states that Omaha and Lincoln are behind peer communities and the nation when it comes to IT jobs. It goes on to say that they can succeed, but efforts led by private citizens and corporations will be needed.

“In my opinion, Mutual is one of the corporations that’s leading the way,” Payne said.

Code School is an experience that more than one participant describes as “intense.” In addition to working full time in their current role at Mutual and keeping up with responsibilities outside of work, participants spend 20 hours a week in class for nine months. 

“You definitely have to manage your workload and you have to have the drive to succeed,” said Ben Amoussou, formerly a compensation analyst and now a technical specialist on the Information Services Enterprise Business Platform Lab team. “And you have to get over the fear of trying new things.”  

Amoussou describes himself as “passionate about technology.” His new manager, Chris Sebranek, who co-coordinates the IT Talent Development Program, agrees.

“Ben is quiet and systematic. He doesn’t ask many questions, just takes it all in and applies it,” Sebranek said. “He’s on track to be promoted ahead of the 12- to 18-month time frame recommended by the program.”  

Amoussou said it helped to have the support of his former and future managers and plenty of mentoring. Mentoring is one of two key aspects of the program used to ensure success. The other is the candidate selection process. Applicants are vetted by Mutual’s Human Resources team. They then complete a combination technical/nontechnical interview and are also evaluated by Metro Community College.

Bob Herrera, a senior business systems consultant on Mutual’s IT Talent Development team, is now coordinating the program’s second cohort. 

“Candidates have to demonstrate they are taking steps on their own toward a technical career path,” Herrera said. “It can’t just be a case of wanting to do something different. We want to set them up for success.” 

Payne said Mutual is doing exactly what the Nebraska Landscape Analysis recommends – identifying highly targeted individuals.  

“That’s my strong opinion. I think the students Mutual has sent to Metro’s Code School are just amazing,” he said.

Mutual is indeed finding plenty of talent in its own backyard – so much so that they are not able to include all the qualified candidates who apply. Manager Scott Andersen, who feels fortunate to have added program graduate Jonathan Starkey to his team, would like to see the program expand.

“When Jonathan joined the team, we were extremely busy,” Andersen said. “We basically had to push him into the deep end and say, ‘Here’s some code. Figure it out.’ Not only did he figure it out, he achieved two AWS Cloud certifications and immediately started applying that knowledge, too.”

Several aspects of the program are designed to support participants in making a smooth transition to their new roles. The students use Agile methodology to structure their work and they gain full-stack development skills, learning to code behind-the-scenes processes as well as the visual components of a web application.  

Jackie Beaugard, Talent Development Program participant – second (and virtual) cohort

Jackie Beaugard, a member of the second cohort who is halfway through the program, was already designing screens when she started. 

“I learned the front-end HTML and CSS in college,” she said. “The back-end and database connectivity are entirely different angles for me.”  

Students also use a technique called pair programming, meaning they do their development work in pairs, continually bouncing ideas off each other while they code.  

Payne said watching the Code School students begin to function as a team foreshadows their success.  

“Students start working together, discovering that application specifications are never complete,” he explained. “They realize that being a developer is not that easy and they have to engage with that. Watching them roll up their sleeves and dig in, do research, share knowledge – that embodies the value of the program to me.”

The value of the program is felt by the participants and the company too. Training internal talent through the Code School program, Dorsey said, supports the participants’ professional growth and strengthens Mutual’s Information Services operation.

“Our participants come from various areas of the company, therefore bringing diversity of thought, skills and experience to the Information Services team,” she said. “Their knowledge from prior roles helps us identify areas of improvement as we develop new solutions for our customers.”

The participants say it’s a unique professional development initiative and they’re grateful for the experience. 

“I do feel like I’m learning a lot. I couldn’t see myself having this type of opportunity if it wasn’t for the IT Talent Development Program,” Beaugard said.

Amoussou added, “What Mutual of Omaha is doing for us speaks volumes about the company. It’s the kind of place you want to work long term.”

Talent Development Program instructor, coordinators and first cohort September, 2019. From left to right:
Front: Matt Payne (MCC), Patrick Nikiema, Preston McInelly, Ben Amoussou, Jonathan Starkey
Back: Chris Sebranek, Shonna Dorsey, Skip Paschall (MCC, Mutual retiree), Jordan Schroeder, Joe Bures

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