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Dearth-vader of the IT World: Part 2

Dearth-vader of the IT World: Part 2

In my last article, I discussed the long term view of the shortages in the IT world and how to set the stage for improvement in looking for a new job or someone to hire. This article is aligned with the previous one in that they both are needed in assessing your hiring or working environment.

In the last article, I discussed: "selling" to the "lookers," those who are looking for something different, whether a new job or fresh perspective in the workplace; championing good leadership and salesmanship by providing a good environment for developing the workforce; process improvements skills, which can reduce the need for new people and provide job security for those that work for you, as well as eliminate the need for high priced consultants; thinking outside the IT "box" by looking at things from a different perspective; and lastly, considering Open Source software projects as a way of improving control over your software decisions.

Short Term Tactics
While long term focuses on weeks, months, or at the most a few years, without a long term view all you do is fight fires all day. While some love the "hero" worship which follows significant "results," most people prefer a steady pace of production. Once you've begun the long term view, it's now time to turn to the daily activities.

Drop the short term "only" view
The "do it now" crowd gets high marks for "putting out the fires," but lower marks when it comes to thinking beyond the current step they're in which causes poor planning and over-budget projects. While moving faster and faster is becoming the mantra of IT and customer expectations, at some point moving faster than the voice of the process, i.e. speeding up a process which results in sloppy work, will result in poor quality and now you've moved back two steps instead of forward one. In some cases, all speed and no direction gets you nowhere fast. While I don't advocate strategic planning (direction, yes) for all contingencies, having no plan or direction is just as dangerous, so think a few steps ahead of where you are.

Change your expectations
A typical IT department writes up its requirements for a job slot and passes it off to Human Resources, who may contact a recruiter or two. Those requirements can be so specific that it can take a long time before that position is filled. While that may be the norm, it can be restrictive in productivity. For example, if you were looking for Linux system administration experienced people and out of the 30 companies in the IT world, only five were doing Linux system administration work, how would you go about recruiting for that experience? One of four things can happen: first, you can wait for someone who has the "exact skills" you need while opportunities for improvement keep passing by; second, you can hire employees away from other companies and potentially increase your costs above what their current employer is paying; third, you can hire and train those with close enough skills and good working habits; or lastly, you can be proactive and send those within your company to training to learn those skills. Bottom line: if the top 10% of the workforce is in the top 10% of the companies, change your expectations by looking for and developing the other 90% into the performance levels of the top 10%. Don't just look at "the numbers," dig to find out the why.

Redefining Top Performers
Recruiters always go for the easy sell of top performers to companies, but you can break that expensive and typical cycle by looking for the "diamonds in the rough" in the IT job market. Linux Torvalds was a college student when he started Linux in 1991 - would you have hired him to do kernel work at that time? Would you hire a CIO who, after being shown a presentation regarding pursuing Linux as a pilot project within his company's IT department, states: "Why would we investigate something like that when we have Microsoft?" So the same goes for the IT world, look for the "fringe" IT people who enjoy working with computers in their normal jobs, but currently don't work in the IT field as a full time career. You might be able to convince them to change job careers, or at the very least, have them assist in special projects which require less than perfect computer systems knowledge, but more than what the average user knows.

Resumes and Interviewing
What is NOT written on a resume doesn't mean that it has not been learned previously or could be expected to learn in the future. How many resumes have you seen which are "tailored" to your specific job, but skills or knowledge could be present that are not identified which could be beneficial to your organization? For instance, a lower ranking computer sales person could be better suited in designing and testing software for Customer Relationship Management. Or, US demographics are changing, which require new approaches to new IT customers, which results in hiring those within the new demographics.

I have a personal reading program which requires me to read a new book (or reread an old one) each month to keep abreast of things and to constantly improve my skill set. A few years after I had started this program, I purchased the book "Enlightened Leadership" and was asked by a director how he could get the organization moving forward. I was not finished with the book, but recommended it highly to him. A few weeks later he came back with the book, this story, and his agreement that the book provided answers to helping our organization.

The director had taken the book into the VP's office to show him, and the VP proceeded to take out his copy from his desk. When asked where he had gotten it, the VP replied "at the CEO's meeting" where the CEO had brought two cases of the book and handed one out to all that were there. Now, when interviewing someone for a job, ask what was the last thing they learned recently. Why would you ask this? Because you want to know if the person is still willing to learn new things regardless of what they learn in the past. In fact, one of the authors of "Enlightened Leadership" told me that CEO's didn't read them, but more junior management because the CEO's attitude showed they had "arrived."

