Navigate Podcast - Episode 8: Nashville's Tech Community

If you’ve been paying attention to Nashville’s growth, you already know Middle Tennessee is no longer only about music.

But what many people may not know is that the region has one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the country.

From 2012 to 2018, the tech job market grew by 30 percent, outpacing the national tech job growth by 10 percent, according to the State of Middle Tennessee Tech 2018 Report.  

With all of this growth, the region’s industry leaders are taking a hard look at issues of developing and attracting talent to the IT workforce. Four industry leaders sat down for a panel discussion about these issues for a live Navigate podcast recording, as part of the the Nashville Post’s Techie 2019 event.  

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Techie 2019 was sponsored by WeWork, Cherry Bakaert, the Greater Nashville Technology Council and Virsys12.

TALENT DEVELOPMENT

Growth in the tech industry shows no signs of stopping, so it’s more important than ever to make sure students are developing an early aptitude and passion for technology. To help with this, experts like MTSU Professor of Information Systems Charlie Apigian are re-examining the education pipeline, looking for ways to engage students with technology early on and keep them interested all the way through high school.

“I love thinking about how our kids that are here in Middle Tennessee right now are our future tech leaders, and that’s what I’m really passionate about.”

Charlie Apigian, MTSU Professor of Information Systems and Director of the Data Science Institute

Apigian thinks K-12 schools need to do a better job of not only equipping students with some fundamental skills, but instilling in them a passion for what they want to do. In this, schools need help from the local tech community, Apigian said.

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“Education is changing at a very fast rate, and we’re not keeping up. We need you, we need you desperately. Partner with your local K-12 system or your local university or the Nashville Software School,” he said.

But talent development in the Nashville tech industry has expanded beyond just focusing on K-12 and universities. Organizations like the Nashville Software School and the Community Health Systems internship program recognize the importance of training people to work in tech as a second career.

Briana Alexander, CHS Vice President of Processing and Performance Excellence, is especially passionate about giving women and people looking for a new career the opportunity to learn tech skills. CHS started an internship program to do just that, and then partnered with the Greater Nashville Technology Council to create a comprehensive apprenticeship program that gives people paid, on-the-job training for tech careers.

“I’m interested in seeing students and second-time careers and women. I want to see people grow and develop and do something different.”

Briana Alexander, CHS VP of Processing and Performance Excellence

Like Alexander, John Wark recognizes that the number of job openings in Middle Tennessee’s tech industry is much higher than the number of university graduates from tech-related programs.

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As founder and CEO of the Nashville Software School, Wark is working to help the industry “grow [its] own talent” with 6-12 months of intensive training for individuals who want to change their careers or learn new skills to keep up in their current fields. By the end of 2019, NSS will have graduated 1,000 software engineers and data scientists.

“What we’re all about is putting talent at the bottom of the talent pool. Then what happens to it is up to our employers, it’s up to them to build and direct their careers, but you have to start by putting talent at the bottom of the talent pool.”

John Wark, Nashville Software School Founder and CEO

LEVERAGING COMMUNITY

But as Wark pointed out, homegrown talent is only part of the solution. The region also needs to attract outside talent to fill the growing number of job openings.

Luckily, the Middle Tennessee tech community has a valuable asset in its unique culture of creativity.

The community also places great value on craftsmanship and creative problem solving, and members of the workforce view their jobs as highly collaborative, said Eventbrite software engineer Rainu Ittycheriah.

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With its active meetup community, tech workers also have opportunities to continue learning and connecting with others in the field.

“I think that cycle of constantly being open to newcomers, of being willing to open yourself up to have that conversation is what makes our community so vibrant and amazing.”

Rainu Ittycheriah, Eventbrite Software Engineer

Wark and Ittycheriah are convinced that if industry leaders are intentional about leveraging the appeal of this community, Middle Tennessee will be able to compete with larger cities to grow and maintain its workforce.

To hear more about Nashville’s booming tech industry, listen to the full episode above. And don’t forget to subscribe to Navigate wherever you get your podcasts!

blog post written by Bronte Lebo

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