Monday, March 7, 2011

The IT Revolution is Coming Soon, I Hope

I've been very concerned about the IT staffing for some time. Anyone who's been in the industry for more than 5 years should be too; if not, you may not be paying attention.

The problem is, this that there are WAY too many people in IT jobs, who aren't qualified to hold the job. These people range from bumbling, but harmless, mopes who just don't seem to get it, to those who seem to get everything wrong and cost their employers thousands or even millions of dollars.

This problem is hard to quantify and even harder to combat. Here's why...
  • There is strong demand for qualified IT staff and the jobs pay very well. There will always be people who are willing to lie or stretch the truth and hope they don't get caught, or they "catch on".
  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Dumb people don't know they are dumb, so their resume is likely to sound good, as it is a reflection of their perception of their skills.
  • IT recruiters usually just look for keywords on resumes and match a few phrases given to them by hiring managers.
  • Hiring Managers are managers... They often aren't qualified to evaluate competency, they just know if a candidate uses acronyms and terminology in the right context.
  • Except for a few IT Operations jobs, there is almost no accountability for poor performance and poor decision making. No one assigns blame to an architect or developer when something fails three or six months later.
  • It's not "nice" to call someone dumb and apparently "not qualified" is a bit too close to dumb for some people.
  • Poor IT training abounds. Universities are poorly equipped to keep up with the pace of new technologies, and IT training chains specialize in selling dreams to hopeless career changers. Yes, I generalize here and expect abuse... but I am right. ;-)
  • Those damn 10 Best Jobs/Careers articles. Magazines, and our parents have been telling us to get in to IT since the early 90's. The money entices people who don't have the natural curiosity and other skills, to excel in IT. Seriously, take the bad advice from your high school career councilor and find a way to do what you love, or at least something that keeps you out of my way.
  • The myth of the 10 (12, 15, whatever) year old IT whiz. Just because your kid, sisters kid, neighbor's kid, can install windows or use Facebook and Twitter does not mean he/she is a prodigy. If a kid likes to "play doctor", it doesn't mean he/she is ready for a career in medicine.
  • There is too much focus on how to operate applications/systems, rather than fundamentals of operations.
  • IT moves fast. Training budgets, when they exist, are rarely able to keep up with the next big thing.
  • Time. Who the hell has time to train????
The good news is there are signs that some employers are starting catch on. This article from InfoWorld indicates that IT shops are working harder to retain skilled staff and other IT shops are looking to pick off real talent.

In the mean time, here are a few thoughts on what the industry needs to do, to save itself from the under-qualified people it's already hired or about to hire.
  • Start making people accountable. Create or adopt existing PDCA (Demming) feedback systems. Don't just look to improve your systems when you get to the check phase, also track who did what and and make corrections to staffing as needed.
  • Create career paths for performers. Find ways to identify staff who have the capability to do better work or whose talent is being wasted.
  • Stop caring about degrees. At least half of the truly talented folks I know in IT don't have degrees, and those that do, don't have them in CS or anything related to IT. Four years in college is a long time to side track an IT career. :-P
  • Start firing the worst performers! This may feel harsh, but it helps the industry as a whole. These pole should NOT be in IT. If you manage them out, re-org them out, lay them off, etc, they can easily spin the departure to a new employer. If you've fired them, when the prospective employer calls and learns they are "not eligible for re-hire", they will understand the code.
  • Pay even more to top performers, but tie it to real performance. Don't just give it to the guy in the seat...
  • Make time and find budget to train those who can absorb and use the new skills.
  • Find ways to figure out who the skilled folks are treat them like kings!
  • Employers, remember, the only leverage you have here is benefits; be it cash, flex time, free cars... When it comes to supply and demand, there is a tiny supply of skilled IT folks and a serious demand. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can replace someone.
IT folks, well the smart ones... Here's what you should be doing to enhance your awesome:
  • Keep your resume, especially skills, up to date and online in Monster, or your favorite jobs site.
  • Update your LinkedIn, and connect with other smart people.
  • Do not endorse people on LinkedIn you would not hire. It may be "nice" to give someone a glowing recommendation, and they may give you one back, but if they aren't actually skilled, it may reflect poorly on you.
  • Even if you are happy in your, actively look for the "right" job and keep your mind open. Going on interviews is good practice, even if you aren't interested in the job.

The End.

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