CEO Spotlight: Ram Katamaraja Shares his 2018 MIT SOLVE Global Challenge Journey: Part 2
The History, Evolution, and Future of Refactored.ai
Today marks the two-month anniversary of Refactored.ai being awarded 2018 MIT SOLVE’s most promising Work of the Future solution (among other awards). In the spirit of the holiday, I spent some time reflecting on this crazy journey, which I feel so grateful for. After all, Refactored.ai all started with the thought of giving back to this country.
In 2012, I was working as a freelance Solution Architecture Consultant at Fortune 500 companies and wanted to hire a veteran to help them reenter the workforce. Unfortunately, I could not find a veteran with the required, relevant skills. It was at that point that I realized there was an opportunity to help individuals enter the growing, prosperous field of data analytics, and simultaneously build a talent pipeline to account for the widening skill gap.
When we set out on this journey in 2012 with the Colaberry School of DataScience and Analytics, we were just trying to give back to the country and community that gave so much to us. We had no business model, just one shared belief - anyone can succeed if they are given the opportunity and pathways to success. We adhered to that principle when we developed our platform and ecosystem. Our original KPI (Key Performance Indicator), and one that we continue to measure and are constantly driven by are Job Offers: 1 interview = 1 job. When someone goes through our platform and gets a job interview opportunity, we expect that they will get that job. We strive for 100% job acceptance.
To meet that ambitious KPI, we developed a data-driven technology platform from the ground up, one that would enable anyone to learn the tools needed for success. We perfected the platform to ensure that user data, activity data, user feedback, analytics, data science and gamification methods were continuously captured. Our relentless approach of looking at and analyzing data allowed us to remove bias; we are now able to identify the data points that quantify successful behaviors and the data points that facilitate intervention and course-correction methods. Most importantly, the platform can accurately let us know when someone is ready to crush an interview, land a job, and not only succeed – but thrive – in that job.
Our work was really challenging; we were not making any money and we wanted to give up many times. It was extremely difficult to convince other businesses to hire people with little to no demonstrated years of experience. Talent acquisition executives would watch our presentations, listen to our stories, appreciate the work we were doing to help people - and then ask for data scientists and machine learning engineers with PhDs and advanced degrees. So, we had to keep innovating and challenging the status quo.
We knew that our platform was working and that was motivation enough. And, when someone goes from barely making minimum wage to accepting a life-changing career as a result of our platform – that satisfaction is too hard to give up. The continued success of participants helped us build a culture of 'Giving, Caring and Mentoring.' Alumni who benefited from the platform were so grateful and invested in our work; they cared deeply and wanted to participate in our ecosystem of giving back. Over time, we built an army of instructors and mentors – our army of ‘Giving Leaders’.
We also knew that we had to differentiate and have a competitive edge over other training platforms. So, we created an Artificial Intelligence (AI)- powered ecosystem that not only augments the user performance and helps them succeed faster with more precision, but develops soft skills at scale. Refactored.ai automates mock interviews using asynchronous video interviews and robo-calls. We use AI to analyze participants’ body language, speech, and language usage to give ongoing, consistent and immediate feedback.
Our progress brought the attention of several organizations and individuals who thought our work was incredible. However, most were still hesitant to fully commit. There was one organization that was an exception – Year Up – led by their fearless leader Gerald Chertavian. Year Up adopted our platform as part of their newly created Year Up Data Analytics program in the fall of 2016. Since then, our platform has enabled more than 150 at-risk, inner-city youths to transition into promising data careers at Silicon Valley companies (e.g Tesla, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google,etc.).
Fast forward to just a few years later, and MIT SOLVE awarded us with the Future of Work Solver award in a global challenge where more than 1,110 companies submitted solutions. Having our work recognized by MIT is like reaching Nirvana. It doesn’t feel like winning. It feels like a sense of calm within myself, a sense of gratitude towards everyone who worked with me tirelessly. I feel a sense of clarity and of renewed mission. Every single day, I feel lucky to be doing what we are doing. We are running one of the most successful reskilling and upskilling platforms. We have continued to stay true to our original values and mission; we do not pre-screen candidates, and we let anyone join the program to give them an opportunity to succeed.
