With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, we would like to say thanks to all our wonderful guests who engage with us in meaningful conversations and our listeners that tune in every show. It’s been an… interesting year (to say the least), but I think the majority of us still have plenty to give thanks for.
Brennan believes finding diverse talent is as hard as you make it. In order to be successful, a company must make a priority to build diversity into their organization and create opportunities for their employees to grow. When scouting for talent, he believes that companies should be focused on hiring good people who are energetic and passionate about the business, not necessarily someone who has a specific educational background. Once a candidate is identified with the right soft skills, that individual can be trained and allowed to grow into the right roles. Brennan likes the idea of using the apprenticeship pattern for tech positions because it gives both the apprentice and the employer an opportunity to determine if they are a good fit for one another. It's a low risk way to test drive from both parties. In regards to retaining diverse talent, Brennan thinks it is critical for companies to talk about the career opportunities that are open to employees from day one.
Brennan Decker is the Loyalty Program Manager and Product Owner at Finish Line where he has worked for over 17 years starting in retail and working his way up to a corporate position. He also serves as the Chairman of the Board for Hav A Sole, a 501c3 non profit who provides the homeless and at risk youth with quality footwear to encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent disease. Brennan is in the process of launching ProductLeader.tech, an online resource dedicated to current and aspiring product leaders.
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Welcome back to the SnackWalls podcast. I'm Mike Roberts, your host, and we're here to talk about increasing and maintaining diversity in tech, beyond the perks. While companies think they can lure people in with unlimited PTO and dogs in the office. We're here to talk about how you keep them.
All right. I'm gonna throw it over to our special guest today in a few sentences. Can you tell us who you are and what it is that you do?
Brennan Decker (00:28):
Yeah. Well first, thanks for having me today, Mike, I really appreciate it. The opportunity to be on your podcast. Um, I'm Brennan Decker. So I'm a product owner for Finish Line and a nonprofit leader, uh, I serve on the board of directors for, uh, Hav A Sole. It's a Los Angeles based non-profit that helps those in need.
Awesome. I love the social enterprises and I got one of those myself. So really important to, you know, be able to give back, especially, you know, I've been pretty privileged as a software engineer to have like really well paying jobs across my career. So I love being able to help other people in that same kind of same kind of path. So let's just jump right into things. Um, the first question I have for you is, um, I'm hearing from some tech leaders that finding diverse talent is a challenge. What are your thoughts?
Brennan Decker (01:14):
Yeah. You know, I think it's as hard as, as, as hard as you make it. I think that a lot of organizations, so just so you guys know I'm have a retail background. Um, I have been with the same organization for 17 years, worked my way up from a sales associate selling shoes on a sales floor to now a job in the digital office, uh, as a product owner. So I think a lot of it comes down to how, how hard the, how much of a priority the organization makes it. So I think some organizations do a great job, you know, I'm blessed with having a, having a path from the field into corporate, um, with my current, with my role in my organization. But I think there's a lot of places that just, uh, don't spend enough time creating journeys, like customer journey for their team members in the field to, for a path to a well paying corporate job.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, 17 years, that's a long trip. I mean, I'm sure it's been fun, but
No. So I can appreciate that, you know, there, there could be, um, a challenge for a lot of people to sort of like, wait that long, right. To stick with one employer that long and really be sort of that dedicated to just like being with the company until that happens. I'm sure a lot of folks aren't going to be willing to put that much effort in. And so, you know, companies really do have to make sure that they're making the effort appropriately to meet the challenge, to meet the demand of like, if you're a shop and like in, in a lot of shops do not look very, uh, reflective of the customer base is one way to say it. Right. But, um, if, if, if you're not doing anything about it, then you're going to have the same results. Right. So, yeah.
Brennan Decker (02:53):
Yeah. I think, I think you think about a journey like mine, you know, again, starting as a sales associate, then working my way up to a district manager, running 30 plus million dollar units across multiple States. Um, I think organizations have to value the domain knowledge. That's kind of created from really creating that. First of all, you have, you have associates, frontline workers that already know, like, and trust your brand. So what, what, why not invest in them? Why not take the time from a corporate standpoint and, and create paths from, to every role in the organization to help them understand how to get there? Yeah,
No, I think that's super powerful. So great response. So that said, um, what do you think about the push to remove the requirement for CS degrees for engineering roles?
