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What Daniel Ek and a U.S. Navy vet have in common

Our September issue features a couple of unlikely success stories.

What Daniel Ek and a U.S. Navy vet have in common
Deja Baker, a U.S. Navy veteran turned software engineer, proves that skills can often transcend résumés. [Photo: Whitten Sabbatini; Groomer: Audrey Bryant]

I was late to the Spotify party. Like most business journalists, I followed the U.S. launch of the music-streaming service in 2011, and even secured a coveted invitation to sign up early. But I was happy to stick to a mix of iTunes, Pandora, and even traditional radio for my audio needs.

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It was my kids who encouraged me to up my Spotify game. They were spending hours each day on the service, using the free tier to listen to everything from the Hamilton soundtrack to Korean pop music to classic rock. I eventually upgraded us to a family premium plan so we could all download and enjoy our favorites, ad-free, without using up cellular data or needing to be near a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Spotify is now such a part of my routine—it fuels my weekend run, provides the soundtrack for sing-alongs in the car, and feeds me podcasts for my daily commute—that I sometimes forget how improbable its rise was. In his revealing cover story, writer (and former Fast Company editor) Robert Safian reminds us of Spotify’s humble origins, and how, against all odds, cofounder and CEO Daniel Ek and his team persuaded record labels and consumers to embrace the platform—transforming the music business in the process. But deputy editor David Lidsky, who masterfully edited the story, notes that Spotify’s dominance in no way assures its future success; in fact, music labels are eager to support the streaming ambitions of Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Tencent, and even Facebook to keep Spotify from concentrating power. “This is why Spotify is one of the more tenuous $30 billion success stories you’ll ever encounter,” Lidsky says. It’s a fascinating tale, and one you’ll read only in Fast Company.

This issue features another unlikely success story. Editor-at-large Burt Helm introduces us to Deja Baker, a U.S. Navy veteran who bounced back from a series of personal and professional setbacks, scrimped to get herself through coding boot camp, and landed a job as a software engineer. Baker doesn’t have the typical coder résumé—and that’s the point of Helm’s story, which is part of Fast Company’s first-ever talent guide.

The rules for hiring have changed, and I asked contributing editor Jay Woodruff to produce a portfolio of stories and statistics to help companies understand where their next great employees might come from—and to help high-potential workers become superstars. The resulting package is full of surprises. Who knew that more newly hired data developers in the U.S. came from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University than UC Berkeley? Or that artificial intelligence enables Unilever to whittle 275,000 job applicants down to 300?

We are in a data-driven new world of hiring, yet some things don’t change. What makes someone like Deja Baker an exceptional hire isn’t only her aptitude, it is her determination and spirit—and I’m not sure that’s something an algorithm can capture.

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