Atypical IT professionals took the stage Wednesday at an event to recognize the region’s growing technology reputation and the opportunities it presents to people without college degrees.
“We’re committed to creating opportunities for talented people wherever they gained their knowledge and skills,” said Ken Grady, Idexx’s chief information officer, at the veterinary diagnostics company’s Westbrook campus. “All of us here today agree that there are many more people in Maine who are interested and aspire to careers in digital technology, who could excel in these careers, but don’t know of the many pathways available to them.”
The event was specifically held to celebrate Maine’s designation as a TechHire community by the White House on Aug. 4. Among attendees were U.S. Sen. Angus King, who was joined by members of Educate Maine’s Project>Login, an initiative that aims to provide a capable workforce for the state’s technology-based companies through efforts such as internships.
“We’ve got two problems: We have people with talent who are looking for jobs and we’ve got businesses looking for people with talent, and the whole idea of this initiative is to put them together, to break the barriers down,” King said.
Grady himself comes from a nontraditional background in IT. He left college after two years to join the Army, where he served as a translator and an Arabic linguist. After being discharged, he moved to San Francisco and worked the night shift on the help desk at a library automation company, “which is as exciting as it sounds.”
But while he was there, he learned enough to pursue a career in information technology.
Other Idexx employees shared their nontraditional backgrounds. Christian Ratliff, for example, grew up in inner city Pittsburgh and never graduated from college, though computers fascinated him from a young age. He began working at low-end computer jobs, but slowly built up experience and taught himself new skills. Today he’s a software development manager at Idexx and in a position to help others find their way into the technology field without a college education.
“When you’ve come up through a nontraditional path and you’ve been independent and you’ve learned from other people and really worked hard to achieve, you begin to look at resumes and interview people in a very different way because you know you’re obligated to help people in a like situation,” he said.
He’s worked at other companies where the human resources department filtered out job candidates without college degrees. He said he asked them to stop.
“I want to see those resumes, I want to talk to those people because that may be what we’re looking for,” he said.
The TechHire designation will provide Project>Login and Maine businesses a network of resources, such as partnerships with national corporations. LinkedIn, for example, could potentially help Project>Login improve its online job board and connect people with potential employers. King said he’s heard there’s $100 million in potential funding for TechHire initiatives, though nothing is set in stone.
“But frankly I think the important part is the recognition. It’s one more step in putting Maine on the IT map,” he said.
Besides Idexx, other companies have pledged to hire based on demonstrable skills, including Axiom Technologies, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Kepware Technologies, Maine Medical Center, Tyler Technologies, WEX Inc. and the state’s Office of Information Technology.
President Obama created the federal TechHire initiative in March to encourage employers to recruit and hire individuals based on technology skills regardless of where or how they obtained them. Maine was one of 30 TechHire-designated communities in the nation and one of only three states.