But after five months incubating on the first floor of LivingSocial’s New York Avenue NW headquarters, tight deadlines and ambitious goals have become second nature for the program’s 24 students.
Put simply, Hungry Academy is an experiment. As Chief Technology Officer Aaron Batalion explained in February, executives wanted to study a straightforward hypothesis: “Can we take raw talent, add on technical experience, add on product development experience and turn them into awesome members of the team?”
The basic answer: Yes. All 24 students who graduated from Hungry Academy last week begin work today as full-time engineers assigned to the company’s various business units, such as Escapes or Merchant Solutions.
But the question of how to best recruit technical talent is far more complex and something technology firms across the nation have been forced to grapple with as demand for Web engineers and programmers far outstrips the number of appropriately skilled workers capable of filling those positions.
Companies have responded to the challenge is multiple ways. Some enterprises create formal training or mentorship programs with hands-on guidance. Others may simply buy the talent outright with hefty salaries or unique perks.
Intelligence and passion
It was three months into Hungry Academy and 27-year-old Elise Worthy from Seattle was on the phone with her mother. The stress of the intensive program and a nagging sense of self-doubt had finally caught up with her, and things weren’t looking good.
“I remember just calling my mom and being very upset about it and thinking I couldn’t make it,” she said. “My group of peers here is incredibly smart and they’re very talented people ... and I didn’t think I cut the mustard, relatively.”
An MBA graduate from the University of California, San Diego, Worthy worked in brand strategy and marketing before coming to Washington in March. She had spent the prior year learning to code with a group that promotes women in tech — and Hungry Academy covered the same material in the first two days.
But Worthy persevered, building her confidence along the way, she said, and will join LivingSocial’s Portland office as an engineer who helps deliver analytics to the merchants that use LivingSocial to offer online discounts.
“We believe that intelligence and passion are far harder to hire for and much more important than a specific technical skill,” said Chad Fowler, LivingSocial’s senior vice president of technology. “We have enough of the kind of DIY sort of mentality here and, maybe it’s a little bit of hubris, we can teach faster than the industry.”