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Catching a unicorn—recruiting for jobs of the future

October 19, 2016
Seeking: Software developer with an entrepreneurial spirit. Must have an insatiable desire to collaborate with clients. You will lead projects in new markets, and work with big, dirty datasets to create digital solutions to problems both known and as yet unimagined. Only those with a highly developed sense of curiosity will be considered. Awareness of Predix an advantage. Think you’re the full stack? Apply in code to the world’s biggest digital industrial company.
When you’re GE and you’re enabling each of your businesses across 180 countries to produce digital solutions that make industrial technology work harder, safer and more economically, you’re going to need new people.  Lots of new people.

Think ultimately thousands of specialised employees: software architects, back-end, front-end and full-stack developers, data scientists, UX experts and Java genii, strategic engagement managers (those who bridge the gap between software developers and industrial customers) and chief digital officers (CDOs).

“In Hungary alone, we’re recruiting 300 people over the next year,” says Maria Trivellato, talent acquisition leader for GE Digital, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Competitions such as Tweeting Machines is one of many GE initiatives to raise the visibility of the company as a premium employer of software talent. Winner Zoltán Szabó walked away with prize money and a trip to GE's Minds + Machines.

It helped the ace digital recruiter’s cause that the second annual GE Tweeting Machines challenge, was this year won by Hungarian physicist Zoltán Szabó, who became a hero in the Budapest software community when he scooped US$10,000 in prize money and a trip to GE’s Minds and Machines conference. The decoding competition was one of many GE initiatives to raise the visibility of the company as a premium employer of software talent.

“Our competition today are the Facebooks and the Amazons,” says Trivellato. Competing against such known top tech employers exacerbates scarcity of possible employees—the unicorn effect.
“While GE was going at 100km per hour on the industry side, the software side is going at 300km per hour. There is high pressure on recruitment!” GE's Maria Trivellato

Says Nelson Lai, director of engineering at the GE Digital Foundry, Shanghai, “When people in China think of GE they think of hospital equipment, they think of small appliances. The challenge we face is being able to educate people and say, “We’re in the process of transforming into a software company, and we’re looking for people with a software background.”

Trivellato’s responsibilities extend to coordinating operations of the global GE Digital Foundries. Spawned by the mother of all GE Foundries, the $1 billion Global Software Centre that already employs 1,700 people in San Ramon in the US, these crucibles of software development are purpose built for co-development with customers of “a catalogue of digital solutions that will be customised for application across the world”, says Lai.

Tech mavens at the Paris foundry use Predix to develop applications for machines and factories, as well as speed up the development of third-party software.

The first customer collaborators in Paris “are impressed by GE Digital’s expertise”, says Adrien Rivierre, communication co-ordinator for GE Digital in Europe. “They like the idea of co-creation, as well as the concept of Predix as an open software environment which they can use to develop their own applications.” How will these centres attract the next wave of software talent they need?

When you’re enabling smart cities through lighting solutions, integrating advanced medical technology with apps to revolutionise Healthcare, developing data-based efficiencies that capitalise on Oil & Gas and renewables infrastructure to power the world, you have something a unicorn wants—projects that matter.

GE has identified five ways to catch the attention of software specialists who will be fulfilled by the digital-industrial challenges of the present, and whose job is to shape the future:

  1. Show them how they’ll change the world

GE’s recruiters and HR gurus say that when software engineers and data scientists understand the scale of GE’s proposition, they respond. “People today, developers among them, want to do something that matters,” says Trivellato.

“GE is the whole package, we’re not just the digital side,” says Shaunda Zilich global employment brand leader for GE, “You’re going to be working on projects that reduce the fuel consumption of airplane engines, that can save airlines millions of dollars a year and reduce the carbon footprint of travel. You’ll be working on stuff that impacts electricity supplies to a quarter of the world.”

  1. Ply them with Java!

Where unicorns are rarer than hen’s teeth (you do the maths!), GE is developing its own workforce, both in collaboration with universities, and by offering intense short courses in vital coding skills. “There are no Java developers in the market anymore, because they’re so in demand,” says Trivellato.

“JavaScript is used to write web applications, and all companies today are doing web applications.” So in European cities where the market isfor developers is fiendishly competitive, GE runs two-month Java academies, paying for developers who might be fluent in other computer languages to become fully skilled in Java.

  1. Make them feel at home

GE’s Digital Foundries are growing the developer ecosystem. “We’ve built talent communities on the web, we’ve built Tumblr for the Foundry,” begins Trivellato. “We’re doing meetups. We’ve signed a partnership with NUMA, the first startup incubator in France. We’ll take the opportunity as big names in the group come and visit—people like Matthias Heilmann the CDO for GE Oil & Gas—to have them talk to the market.”

GE's digital foundry in Paris will employ 250 data scientists, engineers and designers by 2018.

And GE Foundry spaces are designed for collaboration and cool factor. To date, the building that houses the Paris Foundry trumps them all for the sheer splendour of architecture enabled by the first Industrial Revolution; commissioned by Credit Lyonnais in the late 1800s it is built around a steel frame partly produced by the workshops of Gustave Eiffel. Surely a fitting home for the architects of the 4th Industrial revolution, and their digital tools which include the latest telepresence technology, mural-size interactive screens, digitally enabled whiteboards, and gaming rooms where developers can play and interact as ideas percolate.

  1. Go for laughs

GE’s “Owen” series of advertisements riffs on the fact that GE is in a state of transformation. When geeky Owen scores a software role at GE, he can’t get his friends enthused about this employment coup—the opportunity to work on something that will “transform the way the world works … make hospitals run more efficiently."

The first series ads “saw an 800% increase in applications”, says Zilich. She adds, “I still have concerns that Owen is not a real software engineer—he’s kind of a dork. But it’s a disruptor. It opened people’s eyes and made them want to find out more.”

  1. Match risk with reward

“It’s mostly about finding people who are interested in taking a bit of a risk, and joining a company that doesn’t have a super-long background as a software company,” says Lai. Benefits packages and a culture evolving towards the goal of allowing employees to bring their best selves to work, but also allowing them “to be the best at their lives” go a long way to rounding out the offering.

But perhaps the ultimate lure, says Lai, is that, “It’s an exciting place to be and an exciting time to be here because we’re building something from scratch and it’s so rare to have that opportunity.”