Notes of Experience from Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square

I had the pleasure of attending an intimate breakfast meeting of ~30 people with Jim McKelvey, a passionate funny tech entrepreneur disrupting tech talent recruiting and tech education . McKelvey is co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode.

McKelvey made so many interesting points, many in off the cuff comments said so quickly I almost missed them. Below are the notes I voraciously wrote during the United Way breakfast event so that others reap the wisdom:

1.       We all work for tech companies. Law firms, healthcare, restaurants, finance all rely on technology to conduct business. If we do not have tech talent, our businesses will not grow. All business leaders must be thinking about technology. On a city level, if we don't have tech talent, businesses won't grow and they will be forced to leave. 

2.       McKelvey is in the business of greed driven employment. When he started LaunchCode in St. Louis he approached CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and told them he had vetted junior level programmers who he would personally vouch for and whom they could hire for $15/hour for 90 days, place with a Senior programmer, have no obligation to hire full time and could fire at will. Because of the tech talent scarcity in St. Louis, the CEOs and CTOs were willing to try LaunchCode and were overwhelmingly happy and hired the junior developers full time after their 90 day probationary period.

3.       LaunchCode’s success in St. Louis led him to be approached by Boston city officials to start the program there. He turned down funding to start LaunchCode because Boston doesn’t have a talent shortage, so the success of LaunchCode in Boston wouldn’t have proven that LaunchCode could work in cities with true tech talent deficits. He launched in Miami/South Florida because the city was ranked 100 in a list of 100 cities for tech development.

At this point, he had helped people find livelihoods and had collected compelling testimonies. He portrayed these stories to CEOs in Miami thinking that the business leaders would be excited as well. He forgot about the greed driven employment model he had used in St. Louis. He couldn’t figure out why LaunchCode wasn’t catching on in Miami until a CEO routed McKelvey to the company’s diversity office. After this epiphany, he has tried to reshape the narrative of LaunchCode as a non-profit that helps place junior developers in technology apprenticeships to provide much needed tech talent to various cities with tech brain drain. This is a great reminder of how important narrating the story of your services is. The story should be tailored to fit the audience for impact and buy-in.

4.       Free course CS50x = no means test. The curriculum weeds out students instead of an entrance exam which might otherwise eliminate talented or hard-working people. No exam bias, etc.

5.       Accenture study: senior programmers who are mentoring junior programmers will stay in their jobs 70% longer.  

6.       LaunchCode employees will stay in their jobs longer because they have chosen the employers they want to work for instead of interviewing and accepting the first job offer as is current hiring model.


Are you living and working in synergy with your values?

Or A Quick Activity to Identify Your Core Values.

As a multipotentialite, I used to abhor the plague my curiosity and imagination inflicted on me. One moment I’m enthralled in reading the Act of ’34 or Human Trafficking Laws for a presentation, the next moment I'm writing SQL queries to analyze data, then I’m planning a company-wide potluck. Indeed, I have the propensity for hyper-focused activities, fast-paced decision making under stressful conditions, and for interpersonal team building and friendship.  Until recently I thought my need for diverse projects was a weakness, but increasingly I am grateful for my innate curious because it means I expose myself to intellectual adventures that continue to open doors for me. After a recent hands-on activity in my leaders fellowship I am now able to connect how all aspects of my work appeal to and satisfy these core values as well, allowing me to appreciate my work more without changing a thing. I encourage everyone to do this activity to gain more insight on what motivates you personally by doing this 5 minute activity alone or as a team exercise. 

The activity consisted of 26 cards with common values written such as Love, Compassion, Generosity, Innovation, Learning, Power, Money. We were given 60 seconds to choose the 10 that represented our core values. Shuffling through the cards quickly, I immediately identified the values that I feel are expected of me—either by colleagues, loved ones, society or myself, and skipped over them in a gesture of honesty.

After choosing our top 10, we had another minute to reduce them to 5. The leader asked us to recall how we spend our money regularly, how we actually spend our time (not how we want to), how we treat people around us and why. I chose the following as my end all, be all values:






Reflecting on these values repeatedly the past few weeks, the clarity I feel from this activity has been enormously impactful on how I approach my work and interact with colleagues and strangers; the footprint I want to leave in the world. Now that I have a concrete list of my core values, I will consult any idea or decision to ensure it is consistent with these values.

Next phase: complete this activity with my team in hopes it will be as revelational for them as it was for me, and so as a team we can help each other to exemplify each other's core beliefs and priorities.

Side note: Please send me an inmail if you would like a pdf version of the cards to print out and use. I'd be happy to receive the karma from giving them away! PS - They're also a good family activity. 


Coffee Break:

“It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation about happiness without understanding what makes each of us tick. When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy careers—and even unhappy lives—it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us.” – Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” –Roy Disney

“To feel, and think, and learn—learn always: surely that is being alive and young in the real sense.” - Freya Stark

“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” –Steve Jobs




Effective Ethics CE Needs Analysis

Continuing education and training is integral to an organization's ethics program. I always launch my company's CE program in the summer in between the annual audit cycles (anti-money laundering audit has just ended and annual controls audit will commence in the fall). As a former teacher, I understand the importance of tailoring courses to different audiences and the value of effective pre- and post analysis. A needs assessment is the crux of an effective CE program and should consider the following aspects prior to executing the curriculum:

1. Previous findings on audits or regulatory exams: Careful review of all outside auditor reports and examination findings should be addressed immediately throughout the organization (or department if very specific) in the form of training and education. Since audits are designed to find systemic issues, education is key to communicate why an issue occurred and to educate employees on how the process is changing and why.

