Today, we had the pleasure to interview Martin Ramsin, Co-founder and CEO of CareerFoundry, a Berlin-based startup that focuses on helping individuals make successful career changes in the tech industry. Martin’s personal experiences and his journey in establishing CareerFoundry have fueled his passion for empowering others to pursue fulfilling careers through upskilling and reskilling.
CareerFoundry is an online school that specialises in assisting individuals seeking career transitions within the technology industry. Their comprehensive programs are carefully designed to facilitate the transition from beginner to job-ready professionals in a relatively short period. By offering mentorship from experienced industry professionals, flexible study options, and personalized 1:1 career coaching, CareerFoundry provides a range of resources to support a successful entry into the tech field. The company, founded in 2013, has raised over €10.5 million, demonstrating its commitment to expanding its offerings and providing top-notch education to aspiring tech professionals.
In this interview, we explore the motivations that led Martin to establish CareerFoundry, his insights regarding talent shortages in the tech industry, and how CareerFoundry tackles the obstacles associated with reskilling, career changes, and his take on the current startup ecosystem providing aspiring founders with valuable pieces of advice.
What motivated you to start CareerFoundry and to help others make career changes in the tech industry?
In 2013 I got laid off from a company called Txtr (the now-defunct e-reading startup). When life threw me this curveball I had two options: I could see it as a disaster, or as an opportunity to reassess my career. I chose the latter and decided to invest in myself and upskill, enrolling in an online programming course. I also decided to do what I had always wanted: to start my own company, so CareerFoundry was born.
With CareerFoundry I wanted to make online learning more human-centric. The online programming course I’d just taken was a lonely experience and made me realise how important it is to get 1×1 support from a mentor. Early on we realised that the people who needed our service most were people changing careers, so that became our focus.
The pain of losing your job can feel unbearable, and there’s no point in sugarcoating how difficult those first few weeks can be. However, if we can encourage more people to see job loss as a potential opportunity to pivot, refocus goals and learn new skills, I know first-hand that it can be the start of an exciting new life chapter. For me, I found purpose by reflecting on my own experiences and using them to inform the career change courses we create today at CareerFoundry. And the best part? Seeing first-hand the lives we’re helping to change.
Tell us about your experience launching a startup. How did you go about getting funding? Any challenges you faced along the way?
Me and my Co-founder, Raffaela Rein, pitched our startup idea to a lot of different VCs and accelerators. There were a lot of nos, but Raffaela was persistent.
I remember a time when we organised a Christmas dinner for the whole team. Everyone else had gone off to the party, meanwhile, myself and Raffaela were waiting for a phone call from the VC who was to lead our Series A. The call came in with the worst news possible: they had decided to withdraw. That sure was a difficult Christmas dinner to attend. Luckily with Raffaela’s persistence, she managed to close that A-round just a few months later. My advice from that experience? I guess just to never give up!
With widespread layoffs, an impending recession, and a cost-of-living crisis, how does the concept of “future-proofing” oneself through career changes remain relevant, and how can CareerFoundry help individuals navigate these challenges?
While headlines about tech layoffs continue to emerge, we are seeing flourishing opportunities for tech-related jobs in many adjacent sectors, including medicine, education and farming, where the prevalence of tech continues to grow. This is where transferrable skills come into play: with the right comprehensive tech course and full-stack qualification, students can apply their knowledge and training to an array of tech roles across a range of different sectors, empowering them to navigate the long-term challenges of layoffs, recessions and cost-of-living crises.
The rate at which our graduates are landing jobs in tech companies is as high as ever, we haven’t seen any decline in people finding jobs. The way society is moving, more and more industries are becoming tech-enabled, a trend that is going to be further accelerated by this avalanche of AI. For this reason, changing to a tech profession is a much better way of future-proofing yourself than doing nothing.
What are some key insights you have gained regarding talent shortages in the tech industry, and how does CareerFoundry address this issue?
One thing I have noticed: mission-driven startups that are having a positive impact on the world are always going to have an easy time finding great talent. That’s just a fact. When I’m hiring for CareerFoundry and ask candidates why they want to work with us, their answer is almost always that they seek to have an impact on society.
As for how CareerFoundry is addressing the tech talent shortage, we’re equipping individuals with the skills, portfolio and guidance from industry professionals that help them land and thrive in a tech role of their choosing. In-demand skills are always evolving, which is why our curriculum is developed in collaboration with industry experts, ensuring that students learn the most current and sought-after skills.
What sets CareerFoundry apart from traditional boot camps in terms of being human-centric and asynchronous?
CareerFoundry distinguishes itself from traditional boot camps – which are typically synchronous, in-person and full-time – by prioritising the needs of individuals above all else. No two students are ever the same, bound by differing incomes, commitments, responsibilities, dependents and working preferences. That’s why no two students will have the same journey with CareerFoundry, as we make it possible for everyone to work from anywhere, at any time and to set deadlines that best suit their schedules.
