Having spent several years in various roles at Progressive Insurance, Kerry Hirz has always been on the lookout for new opportunities. After a friend from 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 worked as a resolution consultant and underwriting support specialist, wasn’t sure she wanted to spend time or money on a program outside of work and didn’t feel ready to do it. But 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 that Hirz “couldn’t pass up,” she says.
“The program was difficult, to say the least. I hadn’t taken a course since 2016, so getting back into the rhythm of being a student wasn’t easy,” says Hirz. “The program managers mentioned that each week of bootcamp was like a semester in college and I really believe that. For 15 weeks, I put everything else aside and focused on the material I was learning to ensure I had the best chance of success.
Rosario Ceraolo found himself in a similar position to Hirz while working as a commercial underwriter for Progressive. He was hesitant to make such a big career change, but was confident that Progressive’s employee culture would support him through the process.
“At the start, I had reservations about whether I could leave my current position and whether a new path was right for me in the long term,” says Ceraolo. “I had already taken a few computer programming courses and enjoyed them. This, coupled with my research on this career path, ultimately prompted me to pursue this opportunity. The bootcamp was an amazing opportunity, and I’m very grateful for the investment Progressive has 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 implementing new ways to retain employees while meeting their new skills needs. Training programs, in particular, have become increasingly important tools for creating new career opportunities for employees, while helping to fill key IT positions.
Stephanie Duca, leadership development consultant at Progressive and manager of Progressive’s IT Bootcamp program, says the company saw an opportunity to expand its D&I efforts and “develop an even larger and more diverse pool of qualified candidates.” for associated computer application programmer roles through an internal development 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 “removing some of those barriers to eligibility for some of these tech jobs.” says Duca.
The Progressive IT Bootcamp pilot program launched in 2021 with eight participants graduating in November and now working as IT application programmer associates on teams across the company. These participants had previously been employed by 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 to those teams, inviting members to apply. The team emphasized that employees don’t need a technical background or tech degree — all experience and knowledge would be provided to them through the bootcamp.
Once bootcamp candidates were identified and accepted, they were removed from their previous roles and put into the intensive 15-week training program where they learned C#, .NET and other skills needed for their new role.
“We understood that the training was intense. We didn’t want them to feel the added stress of having to keep doing their day-to-day jobs. And we really wanted them to focus on their training, giving them as much support as possible to help them be successful during the program. That was our main goal,” says Duca.
In addition to being paid during their training, participants had 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 how that would apply here at Progressive,” says Duca.
Program participants also had regular check-ins and reported directly to an IT manager who treated them like new IT recruits. They were onboarded and given an orientation to help them acclimate to the bootcamp, and were paired with program ambassadors who graduated from external bootcamps before joining Progressive. Since these ambassadors had had bootcamp experiences themselves, they were able to talk about the unique experience of learning a new skill in an intensive program.
Hirz says she quickly bonded with her ambassador and they are still close today. Meeting once a week, she and her ambassador shared their struggles and accomplishments. “I wouldn’t have made it through without his encouragement,” she says.
At the end of the program, participants are guaranteed a new job as well as a new remuneration based on this role. Program graduates are matched to 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 individual mentors to help them with their first assignments.
“With the help of our team lead and the other developers, I was able to adapt quickly and become a valued contributor,” says Hirz, adding that the most shocking part of the transition was going from intense 15-week bootcamp to ‘slow down’ in her new role as she adjusted to her day-to-day responsibilities.
“The best part is that I’m still learning,” she says. “My team quickly pulls me into work I may not be familiar with so I can keep learning. They ask for my opinions and ideas when they hit a wall and need help moving forward. I never felt anything other than an equal and valued member of the team, which helped me tremendously in adapting to the team.
Ceraolo agrees, crediting all “support and communication” as paving the way for a smooth transition to IT. He had been reluctant to make such a big change in his career, feeling comfortable and confident in his previous role. But he says he “trusted 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 like this allows Progressive to fill technical positions with people who already know the company and its culture. Additionally, an in-house 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 currently working on another version of the program, focusing on analyst roles, Duca explains. Progressive hopes to continue to expand the program to include other technical roles as well.
By “tapping 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 that they would not be qualified for a position in technology.
“I just know it’s sparked a real passion and appreciation for Progressive — our people see that we want to invest in them and keep them here and retain them,” Duca says.
Ceraolo says he is grateful to have the opportunity to change careers without having to change companies. Although he feels that his role as a commercial underwriter would have led him on a solid career path within the organization, he is happy to have made the switch and that Progressive has taken 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 some background in IT to steer her career in that direction.
“Now I look at my career path with new eyes thanks to the bootcamp program. The opportunities for growth and growth within Progressive and IT are endless, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to pursue them,” she says.