Mike Subelsky’s Baltimore-based ad-tech startup, Staq, has raised more than $1 million and grown to a team to eight people in the space of a year. Recently, it moved into a new office. But when Subelsky, the cofounder and CTO, was faced with the prospect of having to outsource some Ruby on Rails developer jobs in order to help take the product to the next level, something didn’t quite feel right.
Subelsky, who cofounded email company Otherinbox before it was acquired by Return Path, sees part of his entrepreneurial mission to create jobs for the local economy. So, instead of sending the Staq jobs to India or Eastern Europe, he decided on a different approach: He would pay novices to learn on the job.
Subelsky designed his software system to be modular, so temps could work on the building job in pieces. The idea is to get people into the company who have only basic programming skills, and then to provide them with mentoring so they can get up to speed with Ruby, all while they work on the modules.
While they’ll be paid $20 an hour for the three-to-six-month period that they’ll work for Staq, the workers will also get in-person training from Subelsky and his team that will provide them with deep expertise in web scraping and API integration, and with basic knowledge of general Ruby programming. By the end of their short stint at Staq, they’ll have the experience and skills to move into an entry-level programming job.
For Subelsky, the “We’ll pay you to learn” approach simultaneously solves a business problem and contributes to Baltimore’s startup and tech community.
“The main reason I’m in entrepreneurship is because it’s really fun to help change people’s lives,” says Subelsky. “It’s fun to sign a lease and have an office and build something local and meaningful. Third of all, I really like training people.”
Subelsky says he has always wanted to do something like this hybrid training-jobs program since learning about Hungry Academy, a five-month training program run by LivingSocial that teaches programming skills to novices with the goal of placing them in developer jobs at the daily deals company.
Subelsky is training his first recruit as part of the program today. He will film the training sessions so that the videos can be shared with future recruits, who can then also learn from other people who arrived at the company before them. He wants to develop a system in which the program runs like a machine and is self-perpuating.
He’s aware that the project, which he announced on his blog, is a risk. “I feel nervous about it,” he says. “I feel a little exposed, because if it doesn’t work it’s going to be a public failure because I wrote this post about it.”
However, if it works out, it will help him reach his “ultimate career goal,” which would be to run a social enterprise company that provides exactly these kinds of training-while-working programs.
“More companies should spend more training people and spend less time complaining about the developer shortage,” he says.
Staq, which provides a universal management platform for advertising technologies, is a software-as-a-service startup that in April closed a $1.135 million seed round, most of which came from Clearstone Venture Partners’ The Hive. James Curran, a former product manager at Advertising.com, is Staq’s CEO and Subelksy’s fellow co-founder.