Want to win the talent war? Put your shoulders into it.

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It seems every technology company is hiring right now. At my day job, I interview at least one candidate every day. When I’m not interviewing people, I’m receiving emails and phone calls and LinkedIn requests from other technology companies who need my help. While it’s very flattering to be in high demand, I’m humble enough to realize that it’s not about me. The truth is there simply aren’t enough software people to go around. I think we can (and should) fix that.

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I’ve always referred to myself as “self-taught”. I’ve learned everything I know about software (and hardware, and networking, and security, etc) outside of a classroom. My first job at a technology company flipped a switch in my brain. I immediately fell in love with the creative nature of software development. This new-found passion grew into an insatiable appetite for understanding, and I read and experimented at a feverish pace. All of this motivation and initiative, while respectable, does not make me “self-taught”.

The truth is that no one can teach themselves. If I’m honest in my self assessment, I can list dozens of teachers who helped mold me into the technologist I am today. I’ve had hundreds of conversations and whiteboard sessions with some of the most brilliant minds around. I’ve worked thousands of hours, paired with real “rock stars” solving incredibly difficult problems. I’ve read books and websites and spent countless late nights of fighting with compilers… all of which were written by someone else. I am where I am today because I stood on the shoulders of giants. And so did you.

There’s a cartoon that I’ve seen several times on the web. It’s one of those funny-because-it’s-true situations. In it, an HR person is complaining about the difficulty of their charge: “We’re looking for someone with the wisdom of a 50-year old, the experience of a 40-year old, the drive of a 30-year old and the payscale of a 20-year old.” They almost have it right. Where it breaks down, I’d argue, is that your company (and mine) already has plenty of wise 50-year olds, experienced 40-year olds, and driven 30-year olds. What we should be looking for are young people who can benefit from our existing strengths. We don’t need wisdom, experience, or drive. We need a future.

If we are going to keep the explosive growth going in the technology sector, it is our responsibility to provide a new generation with shoulders to stand on. We can no longer afford to be shortsighted, seeking the perfect fit for a job that is described in two full pages of acronym soup. We must take the long view. We have to grow our own software talent. Not just because we can’t find them elsewhere, but because it is our responsibility. We don’t have to make this happen overnight, though. We can start solving this problem just like we did when we were getting started in this game. We can conduct a simple experiment.

The Experiment

If you are involved in the hiring process at your company, I propose you stop focusing on resumes, skills, and experience. The next time you can influence a hiring decision, look for attitude and aptitude. In my experience, the most difficult quality to find is passion. A close second is optimism. Find those two qualities, and make your move. My prediction for how this will work out? It’s hard to say, but I’ll bet on one of two outcomes:

  • Your new hire will save the company money (experience is expensive), make a positive impact on culture (a zeal for learning is infectious), and re-engage your seasoned veterans (there’s no hiding from passion).
  • You’ll find out that the high-priced, experienced specialist is the only type of worker who can help your company, and you’ll have to seriously reconsider your ability to scale your business.

Are you willing to give it a try?

Photo Credit: State Library of Victoria Collections via Compfight cc

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