ISDI Digital University tackles tech skills gap
SAN JOSE — Steve Cadigan and Amir Mashkoori aim to address a widening skills gap for Silicon Valley tech companies that hunger for talented workers to fill an array of positions. With that gap in mind, they have launched San Jose-based ISDI Digital University, which offers the tech sector’s first master’s of internet business degree.
California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, a unit of the state Consumer Affairs Department, has issued ISDI Digital University an approval to operate so ISDI can run and offer the master’s degree — the first step toward accreditation. The base tuition is $27,500.
ISDI Digital University immerses students in a nine-month, intensive program suited to the fast-changing technologies in Silicon Valley. This newspaper recently spoke with Cadigan, co-founder of ISDI, and Mashkoori, ISDI’s chief executive officer, about their perception of the skills gap and what their university offers.
Q: What got you interested in the skills gap?
CADIGAN: I’ve been working in Silicon Valley since 1994. My entire professional focus has been on human resources, talent, recruiting and organization development. For almost four years recently, I was running the recruiting and entire H.R. function at LinkedIn. I faced really acute problems in hiring against very sexy brands and companies with very well-known reputations. But I also had a front-row seat to the challenges in the Bay Area around trying to find the best people. Not just qualified people, but the best people. There is a real skills shortage.
Q: Are there areas within tech that suffer an extremely acute talent shortage?
CADIGAN: The largest skill shortage is in what we would call digital transformation. Companies are undergoing a digital transformation and saying we need to do work differently, work needs to be performed differently, and how we relate to customers is different.
Q: How did ISDI originate?
CADIGAN: After I left LinkedIn in 2013, I had the chance to travel to Spain to meet some friends who had founded a school called ISDI, that was focused on trying to develop the digital skills we are talking about, in Spain. During this time I reconnected with Amir. We’ve known each other for 20 years, since his time when he worked at Advanced Micro Devices. We found that the challenges that I was seeing were validated by Amir.
Q: What did you see about the digital skills transformation?
MASHKOORI: We have seen an acceleration in markets where technologies and industries that used to take 20 to 25 years to play out can now happen in a mere four to five years. At the same time, on the talent side, whereas people used to plan to work somewhere for 20 to 30 years, now they plan on working somewhere only two to three years at a time.
Q: How is this changing how education must operate?
MASHKOORI: We still count on the traditional education system to do its job. But what we see in the job force is that people must pivot very quickly now. Otherwise, they become obsolete.
Q: What is the primary focus of ISDI in this rapidly changing landscape?
MASHKOORI: We are focused on making sure that their skills in the business of doing technology are up to par, and that the folks who come out of our program are able to go make an impact right away. A lot of master’s-type programs are kind of long and expensive, and don’t necessarily prepare you for a role, or they are very short, and not at the kind of expert level that you need to really go and be plug and play.
Q: What kind of graduates do you want from your first classes?
CADIGAN: People who are going to be successful in the future are people who are learning, and growing, and able to adapt very, very quickly. That is a core part of the reality of work.
Q: How would ISDI fit into that changing work environment?
CADIGAN: We want to not only provide the skills to be very fluent and effective, but to also have the network and the knowledge to carry you through the changes that are inevitably going to happen. What we are bringing to the school is the concept of the living network. No matter what changes in your job market or your vertical, we are going to know people, and you will know people who will help you navigate that inevitable challenge. Career agility and career resiliency is so critical.
Q: How are the classes designed? Are they more receptive to the fast-changing technologies?
MASHKOORI: Students go through 16 modules. They will understand from an overview how digital marketing, design thinking and content work. They will start to understand how to drive traffic to social networks, digital technology, mobile and also the user interface.
Q: How important is the network?
MASHKOORI: We provide currency for our students post graduation by giving them access to future content as well as networks of people. Our networks are a global ecosystem of 5,000 professionals.
Q: It seems as if this goes well beyond a conventional approach to education in the style and the format.
CADIGAN: This is meant to be immersive. You are going to be able to start applying the skills in week one, week two.
Q: What sort of success rate do you see in the sister programs in other countries?
MASHKOORI: We looked at outcomes. Of the 315 graduates in Madrid, Spain, that they had in 2015-2016, 82 percent are in digital roles right now.
Q: What kind of students are you looking for?
MASHKOORI: There are three categories of students that we are after. One is someone who actually wants to launch their own online company. Two, and this is by far the largest one, is that pivot professional, someone who needs to pivot into a new industry. And three, the reboot person, someone who was a professional before, took 10 years off and now wants to get back into the workforce.
Q: What are the big challenges with the job market right now?
CADIGAN: The cost of living, the cost of housing, are ridiculous, particularly in San Francisco, so that is a bit of an edge that San Jose has in affordability.
Q: What are the opportunities today in digital industries?
CADIGAN: We have a gold rush of job opportunities in the Bay Area, and full employment and good and rising salaries.You would think people can just walk right in the door and get hired. But companies can’t find these people. For companies to win today, they have to be especially paranoid. Work is definitely changing.
Job: ISDI Digital University co-founder and head of digital transformation
Residence: Menlo Park
Job: ISDI Digital University co-founder and CEO
Residence: Los Gatos
FIVE THINGS ABOUT STEVE CADIGAN
1. First job: Paper route in Danbury, Connecticut, age 10.
2. Favorite thing: Coaching my sons’ sports teams.
3. Parallel life: Tennis player. Steve’s USTA team went all the way to the U.S. nationals this year and won it all.
4. Favorite quote: “Winning isn’t about right or wrong or good vs. evil. Winning is about who has the best team.” — Bill Russell.
5. Favorite book: “Orientalism” by Edward Said.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT AMIR MASHKOORI
1. First real job: Test operator at AMD. Eventually became general manager and head of wireless flash.
2. Favorite activity: Saturday evening date/movie night with his wife.
3. Favorite causes: Dignity Health (Hello Humankindness) and San Jose State University Tower Foundations.
4. Favorite quote: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke.
5. Favorite physical challenge: Completed the 129-mile “Death Ride” bicycle tour in the California Alps (located primarily in Alpine County south of Lake Tahoe).