Brennan Decker (03:38):
Yeah. You know, so I don't, I don't have a bachelor's degree. I'll put that out there right now. Um, I have, I am a certified scrum product owner. I took the certifications. Um, I've used utilize my organization's uh, education reimbursement policy program. Okay. So like, uh, I look at the San Diego Code School and I look at opportunities like that or code boot camps. And I say, you know, why do you need a bachelor's degree? I think that when you, when you, when you look at your frontline workers and you look at your team members, uh, the educational background varies, I think greatly between maybe the field and maybe the corporate office. And why is that? And what benefit do you really get from having a bachelor's degree or any CS degree? Um, and can that, can someone that, that loves your organization is aligned with your culture. Your values knows your customer knows your products, know the ins and out of everything you do, then arm them with a certification or a bootcamp or something amazing like the San Diego Code School and get them in the development road, job, take a risk. Uh, I believe more on focusing on soft skills than the hard ones that you might learn at a university.
A hundred percent agree.
Brennan Decker (05:13):
You said something really important that I think gets overlooked a lot, making sure they're good people. And you know, if you, I, I really am a firm believer that it doesn't matter what certifications, education background, whatever that they have. I think at the very core, they have to be a good person and they have to have, they have to be energetic and passionate about your business. And if you find people like that and give them the tools, you can train them, you should hopefully have a phenomenal training program to help them grow into any role, but you can definitely identify good people, uh, have them work 40 hours a week, uh, in your organization for a few years.
That's just such a great perspective because a lot of times when we talk about attracting talent, we're talking about like from an outsider's perspective. But instead many of these organizations are large enough that they may be eliminating some jobs in some roles and the jobs of the future may be in another part of the organization. So it just makes total sense what you're, what you're talking about. So that said, do you think an apprenticeship pattern would work for tech roles?
Brennan Decker (06:10):
Oh, I, I absolutely. I think that's the way to go. I, again, I think that, um, you, you, you kind of test drive, right? You let, and at the same time, you know, when you have, when you're a good person and you're armed with a, with a skill, like what programming or tech or anything in tech, the options you're going to have options everywhere. And so I think that just as much as the organization is looking for a match, um, from the employee, the employee is looking for match from the organization. So it gives both, both parties, an opportunity to test drive. Uh, you know, there's a, there's a lot of great jobs out there that I might be qualified for that I just won't be a good fit because maybe that's not the type of organization I want to work for. And, and likewise, so, uh, so it goes both ways, but I think apprenticeships let, it's a, it's a low risk way to test drive from both parties.
Absolutely. So, um, that said, what advice would you share with folks that let's say they're doing a great job in attracting talent? How do you retain diverse talent like that, you know, that seems to be tough for some folks.
Brennan Decker (07:09):
Yeah. You know, I, I, you look at huge organizations and, and, um, like, like a large Amazon, right? And you look at their workforce. I think that that's a, that's a great one and you go to their website and it says a lot of things about maybe diversity and this and that. But then you look at the jobs and you, and you say, you know what? It looks like. It looks like a lot of people get stuck in frontline service or, or warehouse type jobs, customer care type jobs. And then a certain portion of them make it to the corporate jobs, make it to the decision-making roles. So what I would challenge everyone, I think from a retention standpoint is you got to talk about it on day one. You know, that day, that for me, for example, the day that you step on that selling floor at 17 years old, selling a pair of Jordans, in a mall, right?
Brennan Decker (07:57):
Talk about the career aspirations, talk about the opportunities. And yes, that 17 year old young adult might not have everything figured out or know exactly what they want to do 5, 10, 17 years from then, from now. But just talk about the opportunities that your company provides, because then when they get that fancy idea, Oh, I want to go work for one of the FAANG companies. Right? Well, you can do that same work here. You can do that. You can take that. You already loved the organization. You love the products you sell. You love your customers, your peers, your team. Why not just do that same job that you look at in a FAANG organization and do it here.
Yeah, no, it's true. You got to have that like eye on the prize and be sort of like communicating. We want you here. So we're going to create some paths to your point. You know, the journey is we're going to construct the way and it's not a mystery. Sometimes. It's just like, how do you move up in this organization is like, well, there's some politics involved and it's like, you're not going to be able to keep and retain diverse talent if you're playing those kinds of games where it's like not clear what it takes to be successful. And to your point, like on day one, if you're telling people, if you do X, Y, and Z, you can end up on the board one day, right? Like just kinda just do good work, do great work. And great things will happen is not necessarily being like sold to people on day one.
