For future tech leaders, soft skills like communication and problem-solving are in even greater demand than hard skills like coding, according to America Succeeds. With this in mind, the Autodesk Foundation launched its Tech Lead Development Program in March 2022 with 18 participants and a focus on the untapped potential of leadership soft skills.
The Autodesk Foundation is Autodesk’s charitable arm. There are 50 organizations in the foundation’s portfolio, most of which are concentrated in the areas of energy and materials, health and resilience, and work and prosperity. The foundation provides these organizations — which are made up of nonprofits and early-stage companies — with philanthropic investment and grants. The Tech Lead Development Program acts as an additional support service for the foundation’s portfolio.
Christine Stoner, executive director of the Autodesk Foundation, told TriplePundit the program is aimed at building the skillsets necessary for a growth mindset. Participants learn to lead teams of individuals with diverse experiences and are equipped with the skills required to convey their learning and talk about themselves so that they can lead industries.
Stoner and her team made two key discoveries in the exploration and culmination of the Tech Lead Development Program. First, development initiatives in career advancement and leadership were an under-resourced area in nonprofits and early-stage organizations. In fact, the majority of the organizations supported by the foundation didn't have the resources to provide the level of career training needed.
The second observation the team made was that the organizations faced challenges with retention and the development of nontechnical skills among technical leads, such as engineers and architects. “By focusing only on technical skill building, by focusing only on part of the equation where we think about leadership development, the more technical piece, we’re not tapping into the power skills or the non-technical or what we might refer to them as soft skills — which are, frankly, equally if not more important as we think about the success of individuals long term,” Stoner said.
Organizations are aware of this skills gap, however. A recent study shows that the majority of nonprofit organizations are prioritizing recruitment and investing in development. The top three development priorities include advancing learning programs, expanding investments in leadership programs and executing high-performance talent programs.
“The other thing that makes our approach novel is that we don’t just write checks,” Stoner said. “We match the capital deployment with in-kind support, resources like software donation and technology training, and employee talent initiatives and programs like the Tech Lead Development Program.”
The Foundation launched the program to gain a better understanding of how the foundation can support the organizations in its portfolio and scale their impact, Stoner said.
“We care a lot about those short-term outputs of the program and the cohort — things like program completion rate, completion of a capstone project, which is the final culmination of the program,” she told us. “But really what is more interesting to us, we’re thinking about how we can see those individuals grow as leaders long-term and how the participation in the cohort can lead to longer-term outcomes.”
The Tech Lead Development Program has already had an impact on its participants. Sixty-six percent were able to take on more responsibilities and expand in their current roles within the first few months of completing the program, Stoner said.
Businesses can strengthen their competitive advantage and be better prepared for future demands by providing opportunities for tech leaders to better their soft skills. And, by supporting its workforce first, businesses can better serve customers as well.
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Rasha is a freelance journalist with experience in external communications and publicity. She is a Ryerson School of Journalism graduate and has worked on various media and communication campaigns in film, home development and the nonprofit sector. Rasha is passionate about storytelling for impact, whether she focuses on social enterprise, transforming our food system or making the business world more inclusive.