If you Think There are no IT Workers to be had, Look Again

There is no shortage of IT workers. But there is a shortage of workers like the ones you have already. That is, young, white, and male. We are making some progress against racism and sexism in hiring, but ageism still seems to be a hidden bias.

While the IT industry is lamenting that they can’t find the people they need, I know many people in my age segment (50+) who have been laid off and can’t find their next job in IT. You need to cast your net wider if you are short of IT professionals. They are out there.

Do you Need People to Run Your Systems?

If everybody in IT left, would your software systems still run? Of course they would. Any professional IT organization strives for hands-off, lights-out operation.

In the short term, a running system should not need any human intervention. It should automatically allocate more disk space and apply routine vendor patches. If you have a variable workload, your system should auto-scale or auto-throttle. User provisioning should be automated, as should routine password resets. System privileges should automatically follow the organizational role of an individual.

In the medium term, however, an unattended system will collapse. There will be emergency security patches that need manual attention. There will be changes in APIs you depend upon.

It remains to be seen if Elon Musk has retained enough talent to stave off the medium-term collapse of Twitter. How about you? Do you have the talent you need to maintain all your systems? Or are some of them left totally unattended, waiting for an implosion?

Are you Dependent on Freelancers?

Using freelancers is dangerous. It starts innocently enough with just a single developer experienced in your chosen tool. But soon, you’ll be hiring a few more freelancers to fill positions you couldn’t hire anyone to do. Suddenly you wake up to the fact that the only people who know how to use half of the cloud services in your product are freelancers, who will be gone next time there is a funding squeeze.

I’m in favor of temporarily using freelancers to augment your team – I’ve been an external consultant most of my working life. But use them responsibly. Freelancer.com showed a 40-50% increase on a year-over-year basis last quarter for various categories, while postings for permanent employees on other sites grew only 12%. That sounds like many organizations are becoming dependent on freelancers. So ask yourself if you can maintain and run your systems without freelancers.

It’s Expensive to Try to Get By With the Cheapest Resources

Talent is expensive. Not paying for talent is more expensive. Microsoft gets that. The U.S. Department of Defence doesn’t.

The Microsoft bug hunting program has a maximum payout of $250,000, and they did pay out $200,000 this year. You would think a crucial national defence vulnerability would merit a bigger bounty that finding a flaw in the Microsoft hypervisor, wouldn’t you? The DoD pays out $500 for a high-severity bug, and a whopping $1,000 for a critical issue.

Your developers are rewarded for shipping functionality. They don’t have the mindset to find the vulnerabilities. To build secure systems, you need to offer a bug bounty, or hire outside experts to do security review, or create your own internal white-hat hacker team. It does cost money. But security breaches cost much more.

Fight for Your Hiring Process

In the war for talent, are you like the Ukranians or the Russians? Canonical, the publisher of Ubuntu Linux obviously hasn’t heard that the labor market is tight. One candidate published the email describing their hiring process, and it has gone viral on the internet.

In addition to to a 40 bullet point written interview, there is an aptitude assessment, personality assessment, culture assessment, HR assessment, peer interview, tech assessment, hiring manager interview and senior lead interview. The candidate withdrew their application.

If you have a hard time attracting the talent you need, examine what your hiring process looks like from the application side. Unless you actively fight to keep it simple, it will insidiously accumulate additional steps and bullet points until it degenerates into a ridiculous CYA-box-checking-exercise. You should be able to decide whether to hire someone based on their resume and two interviews.

Focus on the Mission

Do you have a hard time finding the IT talent you are looking for? Spare a thought for the recruitment officers at the CIA. With an image that today is more waterboarding than James Bond, their approval rating among millennials is at an all-time low. Even though they have started running video ads, are on Instagram and post jobs on Linked, they have a hard time recruiting the talent they need.

As the CIO, you can’t do much for the general image of your organization in the public eye, but you can make sure you are communicating in a language and on a platform where your prospective employees are. It is hard and expensive to buy the best talent with compensation alone, so you need to explain how working for you will allow IT professionals to make a difference.

That’s why your job ads should have one thing in common with the CIA: Focus on the mission.