What attracted you to learning and development?
I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley — mostly at tech companies. I spent a huge part of my career at Sun Microsystems first in product development (and actually working on online help systems for the Java platform). After about 10 years in that field, I got an opportunity to move into corporate strategy at Sun running the acquisition integration function. It was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed the experience, but after four years in corporate strategy, I realized I wasn’t doing what I was personally and professionally passionate about. I completely changed my career and went into the learning field. I was attracted to the learning industry because I realized education and learning had the power to change lives and I really wanted a career where I could have an impact — where I felt purpose in what I was doing. I was incredibly fortunate to be offered an opportunity at Sun to lead a large learning organization — the leader then took a chance on me. It was the turning point in my career and I’m forever grateful for it. I ended up going back to school to get my master’s degree while working and studied adult learning theory and education technology. It’s been my passion ever since.
How did you get your start at Degreed?
I was the chief learning officer at LinkedIn before I joined Degreed. While at LinkedIn, my team and I (including a small team of developers I hired for this project) created an internal learning platform called LearnIn. It was an early version of a Learning Experience Platform for our internal LinkedIn employees. At LinkedIn, I had a large organization that was responsible for all learning, leadership development, technical training, onboarding, employee engagement, talent management and inclusion and diversity. Ultimately, what I was most passionate about was LearnIn because I knew learning technology would dramatically change how people thought about learning in the corporate world. Technology was evolving dramatically with machine learning and artificial intelligence and it was clear that learning technology could help people build new skills — but, more importantly, it could transform people’s lives and careers.
I was introduced to the Degreed CEO while I was still at LinkedIn and had always been intrigued by what Degreed was building. But the major reason I joined Degreed was because I wanted to be part of a company that was fundamentally changing the learning industry and creating a dramatic shift in the way people learn, build skills and think about their careers.
How have you seen technology shape workforce L&D?
The intersection of learning and technology has really been my focus since I entered the learning field. When I first got into learning, the Learning Management System (LMS) was really the only technology people were using for learning and it supported antiquated corporate learning models – lecture-based, instructor-led training and compliance training. That’s what most corporate training organizations were focused on, but there has been a huge shift underway.
In the last five years, the world of work has dramatically changed, and technology is a huge part of that. Now the foundation of learning technology includes machine learning and artificial intelligence to dynamically create an amazing learner experience in the flow of work. But, for Degreed, the vision has always been bigger than self-directed learning. The strategy is focused on creating a dynamic talent and career strategy where the learner is at the core of the experience. Most other HR technology focuses on what the company wants and needs, but we’ve shifted the focus to the goals and aspirations of the employee. This focus on the individual keeps people engaged and motivated. That’s how you create a true learning culture where people are excited to learn every day as part of work.
We help people understand what skills they have and need, create a skills profile, tie learning to skills so they can fill their skill gaps and then help people match their skills to projects and opportunities inside their companies. This evolution in learning and career technology is happening at the perfect time — when the most urgent need we have at companies today is upskilling our workforces and keeping skills in sync with constant change we are all experiencing. We can’t do that with old work models and old technology.
From your experience writing “The Expertise Economy,” what’s one piece of advice you have for anyone in the process of writing a book, or are thinking of writing one?
Realize that it’s a long process and that it starts with fleshing out your ideas before you actually write the book. Many people think you write the book first and then pitch it to publishers, but it’s really the opposite (unless you are self-publishing). My co-author, David Blake, and I probably spent 40 percent of the project creating the book proposal, which included identifying the core ideas, creating an outline, defining the audience and writing an introduction and sample chapter. This all happens before publishers consider your work. Once you get your publisher, then you can start writing the book. My second piece of advice is to find a good editor. I love writing, but it helped so much to partner with a seasoned editor to give feedback and provide edits.
How do you encourage a culture of continuous learning at Degreed?
We are a learning/talent company, so it’s clear up front when you join Degreed that learning is one of our core values and we highly encourage all our employees to carve time out in their day for learning. We want learning to become a daily habit so the workplace becomes a learning place. We also have a feature called Flex-Ed, where we give all our employees $100 a month to spend on whatever learning they choose. We use our own platform to upskill our employees so they can rate their skills, identify skill gaps, access learning to fill gaps — and now we have the career marketplace to tie skills to opportunities. We want to be the best model for our customers for how we use our platform, and we also have some great partnerships with our clients where we learn from them about how they are using Degreed in new and innovative ways.
What’s your favorite piece of career advice?
For people early in their careers, there is so much pressure to get a great job and be on a career path and to move up quickly. My advice is to instead look for experiences that will help you build your skills and not focus so much on promotions and the job that pays the most money. Those things can come over time, but if you get experiences that show you have and are learning skills that are critical to the future of work, that’s what is going to help people be successful in the long run. For example, if you demonstrate learning agility (the curiosity and motivation to learn new skills over the entirety of your career); if you show that you can communicate and collaborate effectively; and, if you have emotional intelligence and empathy, those things will take you far in your career. Those uniquely human skills are what I call “power skills” that will make you the most successful in the future of work.