Hometown: I was born in Holland to Dutch parents and still consider Amsterdam my hometown. We moved around a lot growing up, including Norway and Borneo, before settling in London, UK, where I went to school and spent the formative years of my career.
How long have been a Vancouverite?
Six years. I originally moved here to get out of the rat race of London, taking six months off to travel across Canada and sail up the coast from Vancouver to Alaska and back in a small sailboat. I gained a deep appreciation of the amazing BC coast, and as a result, I decided to stay. I’ve never looked back.
In 2012, I co-founded a digital agency called Drive Digital with Chris Breikks and John Blown at 6S Marketing. Drive has grown to a team of 28 designers and developers. Together with the team of 35 people at 6S, we are collectively now one of the largest agencies in the province.
As Drive matured and brought on a solid management team, I decided to branch out and address the growing talent gap in the Vancouver tech sector by starting a new company called RED Academy. At RED, we teach both full and part-time programs in UX design, web development and digital marketing. We work closely with a partner network of 60 companies in British Columbia to produce tech talent with the right skills and knowledge, so that they can hit the ground running and play a meaningful part in the continued growth in this booming sector in the city.
It has been reported that there will be over 15,500 tech jobs in Vancouver between now and 2019, with IT jobs on the rise across the country by 22%. Is there a current pool of talent in Canada to support this growth and if not, what is your role in helping to expand this area?
RED is essentially a data driven company. We have carried out in-depth qualitative and quantitative research into the rapidly changing demands of the Vancouver tech industry, and our programs are designed specifically to meet those needs.
The core purpose of RED is to produce highly employable grads with the right skills and technologies. We are seeing huge demand from both prospective students and our hiring partners. This makes it a really exciting and rewarding space to be in.
As the Founder and Managing Director of both a company and a school, you have had experience in vetting and hiring top talent. What are the most important attributes that you look for when recruiting new tech employees?
You’re essentially always looking for the A players. I have three things I look for when hiring: intellect, attitude and integrity, as these all overlap with one another. Essentially, you need employees who can not only think on their feet and solve problems, but who have the right energy level and will make the correct decisions. They need to be people that you can trust implicitly.
Given this, both the teams at Drive and RED have complete autonomy and I fully trust them. I know they will not only make the right decisions but really smart decisions – often much smarter than if I was in their shoes. The old adage rings true: hire people smarter than you and get out of their way.
Community involvement is a focus that is important to you and your colleagues. With this in mind, Red Academy has created the One for One Program. Can you tell us a bit about the logistics of this arrangement and also how the school and your company are involved in the community locally?
RED has a specific remit to have our students work on real projects for our network of community partners. So far, we have around 40 different projects that we have students working on, which range from Aboriginal groups, local charities and international aid organizations. Any charities or purpose-driven organization is able to submit projects for our students to work on through our website.
RED is now in the process of registering as a B corporation, and we have developed specific community programs that we feel very strongly about. This includes our One For One program, where we match each of our full-time student places with a secondary school in a developing country through The School Fund. This is an amazing international organization that donates 100% of funds directly to pay for student placements in carefully selected schools in various countries around the world. We are also developing our own volunteer programs that allow our students to apply their skills in both the local and international community.
Drive already has a really well developed community program, whereby we offer pro-bono projects and time to charities that we feel strongly about. This includes close relationships with Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, North Shore Rescue and Lion’s Gate Hospital Foundation.
Despite the rampant growth of the tech sector, there still remains a large gender gap in the industry, with only a small percentage of women in these positions. What steps are being taken to address this and what is your advice for women looking to join the tech industry?
We are really conscious of not only the gender gap, but also the diversity in the tech sector. We do offer discounts on our full-time programs, specifically in our coding programs where the gender gap is most pronounced, and we have built a team that is super inclusive.
It’s true that there is a bit of a ‘bro culture’ in many parts of the tech industry, and we think that’s all a little out of date, and not good for anyone. We have a strong female representation in both our management team and in our instructors, though we aren’t really pro or anti anything – we just focus on inclusion and doing an amazing job – it really doesn’t matter what background or gender you are.
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