Brennan Decker (09:10):
No, it's, it's not at all. And I think that a lot of times, um, we have these major organizations have these amazing marketing teams that do a ton of market research and say, let's understand that let's give our customer avatars a name, this and that. And yeah, all that's needed from that perspective, but is your HR department investing that much money in understanding your internal customers journey? And if they're not, then what are they going to do about it? Because again, I looked up your website and I think that there's a lot of great organizations out there that, that multi-billion dollar companies can partner with to help with that journey. Because I mean to, to have a developer or have an engineer that understands my customer on the bench, in the store, right. How powerful is that? Because we solve interesting problems all day, but think about that ramp up time for, for a new developer, right? If you have someone that's already been in the field and can look three layers deeper because of the domain expertise that they already have, you're going to give your, organization's going to get the ROI immediately.
Absolutely. And it's about redirecting, maybe some of those great resources that they invest in the marketing in to outside customers and just like use it to retain folks and keep folks inside our organization and mitigate some of that churn and some of like the turnover. And it'll make it that much easier for you to attract more diverse talent and get more women into your organization to get more people of color in the organization. So I love that answer. So you've had some fantastic stuff to share so far, who is someone like yourself that you'd like to acknowledge as a leader and think might be a good guest on a podcast like this?
Brennan Decker (10:41):
You know, so there's two sides of my role. So I'm the product owner for, for our loyalty team. And then there's also a, uh, strategy, uh, program manager for our strategy side of loyalty. Um, it's one of my, one of my peers he's he runs, he came from, he comes from customer care. So we have one of us is from the field, from field leadership and retail, the other one's from customer care. And I have to kind of tip my hat to my boss. I think Stephanie Bleymaier. I think that she would be a great person to talk about being purposeful and building diverse teams, um, understanding the long-term payoff that, that, that, that has
All right. She's on our radar now. So I'm going to see if we can get her on the program. Um, so where can we find out more information about your company? Anything that you're working on, this is a great time for shameless plugs. Maybe a podcasts I hear might be something, you're working on.
Brennan Decker (11:29):
No, I have, I have a podcast that's launching soon Let's Talk Product. So that's going to be a great one where I sit down with product leaders and tech leaders like yourself, and just talk about that path into tech, um, and just hear about everyone's different backgrounds. But what I really love for your listeners and viewers to check out is the nonprofit that I serve it's Hav A Sole. So you can go to, uh, Hav A Sole H A V A S O L E. So, sole like the shoes, um, amazing program Hav A Sole for success. It's like a mentorship program where we help underprivileged youth, uh, with, with, with strategic thinking, with team building, with job readiness. So I'd love for you guys to check us out on LinkedIn and I can definitely connect us and connect in the show notes.
Absolutely. We'll throw those in the show notes so people can easily get to that. And, uh, yeah, man, that's so social enterprise has got me, right. Is just like, I'm a social enterprise, a what do they call it? Like a serial entrepreneur, right. Serial social. I just love being able to give back and like help people that, you know, otherwise, you know, they're overlooked and often just don't get a shot and giving somebody a shot, man. They grab it and they just like take off. So yeah,
Brennan Decker (12:38):
We're right up the freeway and I'm in Los Angeles. So I think that your Escondido area, so, um, we'd love to have you come by the headquarters and talk to you.
Absolutely. Well, getting to get those Rona off our backs first. So this is the final and most important question of the day. What have you been thinking about lately? What's your favorite snack
Brennan Decker (12:59):
Man, so, you know, I don't know if you have, when I was in California. I haven't seen them down there, but have you ever heard of dots? Pretzels, dots?
Brennan Decker (13:08):
Oh, that is my snack, so,
Oh man. They're good.
Brennan Decker (13:11):
Yeah. You can only find them at hardware and ranch supply stores out here in Colorado. But man, when you find a bag, you can't put it down.
Yeah, no, I, I agree. Pretzels. Great snack.
Brennan Decker (13:22):
Cheez-Its. It's on your wall above you. So that's what your going for right there. That's the,
I got my own little snack wall, so thanks so much Brennan for coming on the program, I really appreciate it.
Brennan Decker (13:33):
Yeah Thank you for having me.
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