All About Prime Digital Academy

guest: Mark Hurlburt

In this week’s episode, Joe is joined by President of Prime Digital Academy, Mark Hurlburt. They discuss what Prime is all about, including its holistic approach and making technical training more accessible and more human for everyone. Mark talks about current trends in admissions and hiring, and how it fits into the context of today’s landscape. They also delve into their career day, and what to expect, as well as what organizations can expect when hiring Prime graduates.

Episode Transcript

Dee Gallegos 0:00
Enter the world of Mind Your Own Marketing Business. Explore a variety of trends in the creative landscape, getting insider knowledge from the industry’s best, fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Business with host, Joe Barsness.

Joe Barsness 0:12
Thanks for joining us on on on the mind your own marketing business podcast. I’m Joe Barsness of web and mobile development team, fjorge and today in our show, we’ll be talking with Mark Hurlburt from Prime digital Academy. Welcome to the show, Mark.

Mark Hurlburt 0:25
Hey, how’s it going?

Joe Barsness 0:27
Doing well, we are both at home during COVID-19. Thanks for doing this remotely. Should be a fun experience. And as in the last few shows, if you’re listening at home, if you hear some disturbances in the background, give us a little break on this one. Thanks for doing this mark. First thing we’ve known each other and in our companies for a while. We have employed numerous folks from Prime digital Academy. Can you tell us first off a little bit about Prime and then I want to dig back into how you got there.

Mark Hurlburt 1:03
Sure, well, prime prime digital Academy, we usually just call ourselves prime, but prime is an immersion school. So we’re really focused on helping people to transform their lives through skill development and career development within the technology space. So we run two different programs, one in full stack software engineering and other in user experience design. And really the the hallmarks of our approach to the program are a holistic approach that includes career development alongside technology and skill development. And then also just kind of a lot of soft skills, a lot of communication, a lot of collaboration, things like that. And one of the other kind of core things that we do that we believe very strongly in is bringing real world work into the classroom. So it’s not just students doing homework. They’re working on behalf of nonprofits, startups, social ventures, small businesses and the community that we exist in to help them build their skills and to create Though the real world skills that are required for that, as opposed to, you know, kind of always having the students be their own their own clients, as the case might be in a more kind of traditional setting. So got it. Those are some of the core of what makes prime special I think.

Joe Barsness 2:13
Got it. Let’s talk a backing up now because I just wouldn’t make the intro on prime. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and how prime came about and kind of what you guys are doing now?

Mark Hurlburt 2:29
Sure. Well, my I’ve, like many of our students, I’ve had kind of a winding journey into technology. I went to school for biology and studio art. So naturally, I have spent my entire career in technology, completely unrelated to my to my majors, but I went to school at McAllister in St. Paul and was always interested in computers from kind of a computer gamer kind of kind of angle on things, but it wasn’t until after college I kind of randomly went to a temp agency. And got and got a job doing graphic design which I wasn’t really qualified for but got the job anyways, and and found my way into technology in that way and kind of got into web publishing and then development and through a kind of series of a maybe unfortunate events, but but various kinds of low tech organizations I worked for a nonprofit for a while and help them manage their their new media, quote unquote, that’s that’s how long ago I was. I was just getting started as when it was new media and had an opportunity to kind of cut my teeth. I did a lot of self learning and programming and things like that, and ended up through a past employee getting connected to a company, which at the time was called Sierra Bravo, which was just a little tech firm. I was joining them as their 12th employee to do design and development. And as it turned out, That company did pretty well for itself. So, so that company the basically now the simplest answer is that it is it is the company that is now known as nerdery. And so I joined them at about employee 12. And then my journey with them was kind of being involved in management and leadership team from that point through about 10 years later when I left when they’re about 500 people. So, so my role in that was helping them to kind of develop a strategy that involve partnering with with agencies when we were doing that stuff. I also kind of developed the nerdery brand. They were called Sierra Bravo as I mentioned when I joined them, but but I did a bunch of stuff including my last job was was Chief Strategy Officer. So I was really just kind of focused on strategy which very much led me to so much of the success of a company you know, any custom development company is about the people, right? It’s about who you have. And, you know, I used to say it that the nerdery that the the nursery just had one thing which was turned people’s time into money. That was what the company really did. And in order to be successful, they had to have the right people, right, they had to have the time. And that was that was worth being turned into money. And so that, that inspiration and part of the what the nerdery did that was good for that at the time was being really agnostic, but where people came from, you know, they they were good about having an added set of missions, a recruiting process, that, that didn’t require a specific background from somebody or wasn’t looking for all of one kind of people. It was very, very practical challenge based at a time when that wasn’t very common. And so the nerdery had a really diverse talent pool that was different kinds of people than were at other organizations. And that was really inspiring for me, eventually with prime was just this notion that there are these people out there that have non traditional backgrounds, I mean, like myself, that that are capable of contributing and participating at a pretty high level within the industry if there was a space for them to to build those base skills, and be able Get Started. And that was really kind of the impetus that had saw me leaving the nerdery and starting prime and that was about five and a half years ago now. I would have six years ago when we first really started earnest work on on prime. And we were lucky enough to open our doors in 2000, do launch 2014 and opened our doors for our first cohort 2015. And have had some pretty, pretty remarkable success. Since then, we have we have graduated over 1000 alumni. We have people working at over 480 companies, largely here in the Twin Cities metro, but we also have a new campus that we’ve opened in Kansas City, Missouri. So we have a growing stable of people who are getting hired and out in the industry there as well. And ultimately built a really strong alumni network and I think had a pretty significant impact on the tech scene here in the Twin Cities over the last five years.

