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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.

Schadler says top-tier talent is increasingly drawn to vertical automation platforms such as those created by GE and its industrial rivals Siemens and Bosch. Such technologies leverage data analytics, automation and IoT. "There is opportunity for real differentiation at the industry player level and you will see the big giants that get it and move quickly -- like GE -- and those that lag and struggle to build their platforms," Schadler says.

patrick franklin
GE. Patrick Franklin left Google lto lead software engineering for GE's Brilliant Manufacturing unit.

Patrick Franklin left Google last October to lead software engineering for GE's Brilliant Manufacturing unit, where his challenges include determining throughput in a plant's production and quashing quality defects in real-time.

Franklin, who worked at Amazon before Google, was hooked by one of GE’s holy grails: Connecting automated machines. "Once you realize it’s not a solved problem, it becomes really interesting," Franklin says.

Franklin said that while he enjoyed Google’s perks, including free food, Ruh and Immelt won him over by outlining the impact he could have on the business, as well as the autonomy to do the job. To help with this endeavor, Franklin is looking to double his staff from 500 to roughly 1,000 engineers in 2017.

"There’s also an absolute commitment to this space,” Franklin says. “Jeff [Immelt] gets it -- certainly Bill [Ruh] gets it."

GE’s success is a double-edged sword, though perhaps not an unwelcome one for a company that appreciates competition. The publicity machine hawking GE’s software chops, coupled with the fact that it isn’t bashful about hiring engineers from tech companies, means it can no longer poach in stealth mode. In fact, Waldo says that technology companies are now targeting GE’s engineers. “It’s like, ‘uh oh, we’ve arrived,’” Waldo says. “People now want our talent.”

The cutthroat competition for talent has also forced GE to look beyond Silicon Valley, Ruh says. It’s one of the reasons it moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston, whose concentration of universities makes it a prime hunting ground for new blood. “The world is changing and we’ve got to go where the talent is,” Ruh says. In addition to California, Massachusetts and New York, GE is trying to identify concentrations of talent in other cities, Ruh says.

Consultants from Deloitte to McKinsey posit that successful digital transformations are led from the top. Ruh attributes GE’s recent software successes to Immelt’s willingness to constantly learn and adjust to market forces on the fly.

"It does require that the Jeff Immelt and [the rest of the C-suite] sell the message even better than I do because they believe the idea of the mission cannot be underrepresented," Ruh says. “We’re at a time when that mission has become clearer to everyone and the company is behind it.”


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