Herndon-based workforce development firm Smoothstack aims to bridge the IT talent shortage gap

With the mission of furthering the best and brightest of talent, Herndon-based Smoothstack is a workforce development organization that is building future IT talent leaders via its modern apprenticeship model. Powered by AI and data science, Smoothstack develops pathways for exceptional diverse talent to enter the IT industry via a merit-driven system. Smoothstack is building a community — of recent graduates, veterans, universities, and companies — that is transforming the IT hiring landscape.

FCEDA sat down with John Akkara, Smoothstack founder and CEO,  to find out more about the company. Akkara founded Smoothstack in 2018. Previously, Akkara led a global IT services firm headquartered in Connecticut. He has held roles at the investment bank UBS and hedge fund Silver Point Capital. Akkara also served as a vice president at Bank of America.

FCEDA: Tell us about Smoothstack.

John Akkara: We are in the hire, training, and deploy space. We hire entry-level developers (those that are early in their careers), and put them through a simulated training environment that mirrors the tech stack of our enterprise client partners. We upskill and retool this talent pool and then deploy them on client projects across the country.

FCEDA: Why did you start the company?

John Akkara:  I started Smoothstack because I wanted to solve the  talent shortage problem and I wanted to take a different approach to how people were going about solving this problem. Everyone’s going into that same pool of available talent available in the marketplace at the same moment in time. We were able to create a process where we’re able to vet and bring out the best of talent. In addition, we are able to make hiring decisions, mitigating all the biases that go into traditional hiring. And lastly, we have created a consistent, repeatable, and scalable process where our employer partners can hire individuals and bring them into the job pipeline on a consistent basis, quarter after quarter.

Thinking about the concept for the company goes back to my own personal journey. I came to the U.S. when I was 16 on a D1 scholarship to play tennis. I was very fortunate along the way because of the people that came into my life. But I also realized that not everyone was as fortunate as myself. A good example of this was my college roommate. He was a Dean’s List student. After graduation, I got into a career in investment banking with a sign-on bonus, whereas he took up a job making $13 an hour out of college. I realized then that the system was broken and that we had to do something to create access to opportunities and to help individuals by creating a bridge that would help them transcend all the impediments that come along their journey. And this organization is tasked with doing just that, with the mission of furthering the best and brightest of talent.

FCEDA: What types of people are in your pipeline for Smoothstack training?

John Akkara: We have a large, robust pipeline of talent, including university graduates, community college graduates, people that are coming out of our veteran pipelines, and others. But we are degree agnostic. We are just looking for the smart, brightest talent that’s available in our country. We are seeking people that are willing to work hard, if given the opportunity, and are willing to go that extra mile.

FCEDA: Tell us about how Smoothstack trains military veterans who want to shift to an IT career.

John Akkara: We focus on military personnel who are looking at transitioning out of the military six months prior to their transition date. We put them through our pipeline and put them through rigorous intensive training which mirrors a simulated work environment. And by the time they’re ready to transition out of the military, we realign opportunities for them where they can transition out and develop and build a career in the IT space.

FCEDA: Why is Fairfax County a great place for Smoothstack to be located?

John Akkara: Fairfax County is an amazing place.  Fairfax County and Virginia in general are very business-friendly. We’ve got 66 or 67 universities in this space, along with 400,000 people graduating in it on a yearly basis that come into our marketplace. This, combined with us being in the government space as well, makes Fairfax County a great location for us. Smoothstack is a very unique organization that brings employers together with access to the region’s smart, great talent.

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