By Minda Zetlin
Of all the trends affecting IT leaders, the one affecting them most is unquestionably the fight to hire and retain the talent they need. Nowhere is long-term thinking more vital than when it comes to planning today for the technology team you’ll need a few years from now.
“I’ve learned to build a strategic plan around the concept of a farm system in combination with experienced hires,” says Eric Johnson, CIO of Talend. That means having a robust college intern program and hiring people with potential rather than experience.”
Hiring people without established skills can, of course, bring its own set of challenges and can put extra pressure on more- experienced IT employees who may have to help their new colleagues along, at least initially. On the other hand, that gives those more experienced employees a chance to become mentors or coaches, something that can aid their own career advancement.
For Jen Kurtz, CTO of Vertex, a candidate’s attitude toward learning may be as important as that person’s specific skills. A few years ago, she says, an IT employee who had learned to work in Java or with relational databases could expect to keep working in those areas for a while, but these days rapid change is the norm and no specialty can stay unaffected for long. “You’re really starting to look for people who are lifelong learners,” Kurtz says. “They have to have a base in how to develop software, but they also have to have that mindset where they know it’s changing and they want to learn new skills.”
Kurtz and her team are creative about filling some roles. “It’s not all that simple to find folks who are passionate about test automation and quality,” she says, “so the pool of folks we pull from might not have the résumé you’d expect.” Employees can pick up a lot of what they need to know about automation and scripting without a computer science degree, she says. So she looks for people with a knack for troubleshooting or an affinity for new technologies.
Kurtz often pairs these less experienced employees with a more experienced partner. For innovative projects, she says, it’s proven valuable to bring in experienced IT employees from outside Vertex to work alongside longtime team members. “You need that new talent and approach.”
Everyday Chaos author David Weinberger believes that you can derive the most value from your team and be most effective if you reduce the information filtering that’s inherent in most organizations. Traditionally, employees at a lower level curate and filter information for their boss, but, Weinberger says, the most effective organizations freely share as much information as they can up and down the chain of command and inside and outside the company. In effect, everyone is curating information for everyone else. “It’s a world where the smartest person in the room is the room,” he says.
Illustration by Wes Rowell
Minda Zetlin is coauthor, with Bill Pfleging, of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006).