Joe Barsness 6:53
Great. Yeah, and I guess a good question asked right now that’s timely during this work from home or What are you seeing the needs of organizations? As far as tech talent is concerned? Are you seeing, you know, both from are a lot of people enrolling in your program to second? are a lot of them finding placements? What’s kind of the market that you see right now for folks looking to do that?

Mark Hurlburt 7:18
Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s definitely a mixed bag. I mean, we’re clearly in a period of transition right now. I think, you know, from an admission standpoint, we’re seeing, you know, frankly, pretty good numbers, because there’s a lot of people out there, you know, we have a really wide mix of people who come into our program, it’s a lot of, you know, the kind of center of our bell curve is 25 to 40 year olds, who probably have some, you know, 515 years of work experience, or looking to shift to something new. And as you can imagine, a lot of people are, had a lot of time on their hands lately to think about whether or not they’re doing the thing that they were meant to be doing what they want to be doing. And so we’ve seen a lot of that. We also have been, we’ve worked really closely with local governments in Minneapolis and St. Paul for a long time. One of the things that we’re doing right Now we are offering a scholarship for local students who have been affected by the pandemic. So people who have been laid off have an opportunity to come in and study with nothing out of pocket initially if they want to, which is pretty important for people during this time of crime trying to try to change direction and figure things out. So we’ve seen admissions is not bad. I wouldn’t say it’s, you know, exploding or anything, but it’s certainly not a bad situation. I think with employment that’s, that’s a little bit more of a mixed bag. I mean, certainly we’ve seen local companies who, whose business model has been disrupted. We’ve seen some layoffs in the tech space. You know, these are companies that i think you know, where their business model is dependent upon people being in an office and you know, getting food delivered or people who are you know, scheduling shifts for, for companies that do you know, restaurants and things like that. Like when the The business has just gone for right now, where we’ve seen some layoffs that have affected alumni and grads, but for the most part, our our alumni seem to be mostly sheltered from from some of this stuff. You know, certainly for people who are in companies that are working, generally, the experience seems to be that the tech people are kind of the last ones that they would want to let go of. I think that most companies appreciate how hard it is to find the right tech talent and how expensive that can be. So we’re not seeing a ton of just kind of random stuff in that regard. And we are seeing, you know, interest in hiring. We have we’ve had, I think, last week, over the last couple weeks, at least, I don’t know the numbers exactly how they break down. But I think we’ve had about 10 alumni get jobs in the last couple of weeks. So so we’re seeing companies that are hiring companies that are still coming out we have I don’t remember how many, how many organizations we have coming to our career day that we’re having tomorrow for UX programming. But I know what it equates to seven, I think six or seven interviews for each grad, coming out of that program. So we’re still seeing a lot of a lot of activity and a lot of interest. I think, you know, all of this stuff that’s going on with a pandemic is definitely getting a lot of organizations that hadn’t thought as much or hadn’t been put in a position, certainly in the small business side, who hadn’t thought much about what their online presence was, or how to do business online or having to think about that. So that certainly accelerating things, whether that’s in the software as a service space, or even just kind of in the local small consulting space. And I think that’s gonna continue to, I think that’s a trend that’s going to happen out over the rest, you know, the rest of this year and the beginning of next year is that companies are going to, they’re going to pay some attention to that. And that’s going to mean that they need to build their teams.

