Talent: Arden Hoffman, VP and global head of people at Dropbox
Arden Hoffman, Dropbox VP and global head of people. Photo via Luke Maxwell

‘Want to bridge the tech talent gap? Change the story,’ says Dropbox VP

20 Jul 2016

The tech sector is immense, and it’s no secret that its sprawling nature has led to a huge talent gap. There are more jobs in the sector than there are people to fill them.

The problem can’t be linked back to any one thing. There’s no single root cause that has left the sector with a lot of open jobs, a migratory workforce, and a talent chasm. But there are ways to bridge that chasm.

Arden Hoffman, VP and global head of people at Dropbox, sees a number of different avenues that could bring balance to the sector. Starting young is chief among them.

“Schools in general are getting a lot better about offering basic computer science, which I think just generally opens up people’s minds to that,” says Hoffman.

But placing all the onus on schools to pick up the slack when it comes to developing tech talent is overly facile. Hoffman places a lot of the blame for the talent gap at the feet of the tech companies themselves (and, tangentially, the media that reports on them).

“I don’t think companies do a very good job of outlining what kind of careers you can have if you do these kinds of [courses],” explains Hoffman. “Everyone just assumes, ‘Oh, you’ll be an engineer, you’ll get a job,’ and that’s probably true, but what will you do?”

“We need to do a better job of clarifying what kinds of roles you have when you have an engineering degree. And I don’t think corporations are doing a good job of that right now.”

It’s also important, says Hoffman, that the sector seeks to change its branding. Rightly or wrongly, tech is associated with pale white guys coding in darkened rooms, but it’s moved far, far beyond that.

“We need to tell a better story to all young people, whether they’re women or men, or black or white. It needs to be clear. You can go into the fashion industry and be an engineer. You can go into Dropbox and be an engineer. You can do all kinds of different things, and I think that’s what we need to be doing more at an earlier age.”

Seek diversity, find talent

But, of course, the sector is battling the talent gap on multiple fronts, and awareness is just one arena.

If you read regularly about tech, you won’t have failed to spot one major area of focus – diversity and inclusion. Hoffman sees that as a natural by-product of an industry that’s all about innovation and doing things differently.

“Tech thinks differently,” she says. “It thinks differently about its people, and it thinks differently about what kind of cultures it wants to create for people.”

As a result, tech is, in a way, creating its own solution to the talent gap – albeit slowly.

“There’s more openness towards diversity,” says Hoffman. “There’s more openness towards pushing those envelopes, and accepting different people for where they are and how they grew up, and really looking at them for the talent that they can bring to the company.”

Many companies now have impressive programmes to improve the gender diversity of their workforces, but – while important – that’s not enough. To really bridge that talent gap, companies have to be fully representative of the communities in which they operate.

“We really try to take a holistic view of diversity. It’s not just race, it’s not just gender, it’s not just LGBTQ. It’s also how people learn, how people process information at work. It’s who people are underneath the surface, right? So we’re trying to broaden the definition of diversity,” explains Hoffman.

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Kirsty Tobin
By Kirsty Tobin

Kirsty Tobin served as careers editor of Silicon Republic from 2015 up to August 2017. When she was younger, she had a dream where she started and won a fight with a T-Rex, so she’s pretty sure she kicked butt at this, too. Passions include eating all the cake, watching more TV than is healthy and sassy comebacks.

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