Having spent several years in various roles at Progressive Insurance, Kerry Hirz always had her eye out for new opportunities. After a friend in Progressive’s IT department suggested Hirz consider joining a programming bootcamp to make a bigger career change, Hirz was intrigued.
But after some research, Hirz, who was working as a resolution consultant underwriting support specialist, wasn’t sure she wanted to commit the time or money to a program outside of work and didn’t feel ready to take that on. But just a few months later, she received an email about the Progressive IT Programmer Bootcamp and that her role qualified her for the pilot program. It was an opportunity Hirz “couldn’t pass up,” she says.
“The program was challenging to say the least. I had not attended any classes since 2016 so getting back into the groove of being a student did not come easily,” Hirz says. “The program leaders mentioned that every week in bootcamp was comparable to a semester in college and I truly believe that. For 15 weeks I set everything else aside and put my absolute focus on the material I was learning to ensure I had the best possible chance at success.”
Rosario Ceraolo found himself in a similar position as Hirz while working as a commercial underwriter for Progressive. He was hesitant to make such a big career change but felt confident that Progressive’s employee-first culture would support him through the process.
“I initially had reservations about leaving my current role and if a new path was right for me in the long term,” Ceraolo says. “I had previously taken a few computer programming classes and enjoyed them. That coupled with my research into this career path ultimately pushed me to pursue the opportunity. The bootcamp was an amazing opportunity, and I am so grateful for the investment Progressive made in my development.”
Anatomy of an internal IT bootcamp
With retention rates suffering and a persistent skills gap in the IT hiring market, companies are establishing new ways to retain employees while meeting their needs for new skills. Training programs in particular have become increasingly important tools for creating new opportunities for the professional success of employees — all while helping to fill key IT roles.
Stephanie Duca, leadership development consultant at Progressive, and leader of Progressive’s IT Bootcamp program says the company saw an opportunity to expand its D&I efforts and to “develop an even broader and more diverse pool of qualified candidates” for IT apps programmer associate roles through an internal upskilling program. With an internal bootcamp, Progressive could fill important roles by investing in its own employees, who already have a wealth of knowledge about the organization, while also “knocking down some of those barriers of eligibility for some of these tech jobs,” says Duca.
The Progressive IT Bootcamp pilot program launched in 2021 with eight participants who graduated in November and now work as IT apps programmer associates on teams across the company. These participants had been previously employed with Progressive as customer support representatives, underwriting specialists, and claims representatives.
Working with HR, the bootcamp team identified certain customer-facing roles and marketed the program toward those teams, inviting members to apply. The team emphasized that employees didn’t need a tech background or a degree in tech — all the experience and background would be provided to them through the bootcamp.
Once bootcamp candidates were identified and accepted, they were taken out of their previous roles and put into the 15-week intensive training program where they learned C#, .NET, and other skills necessary for their new role.
“We understood that the training was intense. We didn’t want them to feel the added stress of having to continue to do their day-to-day job. And we really wanted them to focus on their training by giving any bit of support we could to help them be successful during the program. That was our main goal,” says Duca.
In addition to being paid during their training, participants were given access to a full-time Progressive employee who worked as a programmer for the company and operated as a training assistant, whose “role was to connect the dots of what they were learning to how it would apply here at Progressive,” Duca says.
Program participants also had regular check-ins and reported directly to an IT manager who treated them as new hires to IT. They were onboarded and given orientation to help get them acclimated to the bootcamp, and were paired with program ambassadors who graduated from external bootcamps before joining Progressive. Since these ambassadors had gone through bootcamp experiences themselves, they were able to speak to the unique experience of learning a new skill in an intensive program.
Hirz says she bonded quickly with her ambassador and that they are still close today. Meeting once a week, she and her ambassador shared their struggles and accomplishments. “I wouldn’t have made it all the way through without his encouragement,” she says.
On completion of the program, participants are guaranteed a new job along with new compensation based on that role. Program graduates are paired with their new department and introduced to their IT team. They go through another orientation and onboarding with their new official IT manager and are assigned one-on-one mentors to help them through their first assignments.
“With help from our team lead and the other developers, I was able to adjust quickly and become a valued contributor,” says Hirz, adding that the most shocking part of the transition was going from the intensity of the 15-week bootcamp to “slowing down” in her new role as she adjusted to her daily responsibilities.
“The best part is that I’m still learning,” she says. “My team is quick to pull me into work I may not be familiar with so I can continue to learn. They pull me in for my opinions and insight when they’ve hit a wall and need help moving forward. I’ve never felt anything other than an equal and valued member of the team, which has helped me adjust to joining the team tremendously.”
Ceraolo agrees, attributing all the “support and communication” as paving a path for a smooth transition into IT. He had been hesitant to make such a big change in his career, feeling comfortable and confident in his previous role. But he says that he “had confidence in Progressive and its culture to support [him] along the way,” and found his new team supportive and welcoming.
Investing in talent for the future of the organization
Investing in employees in this way enables Progressive to fill tech roles with individuals who already know the company and its culture. Moreover, an internal bootcamp like Progressive’s can help improve employee retention while ensuring qualified professionals have been trained for the exact skills the organization needs.
The company is now working on another version of the program, focusing on analyst roles, Duca says. Progressive hopes to continue growing the program to include other tech roles as well.
By “dipping into the talent we already have,” Duca says the bootcamp gives opportunities to employees who may not have had the chance to go to school for programming or computer science and who have assumed they’d be unqualified for a position in tech.
“I just know that it’s sparked some real passion and an appreciation for Progressive — our employees see that we want to invest in them and keep them here and retain them,” says Duca.
Ceraolo says he is grateful for the opportunity to change career paths without having to change companies. While he feels his role as a commercial underwriter would have led him on a strong career path within the organization, he is happy he made the change, and that Progressive took the opportunity to invest in his career development.
Hirz says she also found the program to be a rewarding experience. When she joined Progressive in 2016, she felt that a career in IT was out of reach and that she would need a degree or background in computer science to take her career in that direction.
“Now I look at my career path with brand new eyes thanks to the bootcamp program. The possibilities of where I can move to and grow in within Progressive and IT are endless, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to pursue those,” she says.