Joe Barsness 10:45
Yeah. And I mean, I can echo that as a technology firm. You know, we’re, we’re looking to hire I think we’re a team of about 50 at the moment of this show, and we’re looking to hire three net new positions. And that’s pretty Unique when people saw us post that they were like, wow. So I think that’s probably what you’re seeing. We’re seeing a lot of e commerce as everybody can probably imagine. And so that’s been a big uptick for us. And so we’ve been, we’ve been doing well and we need to keep hiring. Talk to me a little bit about some of the misconceptions that come from your program and placing folks in different positions. And I can even speak firsthand because I was at I think, Mark either the first or the second hiring event. Because I know that I had five hours of interviews back to back to back to back to back to back to back and I think it was so new, we forgot to schedule a break. But I can tell you that also from that experience, which I was skeptical at first. We now have one of your graduates is our Director of Operations of a 50 person company, and so firsthand, you know, I of course don’t think I spoke out loud about that misconception back then. But tell me what I was going through and and and what other people think and experience in terms of meeting with your candidates and where they fit in and those sorts of things.

Mark Hurlburt 12:21
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s definitely a variety of kind of angles that people come into I think often one of the things that surprises people when they come to one of our career days so and and for the audience, we do, we do a career day for each cohort, which is basically an opportunity for companies that are interested in hiring to come in see the the final project prior to final project presentation the students have done which is usually about a one month long project that they did on behalf of a community organization. And then and there’s basically speed dating interviews where companies can say which which resumes they’re most interested in meeting the people from and students get to do the same. We kind of pair people up and then they get to meet it’s a much smoother Their process and less punishing than when Joe did it back in the day. But But I think when people come in often for the first time, one of the things that they’re often surprised about is the the diversity of the candidate pool. So, you know, our students are generally a lot, they look broader and more diverse than than other traditional sources of talent that I think a lot of organizations go for. And that really kind of runs the gamut from demographic stuff, you know, like we have about 37% of our students are women. To You know, we have 20% of students who identify as students of color. We have students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, and that’s maybe the thing that is the most diverse, so, you know, most of our students are, as I mentioned, kind of 25 to 40 there are people who are kind of making a transition. And and with that they bring a bunch of background from and kind of what I’ve found and what I think a lot of employers have found to be extremely useful. experience from their kind of past lives of other jobs and bring that with them into it. And I think, you know, the Josh is a great example for you guys as somebody who, you know, like, a big part of why Josh has has been successful is not because of the specific things that he learned to private didn’t hurt, but like he’s successful because you’re an awesome person and he had some real meaningful background prior to coming in. So So, you know, we see that that traction that people have really accelerate their their ability to perform into to contribute to organizations at a level that’s much higher than what if you were, you know, hiring a 20 year old, straight out of school kind of work to Kapolei but that that was kind of their only real work experience or whatever prior to this. I think that’s a very different situation than hiring somebody who’s, you know, maybe 30. Maybe they’ve managed maybe they’ve they’ve dealt with a lot of, you know, kind of customer service stuff that can help them to work. Wear more hats with the organization. Somebody who comes to comes to the work force with the only thing that they know is four years of technical learning from a like a computer science program. That’s great. I mean, I don’t get me wrong, I think that those people are very important in the community. But I think it’s it’s that you know, that aphorism that’s a, you know, man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail kind of thing is that I think they try and solve people problems with technology, which is, you know, where a more seasoned employer or employee, you can kind of understand what’s a, what’s a people problem with a tech problem? And how do you kind of thread the needle in order to do both because if you’re, if you’re a developer in a modern context, you you have problems that are both, like not you can’t solve all of your problems with with people stuff, you can’t solve all your problems, technology stuff, you have to be able to navigate both of those spheres effectively. And I think that’s one of the things that Prime students do a really good job of, of having that balance and having that kind of pragmatic approach to it.

