Isn't that what so many professional development programs involve?
Taking in information. Taking in new viewpoints. Taking in new skills.
All of that is important at international ecommerce and software consultancy firm MagmaLabs. But they have a further level of professional growth for their team members: giving back.
According to Magma's Chief Culture Officer, Esteban Cortes, Magma has four main mantras or reminders of values:
- Keep learning
- Give back
- Work smart
"Keep learning" and "Give back" will serve as our characters, and perhaps they'll turn out to be a dynamic duo.
Teaching to Learn
As we'll see, giving back permeates Magma's culture and its being. But one of the major, formal components of giving back is Magma Hackers, a professional experience program that Magma runs for college students earning degrees in Computer Science or Information Technology.
This is part of practicas profesionales, a university program common in Mexico, where three of the U.S.-founded company's offices are located. (MagmaLabs' offices dot North America, with three in the Mexican cities Colima, Leon, and Aguascalientes; plus Los Angeles and Toronto).
As Magma Hackers voyage through the professional experience to complete their degree, MagmaLabs ensures they are fully engaged and challenged. Esteban says at MagmaLabs they don't pawn off mundane tasks to the students, like "set up my internal LAN or fix the printer." Rather, they have a full-throttled experiences that, over four months, takes them, according to Esteban, "from apprentice to junior level."
While the company did hire a former dean from a nearby university to coordinate the program, the instruction comes from Magma engineers. In the theoretical component of the program, they teach the students various skills used by junior-level professionals (while college graduates often start at what is classified as the apprentice level). This can include various roles in the SCRUM construct, how the team dynamic operates, etc. Of the five students who just finished this year's program, three have found jobs; Esteban says that students emerging from the Magma Hackers program have a good reputation in the area.
As for the engineers themselves, anyone who has taught anything knows that doing so is definitely a form of personal and professional growth. The junior and senior engineers who oversee the Hackers work as true pedagogues, not just trainers. Esteban explains that they use a "fail fast" methodology, allowing the Hackers to run into trouble with their coding and other tasks, rather than "micromanaging" them and guiding them too closely. This requires stamina and patience, and the ability to handle frustrations that may appear upon that fast failure. Indeed, based on the needs found by these failures, engineers come in on weekends to lead workshops on the necessary issues.
Extracurricular activities aren't extra within the culture of MagmaLabs, where the "give back" imperative is a way of life. Esteban says, "We want (employees) not only to be involved with the technical part of the job, but we want them to be agents of change in our society."
Agents of Change
Giving back extends far beyond helping budding coders leap into the job market. The company is also reaching out to middle-school-aged children in area foster homes, providing hands-on, kid-friendly instruction on, for example a bubble-sort algorithm.
Blood drives and toy drives are frequent areas of outreach just as much as seminars and workshops. Fulfilling the Give Back mantra is a holistic part of the careers of all team members, is closely nurtured between professionals and their supervisors, and is necessary for advancement. In that way learning and giving are intertwined.
Celebrate the Change
One imagines that for professionals at a company to give back to their community, they themselves would need a renewing sense of purpose and a high morale. Some of that can come from an atmosphere of joy around the hard work (coming in on Saturdays, organizing games for adolescents) and its effects.
MagmaLabs has this more than covered with big and spectacular appreciation events. One is the Magma Awards, where givers back (and those who excel in other ways) win awards such as Ambassador (for attending the most international conferences or presenting at one) or Yoda Master (for mentoring). Now, this is all done four times a year at parties, and get this: MagmaLabs has its own house band made up of employees, and they entertain. Sometimes family members show up!
However, the company is international, so it needs a way to broadcast the appreciation across the miles; for this it has turned to Disco. As is the case with people at many companies, Esteban recognizes the way appreciation shown via the tool serves as information on what's going on at the various offices, creating a link between them. Another key factor for him is that Disco allows MagmaLabs to link feedback directly to its values.
To conclude, let's take a second to remember that Esteban's position is Chief Culture Officer. If personnel is policy, that means MagmaLabs will always have a structured and diligent approach to the maintenance of its culture. It's a culture of enthusiasm that is meant to be passed on.