Although more than 1.5 million students take post-secondary engineering courses every year in India, according to the HRD Ministry, nearly half (48 percent) of engineers are jobless. One reason, based on a study by employment evaluation company Aspiring Minds, is that 95 percent of engineers in India were unqualified for the job despite a university education.
This is because engineers require advanced technology and programming skills, typical of a computer engineering program, to meet the prerequisites of many of today’s jobs. It’s also because engineers require communication, leadership, and team-building skill typically not taught in engineering classes.
Unfortunately, this means the majority of engineers are working in jobs their over-qualified for simply because they lack certain skills.
Ayush Jaiswal (23) recognized this in the first year of engineering at college but eventually dropped out. He became inspired by the late Steve Jobs of Apple (who also never graduated college) to move to Silicon Valley and start his own company.
Jaiswal already had an idea in mind for his career and wanted to develop a networking platform to help investors find, invest in, and collaborate with the promising new startups. One skill engineers were typically never taught was networking and he planned to solve this with the start of Dealflow. Unfortunately, the company never got off the ground. Jaiswal believes the reason for this was timing, given the economy, poor investments, and the presence of players such as Tracxn and LetsVenture in the market (which are venture capitalists that support new companies in India).
Jaiswal refused to give up, however. About a dozen failed products and startups later, he met Andrew Linfoot (26) at a co-working space in Delhi. Together, the two formed Pesto Tech, which operates a 12-week boot camp that teaches software engineers soft skills, connecting them with mentors in the U.S. Soft skills include communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills that support the business side of a career.
“We desired an easy name for our company, one that everyone around the world could agree on,” shares Jaiswal. “Initially, we thought about Pencil Tech but the domain was already registered, so we went with Pesto Tech.”
Essentially, Pesto Tech serves as a mentor-based career accelerator. Here’s how it works:
- Software engineers with a minimum of two years of expertise apply online.
- Successful applicants then go through several rounds of cultural conversations, technical rounds, quizzes, and an exclusion round before their application is accepted.
- Mentors — these include individuals who’ve worked in large organizations such as Twitter, Facebook, Uber, and others — volunteer to support the new engineers in learning new skills.
- During a typical three-month program with Pesto, students are guided by a mentor once a week through video conferencing.
“Pesto [goes] a long way in approaching the competency gap of engineers created by Tier II and III engineering institutes, including what global product improvement or R&D companies need,” says Vinod Sood, MD at Hughes Systique India. He is Jaiswal’s mentor. “As the economy grows, the future of work will be all about enabling talent from anywhere to participate. Pesto is assisting the young talent from Tier III cities and remote areas to get a platform where their abilities and competencies can be polished.”
According to Sood, this innovative concept will provide more skilled and multi-talented software engineers.
Ayush and Linfoot are members of several tech communities in the U.S. and that is where they meet potential new mentors. “When these mentors see the influence one hour off their week has on these engineers, they become enthusiastic about operating with us — even without any pay,” says Jaiswal.
But that wasn’t always the case. At first, people assumed the organization was a scam. “It made picking the first batch of students difficult,” says Jaiswal. The first group of Pesto had only four attendees, two of which have since found successful jobs in the U.S.
Today it’s a different story. Dealing with the sheer volume of applications they receive is overwhelming. “As a startup, we can only support and train about 25 people per [session],” he says. “We are currently operating on building out software tools to automate the process of selecting candidates.”
Believe it or not, the upfront coaching fee is free. However, before entering the program, students have to sign an “earnings share” agreement. Once trained software engineers make more than Rs15 lakh per annum at a full-time job in an international tech business, they must pay for the training. This works out to 17 percent of their annual income for the next three years.
If the students do not make more than Rs 15 lakh per annum, the training remains free.
“Our business model’s boundaries rely almost completely on the nature of our program. We value each income-sharing arrangement at $30,000. Our upfront costs go down as we scale,” says Jaiswal.
Aside from offering a curriculum that teaches software development, Pesto also focuses on bridging cultural differences. The idea is to provide interpersonal skills that could advance an international working relationship.
Linfoot, who also now works in Silicon Valley, gives credit to learning soft skills for helping advance his career as a computer coding expert. “Technical lectures (have) assisted me in becoming on par with my foreign colleagues,” he says.
Pesto is currently a team of five. Aside from Jaiswal and Linfoot, this includes Nimish Gupta (23), which was Pesto’s first hire. Arfat Salman is the director of education and Shubham is the head of admissions. So far the team is doing well.
“We ended up making about $350,000 in revenue, which gave us breathing space,” said Jaiswal. He initially completed a consulting project of four months to accumulate enough funds to invest in Pesto. Pesto prices a management cost of around $500 to their hiring partners for giving office and managing the curriculum.
While the mentors are all volunteers, code reviewers are paid by patrons. Pesto’s hiring partners include Vaynermedia, Mimir HQ, Fossa.io, Scale API, Embibe, and Zinc.io.
“We are concentrating on increasing the frequency of the batches and automating most elements of the business by building internal tools,” says Jaiswal. Pesto is set to begin new programs each month, with a capacity to train 25 students per group.