Joe Barsness 15:55
Got it. Quick question. Do you how many folks From your graduating class, and you can estimate are going to deep into technology and I know you have a UX portion, how many are going to the marketing side? Like, is there? Do you know that information? Or could you guess that, you know, this show a lot of marketers listen to right. So is this a good place to get tech talent for their marketing teams?

Mark Hurlburt 16:22
Yeah, I mean, I think it depends on on what you’re looking for. We certainly have the benefit of having a broad diversity of different students coming in as that there’s a broad output of places they want to go, right. So we absolutely have students that are would be so excited to go in and help an organization figure out how to you know, wrangle a tool like HubSpot or something like that into, you know, handling their website and doing kind of marketing automation and figuring that stuff out. And it would be great. It’d be awesome at that. We also have students who that sounds like an absolute nightmare too. So the thing that we’re good at and the thing that we have a individual on staff named Kristi Larson, who heads up our Kind of director, her title is director of employer partnerships. What Her job is, is to connect with employers understand what they’re looking for. And make sure that when people do come in, whether it’s for a career day, or just to kind of, you know, get some referrals from us, we know what they’re looking for. And we can send them the right folks. So we can kind of switch board between those folks. But there absolutely are people who are really interested in those those kind of gradient career stuff, right, like so probably about 80% of our students. 80 85% of our students out of the full sec program are going into development, right, they have jobs that are programmer, you know, analysts, sometimes developer, they’re doing that stuff proper, we probably have about 15 or 20% that are in kind of ancillary stuff. So that might be interactive marketing and might be interactive project management, you know, stuff where they’re using development, but that’s not the only job. also things like automated QA, you know, things across the across the board with that, but the majority of people you know, most classes And we have a group that graduates in the full stack program every five weeks in Minneapolis every 16 weeks in Kansas City. And every 13 weeks, we have a new group of users coming out in Minneapolis. Almost every cohort has a really solid mix. So you know, if somebody was looking to build out their marketing team was somebody who understands technology and is interested in both, we’d have a chance to get them connected with somebody about every five weeks.

Joe Barsness 18:24
Got it? How do you think that in organization? And again, something that I’ve experienced at our organization? How can an organization get good at adding an entry level talent to their team? Because it is, it is different?

Mark Hurlburt 18:39
Yeah, yeah, it absolutely is. And I think that that’s the one of the main things that we try and communicate to people is sometimes when there’s resistance within an organization to hiring out of an organ out of a program like prime it’s you know, often from senior level people that are saying, Oh, well, no like that. They’re not going to know what what I know coming out of a program like that. And There are 100%, right? Like, there’s no way that somebody in a 18 or 20 week program is going to come out with a senior level of knowledge. And that’s not what these people are doing. They’re coming in looking for those entry level roles. And that’s what they have background that allows them to specifically climb into something else immediately. But, but it’s really more about helping people to come in and, and hit the ground running and be ready to to grow. And so I think the organizations that have the right headspace in this organizations that are thinking about how do we have a balanced kind of ecosystem of talent within our team, are the ones that are that are well suited to being able to grow over time. And, you know, there’s a bunch of different things that go into that if I had to pull one thing out as like the key thing that I think an organization needs to do effectively if they want to successfully onboard entry level talent. I would probably say mentorship. You know, I think having having somebody on the team or or group of people on the team that can be made available to that entry level person and allow them to be able to ask questions. One of the things that that we put a lot of emphasis on in prime, that that sometimes doesn’t translate directly to organizations, if they’re, in my opinion not set up well to take on entry level people, is that we go out of our way, we spend a lot of time at prime addressing imposter syndrome and encouraging people to not hide their ignorance, right? There’s a really natural instinct that people have early in their careers and early when they’re getting into something to not want to admit when they don’t know the answers and not wanting to have to ask questions not wanting to do those things. We we can’t function if that’s the mode that somebody is in if we don’t know what they don’t know. We can’t teach them. So we spend a lot of time deprogramming that, I think organizations that put effort and energy into architecting mentorship and saying here are the pure the resources that you have here the people that you can go to hear the people that can answer your questions. They benefit from that, because they don’t kind of have people backslide into situations where they they don’t ask questions, right. Like that’s, that’s the kind of the death knell for an entry level person as if they’re just banging their head against the wall giving themselves a concussion. Rather than like, you know, yeah, you want some people to struggle a little bit, you want to bang their head against the wall a little bit, but but the resources should be there to prevent them from hurting themselves or hurting the business by by wasting their time on those things. And so mentorship is, I think, a little bit of a panacea for a lot of that stuff. It’s not the only part of it. But I think that’s probably the most significant predictor of success from what we’ve seen in the, you know, almost 500 companies that have hired the ones that that put energy and effort and resources into making sure that people know where to go when they have questions. They tend to to have better results. Got it.

