When I signed on to start FourthBrain out of the AI Fund, it was a few hours before California went into shelter in place. As the announcement went out, I will admit that it briefly made me hesitate. As the steady stream of layoff news, and crowdsourced lists of companies on hiring freezes came through, there was also cautious optimism. These were unprecedented times that called for the need to be creative. As ever resilient people took on their job searches, they could not just go back to roles where the cutbacks could repeat. That is when I knew FourthBrain could help. It was the right time to jump in and help people prepare for the next wave of challenges in their careers that were accelerated by COVID-19.
“AI is the new electricity” is an often repeated mantra at the AI Fund by Andrew Ng. The fourth industrial revolution (hence the aptly named FourthBrain) is incorporating technologies like artificial intelligence into our daily lives and is an indicator of where the job market and future careers are headed. Careers for artificial intelligence and machine learning engineers have grown steadily by 74% annually in the past 4 years. We at FourthBrain are on a mission to bring more people into the field through accessible and flexible education programs, no matter where you are on your career journey.
Through conversations with hiring managers from both established companies building out AI infrastructure to prepare for the future, as well as newer startups building products utilizing AI, we established our current focus to be on the training for last leg of an AI career journey: upskilling candidates to the most prominent role in AI today, Machine Learning Engineer. This is the role that has the most growth potential and the largest impact on real world applications, but the pipeline is severely lacking. We will create additional pathways for candidates at various stages of their AI careers in the future to enter the program, and will also branch out to additional skills that contribute to the ever changing landscape in AI. We are just getting started.
With the need to focus on practical applications and real world scenarios on the job, at FourthBrain, we have developed a program that focuses on end-to-end, hands-on projects for machine learning engineers who will create a portfolio of projects. These projects will not only highlight candidates’ abilities in building, validating, and testing machine learning and deep learning solutions, but also demonstrate how they developed these solutions into scalable, optimized, and deployable models. Leveraging the best online courses out there, including courses from Andrew Ng’s deeplearning.ai to scaffold their learning, FourthBrain candidates will create a portfolio of projects. The curriculum will also include industry-preferred tools and platforms, and will teach candidates how to choose between competing options. By the end of the program, a FourthBrain graduate will have built a production-level machine learning project.
FourthBrain’s hybrid model combines the flexibility of asynchronous online courses with the accountability of instructor-led live sessions with peers. While this weekly live session was originally conceived of as an in-person setting with 25 candidates, few thought that adjustment to live online due to COVID-19 would go beyond the summer. We are meeting that challenge head-on by embracing the opportunity to welcome candidates beyond the Bay Area to the October cohort, and considering prospective candidate needs by time zones rather than physical boundaries of cities and locations. The cohorts will still be limited to 25 candidates each, often broken into smaller groups of two for project work to ensure personal support from the instructor and collaboration amongst peers. Over the course of 15 weeks, the program will include 10-15 hours per week of courses candidates complete on their own schedule, plus the live group session every Saturday featuring hands-on project work with the instructor and cohort, guest speakers, demos and walkthroughs.
Beyond Tech Skills
When considering job applicants, hiring managers and technical recruiters alike spoke about the practical aspect of how successful candidates thrive in cross-functional teams, are able to articulate the work they are doing in business terms, demonstrate their love for continued learning and reflect values of the company. We decided to integrate this important differentiator in the hiring process by incorporating explicit practice and reflection in the following values for FourthBrain graduates:
- effective communication and storytelling
- humility and an open mind in approach
- promotion of equity by understanding unexpected behaviors in blackbox algorithms, and identifying and mitigating bias.
The program is designed to integrate a career curriculum from Day 1, including career coaching, workshops on both technical and non-technical skills, and networking support to develop relationships with employers. In addition to the importance of integrating a career curriculum with the values above to address the needs of job search today, we also recognize that COVID-19 has served as an accelerant for yet another aspect of our lives – remote work. While this has been gaining traction over the years, we have had the luxury of choosing to apply for remote roles in the past. It is now a necessary skill to be developed by both employees and hiring managers. Developing self-awareness and working to fill the skills gap needed to be a remote-ready worker is now a must have, not a nice to have.
The pandemic and our collective consciousness that followed about creating a fair and just society has forced us to answer questions about our hundreds of years old education systems, challenged our preconceived notions of what up-skilling promises the workforce, and questioned the balance of technical skills and ability to function in collaborative and now remote work environments. What is encouraging about tackling this challenge of getting candidates ready for careers that are future proof is the reminder of the number of companies that started during a downturn that have aimed to help better lives. Slack, Microsoft, Disney, Uber and Techstars all came about during economic recessions. FourthBrain’s curriculum is unparalleled in our focus on scalability and deployment, our incorporation of valuable non-technical skills that include collaboration and thriving in remote work environments, and our laser focus on graduating industry-ready engineers to tackle the challenges of the changing hiring landscape.
We would love to hear from you! If you are interested in joining our program, our applications are now open. If you are looking to hire Machine Learning Engineers who reflect the values we believe reflect the needs of the jobs of today, or want to partner in other ways, contact us. If you just want to follow along on our journey, sign up for our email list. We can’t wait to get to know you.
Happy (machine) learning,