Expect more from educational institutions
Some of the best institutions focus on theory and good fundamentals and have labs which reinforce theory with application. The purpose of IT theory, and it doesn't have to be extensive, is to ground someone with a foundation with which they can build upon as their career progresses. Without some foundation in IT or management theory or the why things work, future productive work can be hampered.

Viewing a recent professional training Web site regarding their software testing course, there was actually a section titled "How Quality Assurance (QA) is different from testing." When viewing monster.com or other job hunting Web sites, when QA is discussed, it's always from a testing perspective, or it's considered a separate function altogether. Some of the best organizations view testing as only one part of QA philosophy,; that requirements gathering, design and other parts are just as important, if not more so, than testing in the prevention of software defects. In the Best of the Best organizations, sales and other departments know the QA philosophy and apply it in their daily job.

When it comes to degrees and certificates offered by educational institutions, look at the curriculum before calling about grades. Getting an "A" from one institution may be like getting a "B" at another, based on the curriculum that was taught.

Recruit and "Close the Loop"
Organizations which recruit, don't close the loop when it comes to their working environment. Closing the loop is not only recruiting the right people, but making sure that you retain them. As W. Edwards Deming has pointed out, managers have 85% responsibility for the system (working environment, compensation, etc), so if you're having trouble with retaining top performers, look at management and company policies first to find out where the accountability, people and/or process, lies. While getting exit interviews are great, and can provide valuable feedback, even from fired employees, don't use company-sponsored recruiters to gain this information. Do it yourself and be honest to the feedback. When a person is offered another position, you must be ready to counter within a day.

Only you can prevent IT fires!
Get our of the fighting fire mode and into preventing IT fires. This requires up front time and effort to prevent fires from happening. It comes in the form of discovery, understanding, and training. Discovery is when the IT department looks "outside the box" for ways of doing things and seeing things from a new perspective. This takes time and sometimes risk, but it has to be done or it follows the connotation of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I have been in some organizations which were very resistant to change and some where change was so quick you couldn't tell if the change was worth the effort and/or produced the intended or expected value. If the right questions aren't asked, let alone questions at all, how things can be done better, how does one expect to move forward? Technology is great, but it's the people who design it and make it happen. Discovery is when you reach an "AHA" moment of learning something new, much like when I learned that CNTL-ALT-F2 took me to a virtual console and ALT-F7 took me back to my GUI. When I told some others about this trick, I was surprised at how many who had more time in Linux than I did not know this.

Understanding is the stage AFTER you have discovered something and begin to know the ins and outs of what it is that you've discovered. Much like when I first learned that recompiling the kernel, downloading off of the Internet, and doing file maintenance at the same time was my AHA moment of the power of Linux.

Training is getting those who are interested up to speed on what you've discovered and understood. This takes time because not everyone will be willing to listen all at once, but it has a duplication factor built in: the more people who know, the more productive everyone can be, much like the macro example above. Training and organizational development are normally the first thing cut when budgets get tight. Training is seed for the future and it doesn't have to be professional training, just time for people to learn something new which applies to their job and to the company's future direction.

Anywhere from 5-25% of a working week should be devoted to finding new answers to new questions. There may be efforts which exceed the 25%, or there may be times when even 1% is too much, but if there's no time devoted to investigating new ways of doing things over the course of a year, then your competitor will pass you by, who just might be doing this better than you.

What's next?
That's up to you. Hiring during this IT shortage will require creativity, both of managers and those that work with them, and should be based on the acronym ASK: Attitude, Skills, and Knowledge. Hiring someone who has a passionate attitude about their work is far more beneficial for a company because they can be trained in the skills and knowledge which an organization needs. Besides, most people don't walk into work and say, "I'm really going to make mistakes on purpose today." If they do, then look at how they may have been beat down and lost that passion, and reinspire them with something new. One way to help them look at their situation is to tell them what I've learned from my past mistakes:

Success is never final, failure is never fatal.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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Most Recent Comments
Kevin 12/08/01 02:09:00 PM EST

This is rediculous, where's the link to the first article? Very poor design.

Stephen Davidson 11/24/01 12:11:00 PM EST

I would liked to have finished reading
this article. Unfortunately, your next
button only takes me to the subscription
form for your hardcopy magazines, (some
of which I already have subscriptions for), not the next page of the article.
Disappointing.

-Steve

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