“You’re Not There To Solve The Math Problems, You’re There To Be A Storyteller”

Yitzi Weiner
Mar 12, 2018 · 7 min read

Words of Wisdom with Darren Shimkus, General Manager of Udemy for Business

I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Shimkus, GM of Udemy for Business. Darren has nearly two decades of experience building and growing high-performing sales, marketing, operations, and product management teams. Prior to Udemy, he worked in training and executive development at the Corporate Executive Board in Washington, D.C. and London, and in product, marketing, and operational roles at several technology companies. He received his B.A. from William & Mary and his MBA from Stanford University.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in a house where I was the first to go to university, and everyone was expected to work and contribute. At 14, I started working as a custodian and dishwasher in a nursing home. I’d like to say that it was for altruistic reasons, but the truth is that at that point, there weren’t many places that would hire a kid my age. My day-to-day tasks weren’t always the most fun, but I really connected with the people I worked with. We were a diverse group of high school students and dropouts, of Haitian immigrants, and people with roots in the town for 150 years or more. To this day, that crew represents the broadest cross section of America I’ve ever worked with. What I remember most and what inspires me even to this day, is seeing many of my co-workers rise up and take the initiative to better themselves in their jobs. They had humble backgrounds and they worked hard to learn the necessary skills to step into management roles or lead kitchen and service crews. I’ll never forget seeing the true pride that they felt. College and graduate school put my life on a decidedly different track. Being with Udemy now, I’m trying to offer millions of people around the world the chance to do the same.

Yitzi: So what exactly does Udemy do?

Udemy helps people learn at work with online courses. Somehow, society has built an educational system where we’re born, go to school for fifteen-twenty years to learn, and then we’re done with formal learning. We’re supposed to switch overnight from students to productive employees. The world doesn’t work like that anymore, and people absolutely need to learn new skills at work all the time. We give employees a place to go when they need to learn how to do something new — whether that’s coding in a new programming language, running a marketing campaign, or improving soft skills like management and public speaking. Companies around the world use our collection of 2,000+ on-demand, video-based courses to give their employees a place to learn, so they can do whatever comes next — whether that’s a promotion, completing a project, or even changing careers.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading this division?

I can’t stop thinking about the shrinking life of workplace skills. It’s absolutely staggering that 20% of the skills we use at work will be obsolete in a year. This kind of change should be completely transforming the way businesses recruit and hire, but recruiting practices really haven’t changed in many companies and industries. Interview and selection processes mostly work to identify and assess current (and past!) skills. Only the most forward-thinking companies are hiring based on aptitude for learning and a growth mindset. How do you build a culture of learning where everyone is engaged in building skills? How do you find employees who are good at their current role and are also thinking about the skills they need for the role they’ll have next year? Working with companies on the challenges related to the half-life of skills is the most interesting and rewarding work.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of the best parts of my job is hearing how learning on Udemy has transformed the lives of our students. Recently it was a single mom who used our platform and learned how to code. Those new skills got her a promotion sooner. It’s also very inspiring to hear the stories of people who have decided to reinvent themselves and follow their passions in a completely new industry. That’s not just good, that’s life-changing. It’s certainly why I’m here, and I think the vast majority of our team is as well. There’s just an emotional connection with our mission at Udemy that I personally haven’t felt anywhere else.

Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a GM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

This might be a bit unexpected, but I would love to have breakfast with food-blogger and entrepreneur, Kenji Lopez-Alt. I’m a huge fan of the work he’s done on “Serious Eats” to change the way people cook and eat, and even moreso about his approach to learning. Kenji is a voracious learner, always experimenting and dismissing preconceived notions. All of this just oozes out of his writing. Beyond that, in a world where newspaper restaurant critics are a dying breed and celebrity chefs dish out light “foodtainment” on TV, Kenji has created a new kind of job in the industry. And he’s done it while staying true to what he really cares about. I’d ask Kenji about how he carved out his niche, the blind alleys he’s gone down, and how he sustains his passion when the going gets tough. I’d also ask him why in the world he hasn’t published a course on Udemy yet!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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