Written by Ophir Dor, Globes Magazine 07.07.2021
This article is a translation of an interview published in Hebrew – see the original article here
The good years of John Bryce Training were in the late 90s. The turbulent days of the Dot-Com bubble and stories about the success of Israeli high-tech companies around the world sparked interest in the new, virgin field, just as the training center’s high-tech reskilling courses took off.
“Around 1995, we opened the first cycle of our first high-tech reskilling course, designed for people who had no background in the tech field. We held a conference of interested people at the Hilton hotel. We had 30 places in the course and there were 200 people in the hall. Even before I finished talking, the course was sold out.” recalled Eran Lasser, one of the founders of John Bryce Training, who served as its co-CEO for two decades. “Later we came up with the fantastic slogan ‘the good guys for the air force, the excellent ones for high tech’ and each time we had published an ad, we filled yet another class. We would open five programming reskilling courses a week,” Lasser explained.
The students in the reskilling courses came from all fields, including established professions. As Lasser explained, “all my friends, who were lawyers, economists, accountants, and salesmen made the switch to high-tech. I had a friend who was a broker, and, at 38, he reskilled. Another friend was a hotel manager who got tired of working from morning until night. The big dream of our students then was to find a job at Comverse, Amdocs or Nice. These companies were the Google of that period. It was only around the years 1999 and 2000 that people started saying they wanted to found start-ups.”
About a year later, the celebration was over: the bubble had burst, technology stocks collapsed, and companies moved from recruiting to major layoffs. John Bryce Training changed hands a few times (see below), but what saved the company were courses in seemingly gray areas, like PC technicians and network administrators. “People did not want to study programming or project management because the high-tech sector had collapsed. However, someone always needs his computer fixed,” Lasser explained. “The truth is that even today, when people ask me what to study, I tell them that tech professions are lifelong and will always be in demand.”
The Dot-Com bubble can be considered the first great rise of global and Israeli high-tech. Its second rise is currently taking place, before our eyes, with huge capital raisings for start-ups and record-breaking IPOs of technology companies. This trend has brought Lasser back to the high-tech reskilling business, but now addressing a completely different audience.
“It’s not like being a graduate of the Technion (Israel Institute of technology)”
Lasser’s career path was determined at the beginning of his military service. He enlisted in a programming course at MAMRAM, and upon graduation was asked to remain as an instructor. Lasser agreed and completed his military service at the age of 25 as Deputy Commander of the MAMRAM training unit. After his release, he set up ML Mini Computers, which dealt with consulting and training, with Ziv Mandl, a fellow soldier. In 1994, the company merged with John Bryce Systems, Oracle’s representative in Israel at that time, and John Bryce Training was born. Mandl and Lasser owned 50% each of the new company and continued to manage it.
At first, it focused on training employees of organizations, such as big banks, but very quickly made a transition to the product most associated with the company – high-tech reskilling. “Our idea was to do exactly what we did at MAMRAM, only in the civilian market,” Lasser explains. “Just like an 18 year old kid is taken at MAMRAM and trained to be a programmer in six months, every day from 8 am to 10 pm, it would be possible to do the same thing in the civil world thorough a one-year evening program. We took the tests used in MAMRAM to check whether course candidates had logical thinking and reasonable English skills. We said that we could train anyone with the right skills, no matter if he/she was a university graduate or not. That was an offering that didn’t exist in the market at the time.”
In 1999, at the height of the bubble, John Bryce Training was sold to Gilat Communications for $20 million. Gilat had an idea that was far ahead of its time – to promote the sale of its satellite services by building a system for distance learning. “It was a beautiful idea and they raised a legendary sum of $80 million. They bought us and a company in the US that did exactly what Zoom does today. Unfortunately, when the crisis hit, this whole idea was shelved,” says Lasser.
Gilat ran into difficulties. When the bubble had burst, its stock collapsed and it entered into a debt settlement. Thus, in 2002, John Bryce Training was sold again, this time in a much smaller deal with Matrix, for less than $1 million. Lasser continued to run the company with his partner Mandl, until he retired in 2014.
Q: The criticism has always been that John Bryce Training graduates cannot be compared to university graduates.