MIT SOLVE will be working with us over the next year(s) to make our platform accessible, at scale and ensure that millions of people across the world have access to new career pathways. The timing is impeccable, as AI will bring large scale automation and replace hundreds of millions of jobs across the globe. Refactored.ai will continue to use AI for the advancement of humanity. We will use AI to speed up the capability of humans to learn the skills required to succeed in the Future of Work.
What are the skills required to succeed in the Future of Work? Data thinking, problem solving, perseverance, grit, confidence, time management, collaboration, and oral communication to name a few. Refactored.ai will help individuals overcome adversity and organizations overcome disruption by developing a talent pipeline for the #workofthefuture.
Full of Gratitude For Those Who Helped Move Us Over the Finish Line
To date, Refactored.ai has changed the life trajectories of more than 5,000 people.
I am humbled by the incredible impact Refactored.ai has had on diversity and inclusion within the technology industry: 45% of our participants are women and over 70% are considered minorities. This impact would not have been possible without a few key leaders and early Colaberry contributors.
Anand Musunur, a key adviser, continuously gave us the direction in which we should row the boat - as he could foresee where the river of emerging jobs was flowing. He challenged us to hang onto our boats in rapid, uncharted waters and immediately lent a hand to help us climb out of waterfalls when we fell and nearly drowned.
Anand Dasari, Chief Operating Officer at Colaberry School of Data Science and Analytics, spurred innovation in our team by giving us a goal of ‘pass on the American Dream to 100,000 people’. He is an amazing data architect who created the foundational curriculum and pedagogical approach that became the stepping stone to build a platform and ecosystem that multiplies our reach and impact each and every day.
Ali Muwwakkil, Chief Automation Officer at Colaberry School of Data Science and Analytics, led the recruitment efforts that started our first cohort of five. Ali is a fearless leader, an African American Marine Corps Veteran and an amazing data analytics manager. He designed the technology platform with a ‘data first’ approach and incorporated the marine corps bootcamp principles. Ali is a 1000% dedicated individual who is tirelessly working on scaling our recruitment efforts and multiplying our impact all over the United States.
Paul Bilodeau, now CEO of Filtered.ai, a great friend, partner and advisor, he helped us think big and think with integrity. The Refactored.ai platform concept was derived from Paul; he saw where the market was heading and anticipated the market need. He was always thinking a few years ahead and pushed us to identify new business models and make the tough decisions that would later dictate our success.
Enrique Shadah, head of strategic relationships at MIT, challenged us to push the boundaries and encouraged us to apply for MIT SOLVE. His faith in our work gave the confidence necessary to compete (and “win”) in the global challenge.
Beyond these key individuals, there are numerous passionate individuals who deserves to be acknowledged. We affectionately call them ‘Leaders,’ and you know who are. These Leaders are products of the platform and their stories are inspirational. They give back to the community every day in various forms such as mentoring, teaching, workshops, referrals and being role models, sharing their stories with participants in our ecosystem.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the sacrifices made by our families as we tirelessly pursued this endeavor. Particularly, Swapna Katamaraja and Pallavi Dasari - you two deserve special praise for your continuous and unwavering support.
Together, we will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
REFACTORED.AI IS THE #WORKOFTHEFUTURE. Join our community today.
Abigail Jones | Business Development Manager, Colaberry | email@example.com
Refactored.ai’s interactive, on-demand data training platform provides a scalable solution to keep workforce skills current and relevant in the midst of rapid technological advancement. The platform offers unlimited opportunities to develop agile, adaptable talent and data-thinkers, grasp and immediately apply AI concepts and skills, and build high-performing data science teams. Refactored.ai also offers the critical transitional steps required to seamlessly convert to an AI-powered organization. As a team of passionate data scientists committed to making a social impact, we firmly believe that innovation and technology should bring people together; it should not create larger divides and opportunity gaps. Refactored.ai will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed - regardless of age, race, education, income, or skill level.
Solve is an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that advances lasting solutions from tech entrepreneurs to address the world's most pressing problems. Solve issues four Challenges each year to find the most promising Solver class to drive transformational change. Solve then deploys its global community of private, public, and nonprofit leaders to form partnerships these Solver teams need to scale their impact. This year, Solve received more than 1,150 solutions from 110 countries tackling its four Global Challenges: (1) Work of the Future, (2) Frontlines of Health, (3) Coastal Communities, and (4) Teachers & Educators.