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Why GE is winning the war for tech talent

Clint Boulton | March 14, 2017
GE is poaching elite engineers from top technology companies by offering big challenges, sexy software and attractive compensation packages.

These recruiters, many of who came from technology companies, began hunting for candidates at tech companies. They spiced up the compensation packages with bonuses and equity, a rarity in the industrial sector. And they played up the fact that successful GE leaders often leapfrog across the company’s business lines on their way up the company ladder.

Initially, Waldo says it was an "uphill battle" as roughly 90 percent of candidates GE targeted didn’t know the company was conducting a massive digital transformation. The perception began to shift in 2015, after GE ran a marketing campaign anchored by commercials, rooted in real experiences GE software engineers experienced in Silicon Valley, poking fun at the company’s fledgling software business.

Once viewed as a legacy leviathan building big machines, GE began cultivating an image as a startup building a digital analytics platform with considerable support from the corporate mothership. By mid-2016, GE began attracting top-tier engineers, such as Darren Haas, former head of cloud engineering at Apple who helped create Siri. A New York Times feature published in August 2016 called more attention to GE’s quest.

Steve Martin, GE's as chief digital officer.
GE Steve Martin, GE's as chief digital officer.

Steve Martin spent most of the last decade helping Microsoft build out its successful Azure cloud business before joining GE as chief digital officer of its energy connections business in November. Martin says that he was drawn to GE by the opportunity to transform an energy sector that has been largely unchanged for the past 120 years. Now energy companies are creating virtual power plants comprising solar panels, batteries and software to store energy.

"A lot of what we've built for energy has to be rethought so software is used to capture and store energy," Martin says. "The ability to put digital solutions atop those and drive new transformation in this market that is being disrupted, particularly on the energy side, for me that was a gravitational pull that is inescapable. GE is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this."

Martin envisions GE playing a key role in using renewable energy resources and software to power autonomous ships from, for example, Singapore to Los Angeles -- without any humans aboard the vessels. Such challenges are a big reason why joining GE wasn't a hard Microsoft’s cloud business matured he’d been looking for the next big thing. When he connected with GE's Ruh through a recruiter he knew almost immediately “I wanted to do it."


Tapping new vertical markets is key

It's a feeling that many elite engineers working for technology companies are likely to have as they bring horizontal cloud systems to a stable state, according to Forrester Research's Ted Schadler.


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