Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and is reprinted with permission. Mark Stinneford works in internal communications at Blue Cross NC, where he has been employed since 2000. 

DURHAM – People and culture are important elements of what makes IT (information technology) different here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC).

Our employees Phoenix Smith and Greg Taylor have built solid careers in Core Service. But they couldn’t keep their minds off IT. It became a passion that neither of them could ignore.

Phoenix spent her days as a customer service professional (CSP) in Winston-Salem, NC. In her free time, she decided to pursue a programming degree at Guilford Technical Community College. As her passion grew, she found herself learning and watching YouTube videos on coding.

Greg was a workforce analyst and project manager in Durham, working out of the Service Command Center. Tech was a hobby that he worked into his job. He’d use Excel, Visual Basic, and some coding skills to build digital tools to help CSPs do research and other tasks.

“I’ve always been most happy when I’m building digital tools to solve problems,” he said.

Both were cobbling together tech skills as they could in their own time, but IT careers seemed a winding road and years away.


Then came a partnership between Human Resources, Information Technology, and Core Service to see if we could develop Service employees into IT professionals. Momentum Learning, a coding school on the American Tobacco Campus, was a great learning environment for new developers. We offered a 12-week, full-time coding immersion program as a pilot.

More than 130 employees expressed interest in the program, with 58 attending a coding crash course that was a prerequisite to applying. After that, 32 employees submitted applications. Phoenix and Greg were the two Service employees chosen.

“I felt like I won the lottery when I found out,” Phoenix said. “It was really a proud moment. I really look forward to helping other Core Service employees who are thinking about pursuing an IT career.”

“This has been my goal for 10 years,” Greg said. “I worked really hard, and it really happened.”

Developing our own talent seemed like a natural fit. The pilot stemmed from a brainstorming conversation between Chief People Officer Fara Palumbo and Chief Information Officer Jo Abernathy about opportunities to train service employees for IT roles. Tarsha Rowland, VP of Core Service, didn’t need any persuading.

“After a visit to Momentum, we knew this was a great idea,” Fara said. “And Tarsha couldn’t have been happier about the commitment to her staff. We have great talent on our Operations team and across the company, so we’re always looking for new ways to develop those that have the desire to grow.”


Then came 60-hour weeks of learning for Greg and Phoenix. There were formal classes in the morning, lab work in the afternoon and team projects on the weekends. They learned internet browser and server technology, as well as development tools.

They’d go from a technology concept to application in just a few days – and then move on quickly to another topic. “It was like drinking from a fire hydrant,” Phoenix said. Their closing project was to design, build and implement a digital application.

With their graduation, Phoenix and Greg became developer associates within IT. They are in the second week of their new roles. Greg is working on problem tickets and bug fixes for the employer portal on our website. Phoenix is supporting two service systems – Genesys, our service softphone system and Magic, a member information system. The pilot program also included an IT employee – Ashley Whitted – who had been an application systems analyst supporting some of our older technology. She has also moved into a development role.

“It has really been a transformative experience,” Greg said.

“People I talk to can’t believe a company would invest in its people like this,” Phoenix said. “That’s why working at Blue Cross NC is so awesome.”