By Oren Toledano, co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge
We’re called the “startup nation.”
Despite being smaller than the state of New Jersey, Israel has more Nasdaq-listed companies than any other country in the world except the U.S. and China. Our businesses are quick to grow and to create. They are built on a mentality eager to take risks.
But, what is the secret sauce behind Israel’s success? What magic touch do we have that universities around the world are now acknowledging is highly effective and desirable?
This is a question others have asked before – most notably Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their best-selling book. One answer they give: it starts in the military. More specifically, in the unique training program for the young recruits of 8200, Israel’s elite military unit where thousands of bright, technically minded soldiers study deeply and master cutting-edge technology. Having served in that unit, reaching the rank of Major, I’d like to go into this a bit more.
Over the last three years alone, several start-ups founded by 8200 graduates were purchased by tech giants, including Adallom (purchased by Microsoft), Onavo (purchased by Facebook), and CyActive (purchased by PayPal).
In 8200, the idea of “being thrown into the deep end” is taken to a completely new level. The soldiers are expected to learn new skills super-fast and solve complex military problems with limited personnel, in a short time and with surprisingly little guidance. It is a quick, hands-on, intense learning process that leads straight to success.
During their training, the average day begins at 6 a.m., soldiers get exactly five minutes in the morning to wake up and dress themselves – and they get another 10 minutes, on the clock, for breakfast. The rest of their day is just as intense, as well as intellectually challenging and rigorously scheduled – an exhaustingly high-level program of study that generally continues at full force until 11 each night.
If you can keep up with the demands of this program for its full five months, you come out on the other end as a tech master at the age of 18, and with more technical know-how than an average American college graduate with a degree in Computer Science.
And it works particularly well. The unit’s alumni come away with the skills and mentality that are a natural fit for the start-up ecosystem.
The thinking and training of 8200 can be applied anywhere around the globe.
At Israel Tech Challenge, for example, we teach an international group of students about cybersecurity and data science. Working in closed cohort groups, with intensive training and close mentorship, and given the keys to a strong professional network, the students flourish. The method we use creates open-minded, autodidactic, independent thinkers who can even come up with solutions before the definition or emergence of the actual problem.
It is an approach that can help all of us, as an international community, react quickly, adapt to the needs of the market, and create in-demand applications.
Today, American universities have started to recognize the need for educational models spearheaded by 8200-like tech boot camps and crash courses in coding. However, this is just a single application of the kind of new thinking brought to the forefront by the 8200. Israel’s experience can and should be leveraged to jumpstart not only the adoption of a new pedagogical system, but also as a groundbreaking model of international problem solving.
By adopting 8200’s intense, focused, and uncompromising training methods, American companies and organizations can create a workforce that is better prepared, more disciplined, and capable of overcoming technological gaps quickly, adapting in an agile fashion to changing realities, and learning, without judgment, but with great depth, from past mistakes. And they could do this faster, with fewer resources, attracting only the most talented and challenge-ready employees.
Applied effectively, the potential is here for a powerful tool that can shift the way we approach some of the larger issues facing the international community, throwing the most motivated, mentally resilient, and brightest human resources at the problem, while making better use of other resources, like money and time. In other words, we could attack real world problems by engaging technology, and its best practitioners, to help solve national priority issues.
Not only could this model prove lucrative and economical, it could be a game changer in terms of results – tech products for a safer planet chief among them.
Oren Toledano is co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge, a partnership between the Jewish Agency, The Government of Israel’s Cyber Bureau, and Masa Israel Journey. Prior to his current position, Oren spent three years as Head of the Aliyah delegation of the Jewish Agency in France-Belgium, and before that served for nearly a decade as an officer in an elite technological unit of the IDF, reaching the rank of Major. Oren holds an MA in Political Science and Security Studies from Tel Aviv University, and a BA in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.