2. Change in business lines: I work at a very entrepreneurial company where ideas are incubated constantly. Culturally, this spirit is exciting. However, this means that different controls, ethical considerations, and regulations are constantly in flux. All new business lines being launched should be considered to ensure staff are being trained on relevant regulations, system controls are being implemented and the ethical considerations this new activity raises (i.e. conflicts of interest, supply chain, employee rights). For example, if your company is launching an app or will be offering data analysis, client data confidentiality will be important and new for some employees. Controls and regulations are important, but an organization should train its employees on why it matters ethically to keep client data secure and confidential.

3. Collaborate: Speak with department managers and human resources on trends or needs they see within their projects or teams. Note any feedback on topics they would like their team to be trained on. 

4. Internal discipline and enhanced supervision: Work with human resources to offer additional training to employees who have been disciplined. Of course, these employees and the reasons for discipline may be confidential depending on your role, but designing the CE training modules or refresher courses can be completed for types of disciplinary actions with the help of HR, and can be assigned confidentially and by the appropriate person later.

5. Research industry trends: Is there negative or positive news about a peer company or in your industry that addresses ethical challenges or accomplishments that should be emulated? Collaborate with Compliance, Legal, Operations to ascertain new ideas that should be incorporated into continuing education modules. 

6. Cultural shifts within the organization: If company executives are launching a new CSR or sustainability program, the initiatives should be communicated to ALL employees, not those whose daily roles are directly effected. These initiatives will impact the entire organization and continuing education is an excellent way to train employees and divulge new initiatives in a positive, organized way. Communicating positive initiatives to everyone also creates more buy-in from all employees, which should have been one of the considerations when implementing this program in the first place. Work with department heads to tailor CE modules to their teams so the information is relevant to them whilst expressing the thesis for the initiative and how it will achieve the company's overall mission and demonstrate its values. 

Family Leave is Good CSR Policy

My mom's cancer has taught me to be extremely appreciative of working for a well established company. My dad has been self-employed for more than 30 years and has always instilled in his children a disdain for corporate work culture while simultaneously instilling a fear of taking risk (go figure). My mom's full time job at a non-profit provides health benefits for herself, my dad and my two college student siblings. Naturally, the unexpected life event we all wish will never happen to us recently 'blessed' my mom when she underwent several emergency operations to discover she had a 12 cm tumor, and she is now on chemotherapy. Insurance benefits are now a huge stressor for my family as they try to figure out what to do and how to pay for it with her high deductible employer insurance. The plus side is that my mom's organization qualified under the requirements of the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) which mandates that qualifying employers give their employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical disability, maternity or adoption leave, or to care for an immediate family member undergoing medical treatment while guaranteeing their position upon their return.

Even though I've had personal medical issues in the past, it did not occur to me to inquire with an employer before accepting a position if they are mandated under FMLA and to review their FMLA policies. Rules under the Act specify longer leave time to care for a military service family member, time and private location for nursing mothers and much more.


By nature, I always try to find the silver lining in everything crappy happening in my life. The silver lining: thank goodness my mom qualifies to receive her health insurance under FMLA compliance; thank goodness she wasn't also self-employed and possibly uninsured. Could we have figured out what to do? Of course, but at least for the next 12 weeks we can focus on her treatment and recovery instead of on paying medical bills.

I already took my own advice and asked my HR department for a copy of their medical leave policy to ensure I know my rights. Corporate social responsibility has been my profession for 6 years and I always applied those values only to the policies and procedures my companies had in place to protect the public and to instill a systemic culture of ethics, governance, and compliance with laws. I now understand the importance of CSR policies that affect a company's employees and their families' lives. A responsible corporation demonstrates ethical values publicly and internally by treating its employees with dignity and high worth through its benefits: profit sharing, high quality healthcare, tuition reimbursement and family leave policies.

Empathy in Data Privacy

On my way to work this morning I was appalled to hear journalists reporting on a ProPublica article released today on hospitals and medical facilities blatantly violating patients’ medical privacy. Many of the instances were clearly human error such as handing a patient the wrong file, but what was shocking to me were the several instances in which employees accessed patient files or the files of other employees in order to snoop or for more nefarious reasons like blackmailing whistle blowers. As a compliance officer, the first red flag is CONTROLS. But as a human being, I am saddened by the lack of ethical judgment of the employees. This ultimately stems from a lack of empathy for their fellow employees and the patients in their care.

How were employees able to access patient and employee records so easily? One instance describes 109 pages of patients’ full names, DOBs, SSNs, gender, height, weight, name of medication, clinic name, provider’s name and more were printed and discarded in a trash bin which was later placed outside for normal trash pickup (instead of shredded), and was discovered by cleaning staff who reported it to the compliance department (thankfully!). Why was a staff member able to print such comprehensive information on so many patients on one report? Why were SSNs, DOBs etc not masked for privacy before being printed (a system control)? Why was an alert not immediately sent to a compliance officer notifying them that patient data was downloaded and printed?

Another incident involves a male VA employee who was allegedly dating or wanted to date a female patient. He accessed the patient’s records while off duty. Shockingly, his supervisor argues that he did not need to know about the breach because it occurred outside of his employee’s working hours!

The central article on ProPublica’s website describes CVS call center employee Joseph Fenity who was also a pharmacy customer of CVS. While walking by an open office he overheard co-workers discussing his prescription for ADD medication (which was disclosed to the co-worker while on duty as a call center representative). The employee was fired, but Fenity was so embarrassed he took a leave of absence and was later fired for not returning to work.

Processes and procedures to encrypt private data and prevent data from being downloaded or shared without necessity are critical, but organizations (large and small) must do a better job of training employees to empathize with the faceless patients who are trusting these organizations with their most private information. What kind of organizations would we have if empathy was ingrained within the corporate culture just as much as productivity and revenue? Colleagues, shareholders, customers all deserve empathy in addition to mere compliance controls.