Building a generation of unconventional talents: the OpenClassrooms Story

Romain Kuzniak
4 min read

About Romain Kuzniak

Romain Kuzniak is the CTO of OpenClassrooms - previously known as le Site du Zero. OpenClassrooms has helped millions of people to learn online since its foundation in 2012. They created a platform able to build a generation of talent with an unconventional background, and Romain's engineering department has naturally attracted and recruited those talents.

I started my career in music, first as a sound engineer, then with my band and side jobs. Living from its music is challenging, but I did all I loved and could do there. I thought about retraining myself in programming as I ran into a friend telling me about his world after his contract expired from my side job during the 2008 economic crisis.

So I started a reskilling training and then quickly worked with an agency. I learned fast by working on different projects with different clients. When I looked for a final client to settle with a fixed team, I discovered Le Site du Zero and met Mathieu, one of the co-founders. I joined the project and grew with the company.

Ten years later, I celebrate my 10-year anniversary there. We are 600 people today, we were 15 when I arrived.

How to find original talents

One of the missions of OpenClassrooms is to define the profession’s competence so that we can create the proper training for them. We are building pedagogy around jobs, so we need to deeply evaluate what those jobs entail and which skillset could make a person thrive in a given position.

Having the skillset defined for each position gives us an edge that we capitalize on for our recruitment. It helps us to rely on competence evaluation during the hiring process entirely.

We are mostly skill-centric: your background, your experience or your diploma are not our main criteria.

We care a lot about skill. It’s rooted in our culture. And as someone who came from an untypical background myself, I appreciate how naturally we attract and hire people we share those values with.

A new era for EdTech

As we offer online training, our platform attracts people looking for another career, more often than students coming out of high school, for example.

It brings a lot of interesting profiles. Traditional school isn’t created for people with constraints, who may need to work aside to pay rent or take care of their children. An online course can give you what traditional school can hardly provide: flexibility.

It’s crucial for us. Our drive is to be as flexible as possible, so we don’t lose people willing to learn.

As more and more alternatives to traditional education rise every year, it helped shape a new ecosystem. Financing training is now much easier than 15 years ago. It’s not a struggle anymore: it’s normal to retrain yourself.

I remember when we strived to spend all of our life in the same company. Now, everybody sees it beneficial to change company, or even domain. It brings so much to the person than to the company. It brings a new perspective and fresh air.

Today, technology has profoundly changed every profession. Methodology and practices too.

For example, we don’t sell and market like we did 30 years ago. It’s not about staying one step ahead. It’s about basic survival for most people.

Soft skills vs. hard skill in recruitment

Today, what makes the difference is soft skills. Some are more useful than others in a given sector, but there are no useless soft skills.

Someone who had to go though a second education shows an ability to adapt. You can either push a talent like that away by not seeing the strength behind it, or fully embrace it. Obviously, for us at OpenClassrooms, this is an advantage.

I think a lot of companies fail to understand the value of those kinds of profiles. Some only see the amount of experience in the needed domain, and abstract the rest. This isn’t how you read a profile. The abstract is also valuable.

There are a lot of different worlds: startups, public institutions, and big corporations. The last two fail to understand unconventional profiles, but I am confident this will evolve. It will take some time, as inertia is strong, but it will evolve.

Stimulating innovation at scale

As we grew, we faced many challenges. Among them, innovation and improvements for example.

When you grow from dozens of people to a few hundred, alignment can get more delicate to reach. Yet, after a time, it stabilized and we found a way to see the positive side of this growth: we have more resources, more talent, and more crazy ideas.

So we decided to give room for innovation and improvement, and we created an Improvement Day. Now at OpenClassrooms, every two weeks, every person working in the Technology team gets a day to improve on something they will choose.

From there, we created a community mechanic: if two people want to work on the same topic, they regroup and join forces. Bottom-up innovation!

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