Never stop growing: How 5 Austin tech companies help their employees learn

by Katie Fustich
August 29, 2018

In the world of Austin tech, landing a great gig doesn’t mean you stop growing. Built In Austin went behind the scenes at five of the city’s most exciting tech companies to learn exactly how they help their employees evolve. Prepare to be blown away by the range of professional development opportunities, ranging from tuition reimbursement to game shows and more.

 

HomeAway
image via homeaway

HomeAway helps individuals create perfect vacations with a selection of more than two million bookable beach houses, condos, cabins and more. VP of Human Resources Ana Mitrasevic shared how, behind the scenes, HomeAway helps its employees create equally perfect professional development experiences with perks ranging from classes to book clubs, affinity groups and more.

 

What professional development opportunities does your company offer employees?

HomeAway is a travel company, but we’re also a tech company: We want all of our employees to approach things scientifically. We offer many programs to help people sharpen their technical skills, including some designed to help them pivot into careers in engineering, product and data science. In a recent test, employees took college-level data science courses for six months. Two of our highest scorers were women in non-technical roles: proof that tech talent is everywhere.

For those who already have advanced tech skills, we offer boot camps, lunch-and-learns, hackathons and fireside chats to make sure people always have opportunities to grow. We’re especially proud of HomeAway University, a multi-week program that helps interns and recent grads learn what it’s like to work at a fast-paced consumer tech company. We also host Product Academy, a quarterly event where we invite some of the world’s foremost experts in product, design and technology to teach new concepts and skills to groups of 100 employees.

 

Why are professional development programs important?

Continuous improvement is part of HomeAway’s cultural makeup. We call it mastery, and it’s one of our core values. We believe there’s no ceiling for being your best. That’s why we cultivate an environment where everyone is encouraged to constantly grow by developing their skills, trying new things, making mistakes and learning from them.

 

SocialSolutions
image via social solutions

Each day, Social Solutions works with leading nonprofit organizations to help them manage cases and track data. Julia Bonaventure, a corporate trainer for the company, explained to Built In Austin how Social Solutions’ robust professional development programs ensure employees at every level never stop learning. Whether it be using tuition reimbursements to pursue a graduate degree or an external leadership conference, each Social Solutions employee shapes the path that is right for them.

 

What professional development opportunities does your company offer employees?

All employees have access to a monthly professional development training opportunity through our Wise & Well Program. We’ve used this platform to offer content on building out a stellar LinkedIn profile, soliciting developmental feedback, managing up and other topics.

We also have a program for high-potential employees, called HiPo. Those who are accepted go through five two-day sessions throughout the year, which are led by our executives and leaders. This is a super cool opportunity to network within the business, learn about our company and get one-on-one exposure to our executive team.

Additionally, we have built out a development program specifically for people managers in our business, called LEAD, short for leadership education and development. The goal of LEAD is to enable our managers to hone their leadership skills while cultivating effective and happy teams.

 

Why are professional development programs important?

Promotion from within is super common at Social Solutions, and I think our commitment to learning and development has a lot to do with it. We strive to ensure that all our employees receive the training, support and resources that they need to build meaningful, successful careers. Investing in learning and development for our people from day one helps us to achieve that goal.

 

RetailMeNot
image via retailmenot

At RetailMeNot, Organizational Development Manager Katie Johnson explained that professional development is designed to meet employees where they are, and drive them to where they want to be. In addition to serving 70,000 brands with its savings-focused site, RetailMeNot serves its employees with a range of educational opportunities that include tuition reimbursement, travel and funded conferences.

 

What professional development opportunities does your company offer employees?

Our Leadership Academy program is a nine-week training that focuses on strategic leadership abilities and managerial best practices. Our Executive Communication course helps prepare our employees to pitch ideas to executives and, more broadly, to concisely communicate to leadership. We’ve recently rolled out Udemy for Business, which gives all of our employees on-demand access to more than 3,000 e-learning courses to learn at their own pace, exactly when they need to develop. Our employee resource groups also take an active role in developing their members, focusing specifically on their members’ unique needs. Our groups have held storytelling, negotiation and self promotion workshops, to name a few.

We take an iterative approach to our learning and development initiatives. We seek feedback and validation from our employees to ensure we’re rolling out programs that specifically meet their needs and objectives. Currently, we’re testing collaborative problem-solving groups for our people leaders and tooling to give our team members more exposure to information about the organization as a whole.

 

Why are professional development programs important?

We believe that a critical part to keeping these great people engaged and driving their best business results is providing them opportunities to grow and develop their careers. That looks different for different people: Some team members know exactly where they want their careers to go and the steps necessary get there, while others are have a wide set of interests and are exploring their options. Our environment supports these team members and anyone in between. As long as you take initiative in driving your career, we’ll help you take the next step with tools, programs and opportunities that meet your needs.

 

Kendra Scott
image via kendra scott

At lifestyle brand Kendra Scott, HR Director Kathryn Pace explains that professional development is designed to “better prepare [employees] for future opportunities both at KS and in life.” This involves a combination of on-site learning groups, as well as a variety of digitized resources employees can use to grow at their own pace.

 

What professional development opportunities does your company offer employees?

Our internal KS Leadership Series is offered to all employees and is focused on topics like growth mindset, Gallup’s Strengths Finder, inclusion and unconscious bias, crucial conversations and behavioral interviewing. In addition, all managers receive training on feedback, coaching, delegation, managing career conversations, influencing, strategic planning and goal setting. We also offer skills-based lunch-and-learns on everything from Excel to succulent gardening, an annual guided book club series and a growing list of online resources that employees can access for self-study anytime.

 

Why are professional development programs important?

We believe investing in our people is essential to our future success. It is our goal to better prepare them for future opportunities both at KS and in life. We also believe it is critical to clearly define our expectations of our leaders to ensure they are managing consistently in a way that is aligned with our values and supports our culture, which is so important to maintain as we continue to grow.

 

Outbound Engine
image via outboundengine

OutboundEngine works with small businesses to manage social media, create content, drive email marketing and more. Internally, Jimmy Miller, senior manager of training and development, explains the company takes a similar approach to professional development: setting aside a dedicated budget for each employee’s growth, and providing guidance every step of the way.

 

What professional development opportunities does your company offer employees?

We offer a robust leadership development course that was designed in house. This quarter-long program is intentionally small, allowing us to provide our employees with one-on-one mentorship from senior team members. Similarly, we provide management courses designed to equip our staff with the skills required to lead in a more specific context. Additionally, we have training and mentorship programs full of courses allowing employees the opportunity to learn and practice skills, and equip them to excel in their current roles and more easily transition into other departments.

 

Why are professional development programs important?

It's not enough to tell people that they can do whatever or be whoever they want. We must provide avenues for professional development and help build structure for personal growth. If done properly, employees are more engaged, managers are more equipped and those two things translate into a measurable ROI.

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