Developers are becoming jacks of all trades

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on October 30, 2013

From The News Desk

Just like it's no big secret that there's money to be made as a computer engineer, the same applies to teaching technical skills. As people flock to take introductory coding classes and try to make a career shift into Silicon Valley's world, others flock to run those classes and pocket thousands of dollars in the meanwhile. Codecademy, Code Avengers, Code School, and Programr have sprung up to do exactly that online, and bootcamps like App Academy or Hack Reactor do so in person.

But career switchers and the opportunists who prey on them are missing one point: the technical talent desert in Silicon Valley isn't for introductory level coders. Companies need experienced computer engineers. People who have been doing this awhile and didn't learn the ("hello, world") script a month ago.

Pluralsight, the Lynda for tech professionals, noticed the need. Since raising its first round of venture in January, it has been on a buying spree. Its mission? To own the professional tech tutorial space. Today it announced its third acquisition of 2013 -- Tekpub.

Tekpub is a video tutorials site created by open source evangelist Rob Conery. The tutorials focus on developer lifestyle and open source code learning. They'll fit well with Pluralsight's other offerings, which range from IT administration to advanced Android developer lessons.

Pluralsight is leaving the hot intro level class market up to companies like Codecademy. It's going after the mid-career audience instead. This matters to Silicon Valley because Pluralsight is now essentially a one-stop shop for all the technical skill development required to fuel high-tech startups.

Its CEO, Aaron Skonnard, believes that that's where the payload is. With new mobile and cloud developments in recent years, mid level developers and IT professionals have to continuously up their technical game. They need a place to learn the new languages and softwares, particularly if they work for a smaller company.

IT pros and developers are having to become jacks of all trades, just like journalists. "You need software developers who can do IT or IT who can also code because some companies can't afford to have both," says Skonnard. Pluralsight wants to make such adaptivity possible for technical talent around the globe.

That wasn't always the plan.

Pluralsight launched in 2004, offering only in-person classes. In 2008, Skonnard started putting Pluralsight classes online, and charging heaps of money -- in the thousands -- for people to take them. By 2010 he realized he could make more money by charging less and making Pluralsight accessible to the masses, so that's exactly what he did. And by 2012 the online classes started to really take off, in accordance with the latest tech wave.

"We weren't thinking to grow it like a startup," says Skonnard. "It wasn't till it actually started to grow that we realized it was a startup."

Skonnard realized Pluralsight could go big, so in January 2013 he raised $27.5 million from Insight Venture Partners and started prepping for hyper growth.

In the last year, Pluralsight has gone gangbusters. It acquired two companies: PeepCode and TrainSignal. The former was meant to establish the company as a leader in open source tutorials, the latter as a leader in IT administration tutorials. Its staff grew from 25 to 85, its library of courses from 400 to almost 1200, its user base grew 100 percent, and its revenue doubled.

It's good timing, given that recruiters are starving for experienced, mid-career professionals who know the latest, hottest languages and technologies.

I first heard this from Michael Ellison over at Riviera Partners, a technical recruiting firm. Riviera brought Ellison on as an entrepreneur in residence, and he's been interviewing developers and companies ever since to understand their job-finding/hiring pain points. The biggest problem for recruiters was finding the right technical talent, not just any technical talent.

Skonnard at Pluralsight noticed the same trend. "We're getting a lot of interest from recruiters who want to give Pluralsight to the candidates they're working with to hone their skills," Skonnard says. In other words, it's easier for a recruiter to place a mid-level professional up to date on the latest technology than a mid-level professional who has mostly coded in Objective C for the last ten years.

Now, rounding out 2013 Pluralsight's acquisition of Tekpub brings it to an even-keeled dominance over the mid-career tech tutorials industry. Its direct competition is Lynda as both companies' libraries continue to grow. But Lynda's tutorials, for the most part, only do advanced training for creative platforms like Photoshop and Illustrator. Its programming and technical tutorials are mostly for beginning learners.

"There's not a lot of direct competition where we are. If there is, we try to buy them up," Skonnard says, laughing.


[Image courtesy: Thinkstock]