From the CIO’s View: Building a Nimble Learning Organization

By Rob Alexander, CIO, Capital One

Advances in technology and data science are disrupting industries and creating new ones every day. The landscape is littered with companies that didn’t get ahead of the change and adapt.

This disruption is creating tremendous opportunity in financial services to rethink what’s possible through data, digital capabilities and the customer experience.

At Capital One we recognized several years ago that the winners in banking of the future will be those who understand and are expert at managing the complexities of the business and, at the same time, master digital channels, machine learning, and the real-time analytics that are essential to delivering new solutions and transformative customer experiences. In short, it means investing and operating like a bank that a technology company would build.

In short, it means investing and operating like a bank that a technology company would build.

That has been our motivation.

For us, technology is a competitive advantage and central to our business strategy. Early in our digital transformation, we made a commitment to invest and invent like the very best technology companies do — which meant developing our own software, attracting and growing a diverse, engaged and innovative team of software engineering talent, and reimagining traditional IT operating models.

For that talent to thrive and innovate, you also need to have a culture where continuous learning and innovation are championed at all levels of the organization. For us that means having a nimble learning organization where the talent you bring onboard is empowered to quickly take advantage of the latest technologies and given opportunities to experiment, learn, and drive continuous improvement in our methodology and practices.

We have always had a culture that championed a test-and-learn approach, but as we hired thousands of engineers and moved more deeply into leveraging machine learning we wanted to provide a comprehensive tech curriculum that could empower all 50,000 of our associates with new opportunities to grow and learn their technology skills.

Capital One Tech College

Tech College Launches

As part of this effort, we created Tech College, an engineer-designed learning program with a deep and comprehensive curriculum focused on the latest technology disciplines.

What makes this program unique:

  • Built by engineers, for engineers: Our own engineers designed the curriculum — ensuring the content is relevant and useful.
  • Breadth and depth: The curriculum addresses 13 key disciplines that align with our business imperatives including software engineering, mobile, machine learning/AI, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data.
  • Blended learning: The program includes online courses, in-person workshops, boot-camps, and trainings from partners who are well-known in the field (such as Udacity, General Assembly and Coursera).
  • Learning from our leaders: Our own tech discipline experts teach and inspire colleagues to learn and explore the latest advancements and how we can use them to enhance the experiences we’re developing for our customers.
  • Learning for all: We’re rolling out the Tech College experience to thousands of tech associates this year and, in the future, all Capital One associates will have access to the curriculum.
Discussing cloud and CI/CD automation best practices with Tech College interns

Below are a few key learnings and principles that have helped us bring the program to life.

1. Provide development opportunities for all associates
Technology fluency is for everyone. Tech native or not, engineer or not, we all need to understand the possibility and promise of technology. It opens lines of communication, and helps our business teams act more nimbly and overcome obstacles.

2. Include project-based learning
Machine Learning and AI have been central to so many of our latest innovations — our Alexa skill, our chatbot Eno, and Second Look, spending alerts that notify customers to potentially unwanted or atypical charges on their account and offer a quick path to resolution. Future advancements in Machine Learning and predictive analytics will unlock opportunities for us to help our customers with their financial lives in ways that we can’t even imagine today.

That’s why Machine Learning is one of our most popular topics in Tech College. In fact, we already have 300 learners registered in the pilot nanodegree program, which is significant given the time investment. When you sign up, you know that you’re in for 10 hours of study per week for 6 months. And it’s working. Our associates tell us that they’re already applying what they’re learning in class and in conversations with their peers to inform product changes and their team’s key priorities for the year.

3. Encourage peer-to-peer communications
There are many sources of information out there, but it’s not always easy to know who to trust. Since 70 percent of the Tech College deans are engineers and the courses are designed in part by our engineers, students are learning from experts, and experts are learning what their peers are seeking to inform their work.

The best learning experiences (like the best workplaces) are collaborative. While it can be difficult to feel a part of a community in an online course, we have mentors proactively reaching out to people enrolled in the courses and encourage associates to organize group study sessions.

4. Design innovative learning experiences in a mix of formats
To ensure we’re making these learning opportunities as accessible as possible to our associates, we deliver a combination of online courses, in-person workshops, partner training, and more. These formats accommodate various schedules and support a range of learning styles. Dedicated, cutting-edge learning spaces, both in our buildings and online, demonstrate that the company is taking this work seriously.

Technology will play an increasingly central role in how people manage all aspects of their lives. As an information-based technology company, we know that we’ve got to be great at building software and delivering consistently better customer experiences that are real-time, digital, and can anticipate their needs. There are endless opportunities to do this better. To deliver an intuitive and exceptional customer experience in this dynamic environment, we know we need to build agility, talent and capabilities as an information-based technology company. We are constantly looking for a better way, and a culture of ongoing and rigorous learning will ensure we find it.


These opinions are those of the author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. This article is © 2017 Capital One.

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