Discover’s unique IT training platform builds skills and community

With talent markets tight as ever, upskilling is increasingly becoming an IT imperative, and Discover Financial Services is among those companies sharpening staff capabilities by investing in their IT training strategies.

The company, which has a culture of “empowering [employees] to work better together in modern ways,” says Angel Diaz, vice president of technology capabilities and innovation (pictured), is keenly aware of the latest “technology-fueled renaissance” that sees employees increasingly embracing “democratized” technology to “deliver better outcomes for customers at faster speeds.”

That renaissance has led Discover to develop the Discover Technology Academy (DTA), a unique one-stop platform for employees to “come together as a community and define how we work, how we think about the marketplace, and how to deliver on products,” Diaz says.

The DTA platform offers employees access to learning modules, content from subject matter experts (SMEs), trainings, networking opportunities, and other avenues for upskilling, reskilling, and continued learning. It’s all about “continuous learning and continuous improvement,” he says.

Built in-house by teams at Discover, DTA benefits greatly from being developed by employees for employees. Having the insight of team members working on building the DTA platform has proved crucial in creating a tool that employees actually use and integrate into their daily workflow.

Megan Kostick, an expert application engineer at Discover, and member of the DTA build team, helped “build out the content processor that takes the content submitted to GitHub, processes it, and posts it to the backend API to serve up the frontend,” she says, adding that she’s also a “regular customer and content contributor on the DTA platform.”

What Kostick loves most about the DTA is how easy it is to “search, share, connect, and find the information” that she’s looking for in one place. She notes that the asset types offered on the platform are “diverse and allow users to digest the information in a way that works best for their learning style.”

Autonomy for employees

The DTA is a big part of how engineers at Discover start their days. They can look at their backlog of activities in the morning and then utilize the DTA to identify the best approach to an unfamiliar project, or to brush up on skills they haven’t used in a while. They can also read articles related to their daily tasks or connect with other SMEs to ask questions and get guidance on a variety of topics.

“Most of our engineers, the first thing they do [each day] is they go to the academy to look at, learn, or bring something new into their day-to-day work,” says Diaz.

The platform gives employees more autonomy in their daily work and prevents them from being slowed down or held back by potential knowledge or skills gaps, Diaz says. Anything they need to know or learn can be found on the DTA, and if they can’t find it, they can contribute it themselves.

The Academy is open to everyone, but there are guilds and groups within the academy where employees can have discussions and technical debates to help “drive some of those more advanced technological discussions,” Diaz says.

“DTA is the first place I go to whenever I am looking for an answer to the problem I am trying to solve because there is a good chance someone else has already solved that problem,” says Praveen Erode Mohanasundaram, an expert application engineer at Discover. He finds DTA to be a convenient, centralized place to “share and locate content about standards, best practices, tutorials, and products.”

The power of the training platform, Diaz adds, is that it is “embedded in the way we work — it’s not a separate entity. It’s not something that’s on the side; it’s the main course.”

Building community through learning

The DTA not only gives employees access to learning materials, it’s also a convenient platform for networking within the organization. There are opportunities to chat, ask questions, and connect with peers in other departments or business units that employees might not typically interact with.

It’s akin to a “digital watering hole,” says Diaz, where people “share what they do, share feedback, how they’re learning, how they’re improving their process in the company, and who can be doing similar work in other areas.”

The DTA also enables employees to share their expertise. John Coyne, an expert application engineer at Discover, remembers when there was an “initial challenge from subject matter experts to create content” on the platform. Coyne stepped up and contributed more than 15 pieces of content, including tutorials, code patterns, articles, and blogs.

“DTA is undoubtedly part of my daily workflow. When I find myself in need of an answer to a question or solution to a problem, the first place I turn to search is on the DTA,” he says. “I look forward to the daily e-mail’s from DTA that provide some featured articles and upcoming events, such as lightning talks. I’ll often answer a question from a colleague by linking to a DTA tutorial or article.”

The community aspect of DTA is what “makes it extremely useful in solving actual problems you’re facing or developing solutions that can be implemented in your environment,” says Coyne. In regular training exercises, he notes that the projects you work on don’t always translate to real life and may not represent what you do in your daily work. But the DTA allows for hands-on learning, with examples that are true to Discover and its internal culture, all while building community.

Kostick agrees. “DTA has connected me with different product teams and SMEs across the company. It gave me a home and I feel connected to the greater company, with an overall sense of community,” she says. “DTA allows me to find and solve issues while increasing my personal knowledge to be a key contributor to the Discover technical community.”

Beyond IT skills, just the act of contributing to DTA offers employees opportunities to hone valuable skills.

Soumya Raju, a senior manager of product-immersive learning journeys, says that she utilizes DTA to create product-owner immersive learning paths for the company and to organize community events for the product teams. The opportunity to contribute her knowledge to the platform by uploading articles she’s written has helped improve her writing and communication skills, she says, adding that as an all-in-one platform, DTA is vital for helping her succeed in her career — and she doesn’t have to jump around through various tools or platforms to find the content she’s looking for.

Coyne has had a similar experience in contributing to the platform. “DTA has helped me to become a better technical writer,” he says.

By empowering employees to learn new skills, connect with colleagues and SMEs, and share their own expertise on an easy-to-use platform, Discover has reaped significant benefits from DTA. Beyond having a workforce that is up to date on the latest tech skills, through the platform the company is fostering a commitment to continuous learning, giving employees the ability to upskill on their own terms while fostering community across the organization.

Financial Services Industry, IT Training