Joe Barsness 21:57
Can you talk just briefly about If I’m a potential student, what do I do first? And if I’m a potential organization looking for talent, what do I do first?

Mark Hurlburt 22:09
Yeah, yeah. But um, there’s a decent amount information out on the website. I mean, you as always, the website is probably the first stop for pretty much everybody. And we’re at prime The for students, they start with an online application. So and it’s it’s kind of a lot like, frankly, like, we have a strategy that involves putting some barriers in front of people early on, so we can spend a lot of time with them later in the admissions process. So the the initial application that people fill out when they’re coming into prime is about an eight hour project. So they’re doing profile questions, they’re doing logic and reasoning questions. They’re they’re doing a little tech or creative challenge based on the program they’re going into. They don’t have to finish it all at once. They can finish over as many sessions as they want, but we do ask people to put a pretty significant amount of time into it. Because the next stage of our admissions process is we sit down with somebody for usually about Mauer and talk through the program answer any other questions just kind of make sure that everybody’s on the same page. So we want to make sure if we’re going to spend that kind of time with somebody that they’re, they’re committed to it, it’s not just kind of a passing fancy for them. And then we make a decision off of that admissions interview along with the application for for employers, it it can be, go look, the website, check things out, you know, see where grads are out on LinkedIn and stock things around that way. Otherwise, people are always welcome just to reach out we have we have an email address, its partners at prime or the general kind of website stuff people coming in, we’re always looking for people to get engaged and we have a bunch of different ways that they can do that. Certainly coming to things like excuse me, coming to things like career day and, and, you know, if you’re actively looking for talent, we’re more than happy to connect you there. But even if that’s not where you’re at, we have a need for we have guest speakers in the industry at least once a week. So we have people coming in talking sharing their experience, you know, being able to kind of get their their recruiting brand out there. Even if they They’re not hiring right at that specific moment. We also recruit for mentors. So we do a group mentorship approach, where we take three to four students from the classroom and we pair them with three to four working professionals, and that group gets together for an hour every other week. And so that’s a great way for people to be able to kind of scout talent if they want to just do some networking. You know, I think one of the things that the impact that Prime has been able to have on the community in the Twin Cities over the last five years is certainly that we’re pumping a lot of new entry level talent out there. But I also think that you know, what we really need as an organism or as a as an industry as a community is more senior and mid level talent right? Like that’s, that’s that’s what’s driving the demand is not that Gosh, we really need a whole bunch more entry level people, we need entry level people because we’re trying to like rise people up and and fill in more more gaps and more avoid at the top. One of the things that I think prime has been able to do for that is that, in my experience, the thing that moves somebody from a mid level person to a senior level person is there Exposure to entry level people and their exposure to be able to mentor and to be able to, to speak and help train other people I think is a big part of what moves somebody to that, that senior level and a lot of ways not in all ways but but in a lot of them. And so I think we’ve been able to, both by putting more entry level people in the marketplace, but also through things like mentorship have been able to connect people and help people level up. Certainly we’ve seen that for our alumni that participate, who have who have, you know, gone on to do some pretty significant things in the industry. It’s been great.

Joe Barsness 25:31
Cool. Great. Well, thanks, Mark. That’s it for today on mind urine marketing business. People can find you at prime as well as go prime Academy on Instagram and Facebook. Thanks to the listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of our program by going to fjords digital comm slash minder and marketing business or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and iHeartRadio thanks again Mark.

Mark Hurlburt 25:59
Thanks It’s great to be here.

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