Degreed has a pretty basic philosophy: the people behind our company are the real secret sauce. Like soylent green but less morbid. Our ranks are full of talented all-stars who constantly question, tinker, challenge, and make Degreed work for our customers and users. Behind the Glasses pulls back the curtain and shines a spotlight on some of the individuals who keep our engines running.
Meet Scott Smith
We like to think of our executive team like the Avengers of skill-building. A bunch of super-smart hero types who come together for the greater good of the universe. Scott Smith, our Chief Technology Officer, just so happens to be the Tony Stark of this whole operation. He’s the mastermind behind the technology, the one pressing the buttons and making sure Degreed is firing on all cylinders. And while he didn’t build an iron suit from scratch while being held captive in a cave, he did help create the world’s premier skill-building platform from the ground up, so we say they’re about even.
Let’s peel back the curtain and get to know a little more about the man behind the tech.
Out of all the careers you could choose, why technology?
In college, I started off really interested in biology and got introduced to geology and decided to major in that. I was on track to go all the way to a Ph.D. and doing research in those areas but along the way, reality came into play. I started thinking what does this [geology] actually look like — how do I make a living? Will I be successful?
As far as technology, I’ve always been drawn to it in general. As a kid, on my old Apple IIGS, I actually wrote a basic program to calibrate the joystick. Afterward, I realized, wow I can actually do stuff like this. In junior high, I took programming classes using Logo and really enjoyed them. This was the early 90s when the internet was just taking off, so I decided to take a real look at that. In college, I took an intro to computer science class and loved it so I changed majors and went all in.
Why did you choose to work at Degreed?
I’ll start with a little back story. At a previous company, I started off as a developer, got promoted to management, then a director, and eventually VP of engineering. Over the years I found it difficult to look at a résumé and know if that person really had the skills to do the job. I thought there had to be a better way to identify skills. So as a side project, I built a service called Coderbits. The premise was to connect all of their [developers] accounts — places they learn from, source control, the software they’ve made, social pieces — and then build a profile to showcase the skills that they have.
I started doing that about a month before David Blake started Degreed. We were introduced by a mutual friend and quickly realized there was a lot of overlap between what we were doing. We continued to talk over the months about coming together. However, at that time I thought Degreed’s mission — changing the world through skills — was a little too broad, so I passed. But I stayed in contact with David, contracted with Degreed, and then eventually joined full-time. I soon realized it was the right time to join as the mission aligned with what I was trying to do by showcasing the skills people have regardless of how they got them.
What do you love most about working at Degreed?
This is tough because there are so many things I love about my job and the company. If I have to pick just one, I think it would be the people, especially the people I work with every day. We have a phenomenal team. I love seeing the team I’ve helped build as they come on and grow. I just absolutely enjoy the people within engineering, product, and marketing, tech, and sales. We have highly-talented people. People who are aligned to a mission — looking at how we solve problems, how we need to work together, and how we take Degreed to the next level.
Whether inside or outside of the office, what are you currently learning?
In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed reading a couple of different books at once. I always have a book that’s related to work and a book that’s related to parenting. I’m always trying to become a better parent. I also have a book that’s geared towards science or life. And I throw in a fourth, which is always fiction, for entertainment purposes.
As of right now, I’m reading a data science book that’s aimed at business leaders. I’m trying to get caught up on data science as we’re building out our data science function in Degreed.
I’m also trying to grow my skills around becoming a CTO. I took over the CTO role a few months ago, so I’m really focusing on how I can become a better leader, how I can learn more about business strategy, and get more up to speed on finance and everything else that’s a part of my new role.
Degreed gives every employee FlexED dollars every month to spend on learning. What are your favorite ways to use yours?
About a year into Degreed, I used my FlexEd to get an advanced open water scuba diving certification. But generally, when it comes to the day-to-day, I tend to spend most of it on books. My Audible subscription and Kindle books are where it tends to go. Blinkist, too, but that’s just a summarization of books.
I’m listening to books in the car, when I’m traveling, in the office, and then I have the Kindle version to read when I get the time.
Who’s your favorite expert and why?
Man, that’s kind of like asking “Who’s your favorite child?” In fact, I wouldn’t even say that I have a favorite expert. For me, it depends on the field. When it comes to things like biology, Jennifer Doudna is amazing with the technology they [University of California, Berkeley] have and what they’re building there. When it comes to things like astrophysics, which I love reading about, it would be Stephen Hawking. But when it comes to expertise, I’d have to look at things that I like and find those experts, but I definitely don’t have just one. It’s always more about the topic and what I’m learning rather than a specific person.
You were recently promoted from VP of Engineering to Chief Technology Officer (CTO), can you tell us about your new role and how it’s going to affect the company?
One of the benefits I had was that a year ago Eric [Sharp, Degreed’s former CTO] took a sabbatical for about six months. I stepped in as acting CTO at that time without the official title. It was helpful to get a sense of what the position would be like. And at the time, it was probably even harder because I was performing as CTO while also working in my current role (VP of Engineering) and doing all of it at once.
With the current role, the biggest thing is ensuring the backfill. That means changing how I operate day-to-day. The VP of Engineering role was very involved with all of the engineering aspects. It was much more a people-centric role with all the teams, ensuring that our software development lifecycle was working properly and delivering value on time and quality, and making sure the team was growing properly. Now as CTO, there’s a lot more work on the strategic side, especially long-term towards our technology, performance, and scale. I’m much more involved with business strategy, which is a shift from day-to-day thinking to thinking more big picture. I’m also working heavily with the rest of the executive team and guaranteeing we’re all communicating well and working towards the same vision and strategy.
Where do you see Degreed in five years?
In some ways I see us accomplishing the mission where we really are the source of truth for people’s skills. We’ve accomplished not only the aspect of measuring skills and helping people to build skills but really the entire package of people’s careers, their mobility, their ability to find jobs and grow within those jobs, and have it all be ubiquitous. We’ve got enough of the enterprise base that the value is there for skills and people have the ability to get the jobs they want and grow within them, regardless of how they built their skills.
There’s No “I” In Degreed
Changing how the world learns and builds skills isn’t easy — but it’s necessary. Fortunately, we have a team of experts who are passionate and up to the task. With people like Scott Smith pressing the buttons and steering the ship, we know we’re on our way to accomplishing our mission.
To learn more about our team and our company, go to degreed.com.