MetroStar’s ‘fast and fearless’ IT culture is fueled by upskilling

The No. 1 small company on the 2023 Best Places to Work in IT list emphasizes continuous learning and community engagement as part of its strategy for finding and keeping diverse talent.

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When a company’s mission is to advance artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to build human-centered solutions for the U.S. government, you can bet continuous training and upskilling are central to the IT charter.

For MetroStar, a solutions and digital services company catering to the public sector, it’s that emphasis on building creative and innovative technologist communities, coupled with a commitment to employee development, that has helped the 400-plus-person company land the top spot for small companies in Computerworld’s Best Places to Work in IT 2023 rankings.

Fast and fearless

“The company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal is advancing AI and ML for the nation,” says Vy Truong, MetroStar’s chief innovation officer. “The team that I’m driving is fast and fearless … because it’s a race against other countries in this particular space.”

To keep employees — and the company — primed for this high-stakes competition, MetroStar spends, on average, $2,000 per person on both technical and business skills training, enabling employees to earn certificates, take courses, and fast-track their career development. Additionally, the MetroStar University in-house training platform provides a broad curriculum for all employees.

Truong also oversees a formal upskilling program for the IT group. The 18-to-24-week program specifically targets younger professionals, introducing them not only to key technologies such as AI/ML but also to methodologies such as DevSecOps and full-stack development, customized to reflect MetroStar’s approach.

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MetroStar expects 75% of its employees to continue working in a hybrid capacity.

With companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft right down the road, Truong says, “if you’re not upskilling people, giving them opportunities to take part in work they feel is engaging, and creating a road map for them, you’ll lose them to one of those other bigger, flashy companies.”

That level of engagement applies to hybrid work as well. Debbie Peterson, MetroStar’s senior vice president of People & Culture, stresses the importance of aligning flexible work strategies to individual teams based on an understanding of what each team needs to be successful — without overprescribing policies that inhibit flexibility and autonomy.

Fostering talent, inside and out

Community and education are central to MetroStar’s ethos, and the company reinforces that commitment through partnerships with six colleges and universities, including three HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities). The programs are designed to give back to the community by helping nurture the next generation of professionals through mentorship and internships, sponsored STEM events, and exposure to what’s possible in a career serving the public sector.

“We also focus on both upskilling emerging talent and more experienced professionals, along with [offering] an internal talent mobility program that helps realign and reassign existing staffers in new ways,” says Peterson. “So we have a lot of hooks out there, but it’s important that we’re giving back as well.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is another core tenet of MetroStar’s culture, and the company has made big strides in that area, maintaining a workforce that is 51% ethnically diverse along with an executive team that is 29% female.

“DEI is not made in strategy or press releases — it’s made in microactions,” Peterson says. For instance, DEI goals are continuously reinforced through commitment from top leadership as well as with tactical moves, including being deliberate about writing job descriptions, training managers, and finding diverse talent pools.

“Having diversity at the highest levels makes it easier to hold ourselves accountable,” Peterson adds, “and it inspires people to come to the company because they can see themselves in the leadership team.”

Read about the Best Places to Work in IT 2023:

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