“You are right. I do not compare a software engineering graduate at the Technion to an evening course graduate of John Bryce Training. However, look at the shortage in workers in the high-tech market in Israel. Israeli companies currently outsource about 10,000 technology jobs abroad. If there were employees working in Israel for a reasonable wage, the companies would prefer to hire Hebrew speakers. Additionally, a company that has to develop a complicated algorithm for image recognition would probably take a Computer Science university graduate, since a reskilling program graduate does not have enough knowhow to do that. However, developing online platforms for ecommerce, which accounts for many jobs in the market, is something that a graduate of a reskilling program can do extremely well.”
Reskill 20,000 students in four years
It is no coincidence that Lasser mentions the issue of outsourcing work abroad. Since retiring from John Bryce, he has focused on spreading his know-how of reskilling workers to high-tech. He started in Ukraine and expanded to Azerbaijan and Georgia, where he has worked with former Israelis. He has continued his expansion through his tech training company, Wawiwa, which has partnerships today with training centers in Romania, Sri Lanka, Poland, Singapore, and Australia. He and his people bring the methodology and train the local instructors, who then deliver the actual programs.
(picture) SLTC Campus in Sri Lanka. SLTC is in collaboration with Lasser to train Data Scientists / Photo: Sri Lanka SLTC
“I truly believe that we have unique know-how here that is based on training more than 50,000 people in Israel,” Lasser proudly says. “We can package and replicate this knowledge. Usually in the countries we go to, there would be courses that are not adapted to the local tech industry. We have a methodology, ever since our military training days, of vocational training according to the requirements of the job role.”
Today, Lasser’s activities abroad train about 2,000 students a year. But for him, the goal is to train 20,000 students within the next four years. This is part of his vision to turn Israel from the Start-up Nation to the Tech Training Nation.
“All over the world there is a crazy shortage in software development talent due to the digital transformation caused by Covid-19. As a result, everyone needs reskilling. When we conducted market research, we saw that the demand for software developers in Ukraine was exploding. That salary for this position currently is $5,000-6,000, much more than $1,500, the salary for the same position a decade ago,” Lasser explains.
Q: What’s the difference between software developers in Ukraine and in Israel?
“I think that they’re in the same level. We Israelis are strong in soft skills that are unrelated to programming, such as entrepreneurship, out-of-the-box thinking, and problem solving. In Ukraine, as well as in Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia, people work hard, and as part of the post-Soviet tradition, they have solid STEM background.”
Lasser admits that Israel’s technological reputation has a significant impact on his ability to sell his services worldwide. It has also helped Lasser’s partners around the world, such as the Sri Lanka Technological Campus – where Wawiwa offers its Data Scientist program – to sell the training programs to the public. “There is a slide in my presentation that has MAMRAM unit’s emblem. I explain that this is the Israeli army’s elite computer training unit. This is the most convincing slide!”
Q: In Israel, it seems that a stronger brand in the context of high-tech is 8200.
“8200 (another Israeli army unit) is doing an excellent marketing job and have – unrightfully – attributed ‘high-tech’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ as theirs. However, from an international perspective, MAMRAM’s brands is better.”
In Israel, anyone who wanted reskilling, has gotten it.
When we talk about the great shortage in high-tech workers in Israel, we look mainly at the ultra-Orthodox, women, and Arabs, who are significantly underrepresented in the industry. The prevailing view is that increasing their participation in high-tech through reskilling will reduce that shortage. Lasser, who previously led a project in Matrix to promote employment of ultra-Orthodox women in high-tech, believes that the chances of that happening are slim. “I think that in Israel, those who wanted to reskill to high-tech have already done so or are currently doing so. Therefore, even if we invest more money in underrepresented populations, in my opinion, the increase in tech talent will not be significant. What could help is to start teaching kids programming from early childhood as a mandatory topic.”
He also claims that another thing that will help the industry is upskilling 40+ year old employees, in order to retain them for years to come. “If you have an employee who has learned to program in Java 10 to 15 years ago, then teach him new and more advanced methods and continue to employ him,” Lasser explains. “Unfortunately, local companies prefer to outsource work to Ukraine instead.”