September 11, 2013

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Tech Company Leaders Discuss Need for Resources in Education

By Rachel Madison

September 11, 2013

Nearly a dozen entrepreneurs who work in the technology sector joined together Tuesday at a Utah Business roundtable to discuss challenges facing their industry. Many participants agreed that it’s no secret Utah has a shortage of computer programmers and software engineers, and most feel like the solution lies within the education system.

Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight, said one of the most fundamental problems in Utah is that the state ranks extremely low in math and science, and not much is being done about it.

“Schools don’t seem interested in pursuing computer technology,” he said. “We have the opportunity to really lead in technology. If we took a leadership role as a state and led by introducing computer programming and technology in our educational system, we would be noticed. That would put us on the map.”

Scott Johnson, founder of AtTask, said it’d be beneficial to tech companies to do a middle school road show. “We’ve got the tech and business resources to do a road show to every middle school in Utah. We could go to every school and show them our tech celebrities and expose kids to the whole gamut of things they can do.”

Skonnard said forcing the change to the curriculum will be the hardest part, but showing middle schoolers what opportunities they can have in the technology sector would inspire change.

However, Jensen Warnock, managing director of Auxano Funding, said changing a school’s curriculum would make it harder for companies to find people with a love for technology if every student learns it in school. “If everyone is doing it, it will be harder to find those people. Exposure is important but forcing the curriculum, I don’t know if that’s the best.”

Drew Peterson, CEO of Veracity Networks, said that’s why six or 12-week computer or engineering courses are good for people to take, so that they can get that exposure. However, Adam Slovik, CEO of Bankado, said in order to find talent needed for real innovation, companies need to find people who have a passion for technology—not just those willing to take a course.

“Finding people who have a passion about anything, like playing the violin, if I can get a portion of that passion into my venture, I’m going to be wildly successful,” Slovik said. “I don’t want someone to take a course just for the paycheck.”

Skonnard agreed and said passion fuels success. “If we can tap into that passion in elementary school, we’ll be set,” he said.

Ragula Bhaskar, CEO of Fatpipe, said Utah is headed in the right direction. He mentioned the First LEGO League groups both in Utah and around the country that teach middle school students how to build robots. “There are 20,000 groups in the country preparing for a national competition,” he said. “You can see the amazing amount of programming these 14-year-olds do. It’s robotics, but these students are being trained to become programmers and engineers. On the manufacturing side, it’s coming.”

Chip Luman, COO of HireVue, said it’s unfortunate that most of the technology learning students are doing is outside of the standard curriculum. He believes this training should happen in school, so that all students get exposure to it and are more prepared for college.

David Green, CFO of Catheter Connections, said ultimately, learning about technology, engineering and computers is cultural and has to permeate from the early years. “It has to be made cool and supported from top to bottom,” he said.

The Technology Entrepreneur Roundtable will appear in the November issue of Utah Business magazine.

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