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June 27, 2018 | Tom Ballard

Cook Systems helping address national shortage of enterprise developers

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Anyone in the technology sector knows there is a national shortage for qualified enterprise-level developers.

According to research earlier this year from The App Association, there are 223,000 job openings for software developers in the U.S. alone. The same report detailed the key factors that hiring managers cite in their inability to hire qualified developers – lack of experience, lack of both hard/technical skills and soft skills/workplace competencies, lack of formal engineering education, and salary expectations.

Ironically, just a few months earlier, the LinkedIn Workforce Report showed that Nashville has the biggest skills shortage for software engineering management in the country. To help combat that shortage in the region, a nearly 30-year old Memphis company with a strong track record in connecting qualified IT talent with those needing their expertise just opened an office about a year ago in Franklin.

The company is Cook Systems, founded by Wayne Cook, the inaugural Chief Information Officer at First Tennessee Bank. We recently met Curt Holmes, the company’s new Business Development representative for Middle Tennessee, at the “Rise of the Rest Road Tour” stop in Chattanooga, and subsequently had the opportunity to learn more about Cook Systems during an interview in Franklin.

We found the company’s approach to be unique, starting with what one might describe as the endgame already known.

“FastTrack’D is different,” Cook Systems states on its webpage. “We help you find a great job first, and because we partner with employers like FedEx, American Express, and ServiceMaster, we know exactly what they want, prepping you to be a perfect fit for what the industry needs.”

Unlike the company’s competitors, Holmes says this approach provides a “clearer mandate. We only put people through our training if we think they can do the job.”

How does Cook Systems assess potential candidates for its nine-week program? Holmes describes a very rigorous multi-step screening process that involves, in succession, a technical assessment followed by a personality assessment, an emotional quotient assessment, and an interview via Skype.

“We are assessing their conversational skills at that stage,” he explains. “If they pass, they join the class. It’s all in-person training for nine weeks.” For now, the training is conducted in Memphis. The instructor cadre includes some FastTrack’D graduates who are selected after they have spent years in the field, at one or multiple of Cook Systems’ clients. One of those instructors was in the first cohort of trainees.

Holmes says the technical training (see webpage for a lengthy list) is only about 40 percent of the curriculum. The balance is coaching on how to succeed as an employee in a workplace.

“We take a strong focus on developing the individual to be a leader,” he explains. “It’s not a cookie cutter program for nine weeks.”

Those who pass the screening process and are invited to participate in the training pay nothing other than their food and incidental expenses. Typical class sizes are 13 to 15 students.

“We expect to start offering classes in Franklin once the market demand develops,” Holmes adds. In that regard, he’s building relationships with companies in Chattanooga and Knoxville that need developers.

The Memphis native graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2013 and worked at 21st Century Mortgage for more than three years before moving to Franklin to join Cook Systems.

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