On top of this, we run on a dual mentorship model, where students are given an industry mentor as well as a personal tutor. The mentor and the tutor follow the student through their career change journey, learning about the student’s strengths and weaknesses, and adapting their feedback accordingly. Students have access to these industry professionals – as well as career specialists – throughout their courses and beyond. We also have our global community of career changers. By having access to individuals also switching sectors, students can feel reassured that they are not alone in the process by asking questions, sharing reflections and learning from one another.
We know just how daunting it is to make a career change at any stage in your life, so CareerFoundry aims to make things easier wherever possible. This means listening to what works best for each student and catering to their needs at a personal level. Putting the power of scheduling back into the students’ hands, providing a dedicated team of industry professionals and fostering a supportive community adds a human element to what can otherwise be a stressful and lonely experience, as I know only too well.
How does CareerFoundry address the financial risks associated with reskilling and career changes?
One of the biggest deterrents of a typical boot camp is the financial risk that comes with it. You need to quit your job and go all in. This means you need to have enough savings to be able to support yourself for the duration of the course. With CareerFoundry, thanks to our flexible model, many of our students work full-time while they change careers (44% to be exact). It takes a bit longer but there is much less financial stress.
In addition to this, we’re very proud of our CareerFoundry job guarantee. This policy means that any student unable to find relevant work within six months of graduating is eligible for a full refund on their course. Although this policy is very rarely needed, it does provide an ultimate safety net for mitigating financial risk and making the process less scary for anyone looking to take the leap.
How does CareerFoundry ensure that its online reskilling courses are flexible and accessible to many learners?
At CareerFoundry, we don’t have classrooms or cohorts of students. Instead, every student can go at their own pace, working on their course when it best suits their busy lives. We do offer guidance on how much work needs to be completed each week, and we do nudge students to get back on track if they fall behind, but in general, students can decide when they do the work. Similarly, all course work and communication takes place on our online platform, so that learners really can access their course materials at any time and from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. This helps to remove the barrier of geographical location, which has historically excluded millions of workers from careers in tech.
The impact of our asynchronous learning model can be seen in the diversity of the students enrolling. For example, 29% of our students are caring for dependents while reskilling, 44% are working full-time and 15% are part-time. Similarly, each one of our courses has over 50% participation from women, with 67% in UX/UI, which is in stark contrast to the industry average. Not only does this underline our commitment to flexibility, but it also highlights our progress in levelling the playing field for those historically excluded from career paths in tech. As we diversify the talent entering tech’s workforce, we can challenge outdated notions of what a ‘developer’ or ‘data analyst’ looks like, debunking ideas about gendered jobs, roles and innate abilities. 54% of our students have zero experience in the field of their course before starting, and our alumni include pastry chefs, surfers, opera singers and taxi drivers who have all switched careers into tech.
Additionally, over the past eight years, CareerFoundry has worked with the German government to help address the issue of unemployment, with the country currently experiencing its highest levels of unemployment in two years. Through the Bildungsgutschein scheme, eligible individuals can enrol for free in programmes like CareerFoundry to learn new skills and increase their job eligibility. Out of the 1,800 students that have participated in this scheme at CareerFoundry, 88% have successfully completed their reskilling journey and secured well-paid positions, a testament to our commitment to equal access and education for people from any background.
What are your thoughts on the current startup ecosystem, and where do you believe it is heading in the future?
Thanks to AI and automation we’re hurtling towards a future in which startups are made up of 30 people, not 300. Given the current economic climate and disruptive potential of AI, companies are looking to scale back their teams to make them cheaper and more efficient. What does this mean for employees? Being ‘full-stack’ – trained to do things end to end – is going to be the best way of weathering this shift and future-proofing your role in a company whether they are downsizing or not. Before AI, specific skills were split between job titles. Now employers are looking for people who can do it all. Whether you’re a developer, marketer, designer or engineer, you should bet on really developing that full-stack capability.
At the same time, AI is going to make it much easier to start a company, so we’ll see the number of startups exploding. When it’s possible to tell the AI to “build a website with this messaging, include payments from Stripe, set up a database to track users, and publish it” then more people will do just that.
Can you recall a moment when things didn’t go as planned, resulting in an “oh no” situation, and explain how you managed to resolve it?
After raising our A-round we proceeded to hire a lot of people very quickly. We didn’t really have a strategy or business plan, just assuming that more people would equal more revenue. This is in hindsight laughable, but that’s how naive we were as first-time founders.
I remember a particular “oh no” moment when looking at a graph of our cash balance, which was trending down to zero. That made me take immediate action: we created a business model and executed a plan that led us to break even six months later.
Which one or two books have had a significant impact on your entrepreneurial journey?
There are many I could choose from. I’m a big reader, but if I have to pick just a few then I’d say “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, “Principles” by Ray Dalio, and “Conscious Business” by Fred Kaufman.
Do you have any advice for young wannabe startup founders out there?
The most important thing to get right is the immediate team around you. Be incredibly intentional about selecting that team, and make sure they’re in place before you hire any individual contributors.
I made the mistake early on in the company of hiring lots of junior and mid-level professionals to do things like SEO, website, and paid media. Instead, what I should have done is hire an amazing CMO who could be hands-on, but who could also hire that next level down. This principle applies to all areas of the business.