Sonu Singh: Building state's tech talent pool more important than ever
Alumnus Sonu Singh, founder of a growing IT service company, expects to rely on Virginia Tech even more in the coming years, both in Blacksburg and in Northern Virginia.
For the past 10 years, a Virginia Tech alumnus has been building his IT service company on the coattails of his alma mater.
Sonu Singh, a 1991 graduate of Virginia Tech, started 1901 Group with two locations — one in Blacksburg at the Corporate Research Center and one in Reston, Virginia.
The Northern Virginia location was a necessity for working closely with the federal government, for which the company provides IT services. But Blacksburg had a special pull for Singh, a native of the area.
The low cost of living, access to the mountains and outdoors activities, and the steady stream of Virginia Tech graduates equipped with the IT skills and general talent necessary for working at the company made Blacksburg an attractive choice.
In fact, Virginia Tech graduates comprise about 10 percent of 1901 Group’s total employees. The company also has about 20 interns each summer, and many are Virginia Tech students.
Now, 1901 Group is expanding its Blacksburg location, because it needs more space to grow. In August, construction began on a much larger 45,000-square-foot building at the Corporate Research Center.
Singh expects to rely on Virginia Tech even more in the coming years, both in Blacksburg and in Northern Virginia. The university is working with the state of Virginia to increase its talent pool by graduating at least 2,000 more undergraduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, and related disciplines over the next five years. Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria is part of the plan, with a focus on graduate studies.
That’s good news for Singh’s company and other businesses throughout the commonwealth who will rely on this pipeline of employee talent to fuel their ventures.
Question: Why is there such a pressing need for employers to hire people with technology skills in Virginia and across the country?
Singh: The industry is growing to support the real issues that we face as a society. There’s tremendous national security and personal security implications around cyber security.
The pace of technology is moving so quickly that we have to develop people that can have multiple jobs over their career. A generation ago, I could work at a company for 40 years in a similar type of job. It’s not that way anymore. You have to really be able to evolve. That’s part of what Tech is doing. It’s not only teaching students a skill, it’s teaching them how to think and how to learn, which is a broader skill.
You’ve got the pace of change increasing, and everything in the world now is technology related. There’s no business or no agency or no person that functions without the support of technology. As things change and technology becomes more pervasive, it just creates more need for tremendous amounts of human capital. Quite honestly, everybody is struggling to keep up with that. Technology is changing faster than we can educate people on that technology.
Question: Why did 1901 Group choose Blacksburg for one of its original locations?
Singh: One of the core reasons for setting up the business in Blacksburg was to build a symbiotic relationship with Virginia Tech. It’s really about what we can do to help the university in terms of finding opportunities for students that might want to live in Blacksburg and stay in Blacksburg, or how can we get students on a rotation where they might work for us a couple years in Blacksburg and then come up here [to Reston, Virginia] and work for us. It felt like a good match.
Question: How will the university’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria benefit 1901 Group?
Singh: Once the Innovation Campus gets going, we are interested in having space in the district. We would like to bring clients there to show them how we operate. I have had conversations with folks at VT about what can we do to provide opportunities for students and what type of students are we looking for.
Question: How many jobs do you plan to add as part of your Blacksburg expansion?
Singh: In the next year, we will add another 100 people in Blacksburg (there are 200 now). By 2022, our goal is to have 500.
Question: The jobs available at 1901 Group in Blacksburg traditionally have involved coding and back-end work. What new jobs will you add in Blacksburg in the future?
Singh: There’s going to be everything from entry level analyst positions to senior architect positions to functions, such as the core infrastructure level of network management, security management, all of the way to AI (artificial intelligence). Machine learning to software development or automation — all of those types of things that span the IT spectrum.
Being in Blacksburg, there’s a lot of talent concentrated in a small area, with students, grad students, professors who are AI researchers and experts. We are reaching back into the academic area to help us with work.
Question: How does Virginia Tech’s mission fit with 1901 Group’s goals?
Singh: The concept of Destination Areas is very powerful for us, because it’s a cross functional approach to education, and that’s what we do. We are not just IT. We’re helping the government solve business problems and IT problems and cultural problems.
I think what Tech is doing is dovetailing nicely with what we are doing, and we just want to be there to support Virginia Tech.
By Jenny Kincaid Boone