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Tech Culture

What Home Depot Can Teach DevOps (and Anyone Else)

As an industry, we need to stop thinking about talent as a commodity. Our employees are our greatest enabler for success — much more so than whatever technology we adapt to improve our operations.
Jun 18th, 2019 9:41am by
Featued image for: What Home Depot Can Teach DevOps (and Anyone Else)
Feature image courtesy of Home Depot.

As an industry, we need to stop thinking about talent as a commodity. Our employees are our greatest enabler for success — much more so than whatever technology we adapt to improve our operations.

The days of outsourcing development or firing employees that don’t have the skills we desire for innovative applications are over. The fact of the matter is: the talent we need to develop cloud native applications doesn’t exist — yet. Cloud computing has been in our lives for the better part of a decade, but cloud native technology has only been around and available for half that time. The consequence? You won’t find 1,000 people that have vast experience in this field.

The developer community is massive, but most developers are focused on their day jobs, as they should be. While the rare few will find time to learn new languages and technology, that’s not the case with most — and we shouldn’t expect it.

A Culture of Continuous Learning

If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes with me, you’ll know I’m very passionate about this topic. It’s key that more organizations focus on building collaborative organizational structures, as well as develop methods that shift their culture to one that’s always learning. If you can’t do those things, it doesn’t matter what technology is available to your organization — you won’t be able to take advantage of it.

There are proven ways to reskill your workforce, level up your people and encourage them to continuously learn and evolve.

Enter The Home Depot. Yes, that Home Depot. After more than four decades in business, the company has adopted a strategic framework and revitalized culture that promotes and actively encourages learning at all levels of the organization. It’s called the Orange Method. Catchy and on brand, right?

During last month’s Cloud Foundry Summit, I had the pleasure of speaking with Anthony Gregorio, The Home Depot’s technology director of software engineering and enablement. He also runs the Orange Method program, which he described as a “technology boot camp” designed by and for associates.

Egalitarian Upskilling

Abby Kearns
With nearly twenty years in the tech world, Abby is a true veteran of the industry. Her lengthy career has spanned product marketing, product management and consulting across Fortune 500 companies and startups alike. As executive director of Cloud Foundry Foundation, Abby helms the ecosystem of developers, users and applications running on Cloud Foundry, and works closely with the board to drive the Foundation’s vision and grow the open source project. Prior to Cloud Foundry Foundation, Abby focused on Pivotal Cloud Foundry as part of the Product Management team at Pivotal. She spent eight years at Verizon where she led product management and product marketing teams dedicated to the early days of cloud services. In her free time, Abby enjoys indulging in food and wine and spending time with her husband and son.

Most importantly, this boot camp isn’t exclusive to experienced developers or even solely to corporate employees. It’s available to any employee working on the warehouse floor that demonstrates the desire and wherewithal to uplevel their skills.

When The Home Depot found itself well down the path to digital adaptation a few years ago, it had fundamentally changed how it built products, and was adopting new technologies and tools at a rate the company had never experienced. This led to an obvious challenge: How can an organization ensure it will continue to grow as the pervasiveness of technology also grows?

Gregorio and his team tried traditional means — academia, vendors and self-paced learning — but “ultimately nothing really stuck,” he told me in our fireside chat. That’s when the Orange Method was born, starting with just fifteen associates in early 2017.

The program has grown substantially since then to campuses in Atlanta and Austin with thirty full-time instructors that focus exclusively on building and offering curriculum to employees. The organization had a large unmet need for cloud native developers and quickly turned its attention inward. “Through traditional means you’re not going to hit the numbers we were trying to hit, so we looked internally,” Gregorio said.

He and his colleagues visited stores and looked for front-line associates, cashiers and employees in distribution centers to find their next star developers. Nearly a third of employees that have completed a rigorous transformational program came straight from the warehouse floor.

“We took someone making potentially minimum wage and now they’re a full-time salaried associate doing full stack web development.” — Home Depot’s Anthony Gregorio

It’s an unbelievably rewarding program that has drastically changed how The Home Depot views talent acquisition. Moreover, the failure rate is surprisingly low. Out of 91 employees, only four associates haven’t been successful and two of those opted out.

The Orange Method has expanded to include shorter courses and workshops, further enriching opportunities for The Home Depot employees to gain new skills and change the trajectory of their careers. The culture and values instilled throughout the workforce are palpable. I recognize it every time I visit the company’s offices.

Other companies are taking a similar approach, but not enough. Instead of looking for outside talent that doesn’t exist, enterprises should endeavor to find new ways to empower the talent they already have. Tactfully, as Gregorio explained, this requires adopting a methodology around continuous learning.

“When you make that commitment, you’ll see everything else grows around it,” Gregorio said.

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