The Adobe Digital Academy: An Apprenticeship for Today’s World

The Adobe Digital Academy helps nontraditional candidates move into tech careers that offer more earning potential and growth opportunities. Think of it as an apprenticeship for today's world. In this interview, Adobe diversity and inclusion leaders discuss the new talent and perspectives it brings to the company, how they gained internal support for the program, and how it's changing the lives of participants.

When I first heard Katie Juran from Adobe talk about the Adobe Digital Academy at the Workday Opportunity Onramps conference, I was impressed with her perspective on bringing qualified, diverse talent into a technology company, and was thrilled when Juran and the program’s manager, Liz Lowe, agreed to share their insights with our readers.

Juran, who oversees Adobe’s diversity and inclusion efforts, explained that Adobe Digital Academy is designed for nontraditional candidates looking to switch from nontechnical jobs into tech careers that offer more earning potential and growth opportunities. It’s intensive, which is why Adobe makes sure participants get lots of support in the process. Think of it as a technology apprenticeship program designed for today’s world.

Here’s how it works: Candidates typically find out about the program through a partnering non-profit organization such as Hack the Hood, Year Up, or the International Rescue Committee-Utah. Adobe awards a scholarship and living stipend to selected candidates to attend a three-month training program learning web development at one of two schools: General Assembly in the San Francisco Bay Area, or V School in Salt Lake City. This is considered the “boot camp” portion of the program. Dependent on feedback from the education partner, candidates are then eligible for a three-month internship program with a technical team at Adobe. High performers then have the opportunity to be hired full-time.

The program started small in 2016 but has grown quickly. Since the academy’s inception, Adobe has awarded 60 scholarships, with roughly 80 percent progressing on to internships at Adobe. So far, of those who have completed internships, Adobe has hired 15 candidates for full-time positions, while some have gone on to take positions at other tech companies.

Here are the highlights of my conversation with Katie Juran, senior director of diversity and inclusion at Adobe, and Liz Lowe, senior program manager of Adobe Digital Academy.

How does the Adobe Digital Academy fit within your broader strategy for diversity and inclusion?

Juran: We have a three-part strategy for diversity and inclusion at Adobe. The first piece is pipeline—our effort to attract young diverse talent to Adobe, with a focus on young women and people of color.

The second piece is candidates—people who are already in the workforce. We try to find people of different backgrounds so that our workforce can continue to become more diverse. That is where Adobe Digital Academy fits in.

The third piece is employees. Once employees have joined the company, do they feel included? Can they connect with other people like themselves? Do they see an opportunity to grow and develop with the company? That’s our strategy on a big-picture level.

How did you come up with the idea for the Adobe Digital Academy?

Juran: Getting back to that second piece of our strategy—we thought, what if we looked at people who are in different types of careers and have an interest and capability to have a technology career, and just need help getting into the field? We realized that bringing in people who are in lower-opportunity career tracks could change their lives and would change the equation entirely for us. And because these folks are coming from such interesting and diverse backgrounds, they bring a lot of richness and different life perspectives to the teams they join.

The key to the Adobe Digital Academy’s success from a programmatic standpoint has been the close partnership between its Social Impact and Talent teams. While the Social Impact team takes on the scholarship offering, the Talent team provides key insights into successful hiring pathways and existing processes.

How have you found you can best support participants as they go through this intensive program?

Lowe: We’ve learned the importance of instilling a growth mindset in the scholarship candidates early on, and also with our mentors and hiring managers who participate in the program.

We also encourage participants to ask for feedback early and often, and to integrate that feedback in order to continue to learn and grow. We’ve really emphasized—and had hiring managers highlight—that everyone at Adobe goes through this period of feeling as if they’re a beginner, and a lot is going to feel challenging at first, but that it gets easier over time.

Participants also have access to a number of different mentors. The first is a Digital Academy alum. If participants move on to the internship, they’ll have a technical mentor on their team, and a mentor through one of our employee networks to help foster a sense of belonging and community.

What advice would you give other organizations looking to gain senior leadership support for a program like Adobe Digital Academy?

Juran: Starting small and branding it as a pilot program is key. I think it’s difficult for executives to make a big bet on something that’s completely new and unproven. But when you can do something small with a relatively modest amount of money and show results, executives are happy and willing to invest.

“Building an on-ramp into your company demonstrates you’re serving the organization’s interests while also being philanthropic.” —Katie Juran, senior director of diversity and inclusion at Adobe

We’ve iterated on the program over the past two years, and now its track record is such that we have very strong executive support. We’ve demonstrated with our results that this is meaningful and moves our organization forward.

Also, look at what roles your company is going to continue to need so you can invest in people who can help you fill those roles. Not every participant has wound up working at Adobe—some have gone elsewhere. But knowing you have built an on-ramp into your company demonstrates you’re serving the organization’s interests while also being philanthropic.

Our first intern was hired for a full-time position at Adobe and she’s still here today. Her hiring manager was able to speak to the value she brought to the team and her fresh perspective on problem-solving. That went a long way to bringing other hiring managers onboard.

What do participants tell you about how this program has impacted their lives?

Lowe: I was talking with a participant right before this call, and he emphasized that for the first time, he felt as if the support for continued learning, and opportunities for hands-on experience, were accessible to him, and that the Digital Academy has opened many doors.

Participants discover their earning potential can really increase, depending on the career background they came from, since they are able to earn a competitive entry-level technical salary. Another thing I hear frequently is how much they appreciate the opportunity to contribute to key teams and projects across Adobe, and feel as if they belong to something larger.

Any parting advice?

Juran: The benefits to a company willing to look outside the box—and to help train its own potential future workforce—are huge. It’s not easy or obvious at the start, but it’s worth making the investment.

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