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7/1/2014
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5 Ways To Build A Balanced IT Team

Here's how one CTO assembles and cultivates a well-balanced IT team. Consider some of his hiring and talent tactics.

IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise
IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Your IT team is key to your business's success -- and it's up to you to hire and cultivate the best talent. Of course, that's easier said than done; assembling and nurturing a technology dream team involves more than just matching candidates' skills to your job requisites and assigning them roles, said James Kenigsberg, chief technology officer at the software company 2U.

"The hotshot with great experience may look good, but [he or she] might not be the best fit with the rest of your employees," he said. "Culture is king when chasing tech greatness."

To build a well-rounded tech team, hiring managers should focus on more than just skills and strive to instill in employees creativity and passion, Kenigsberg said. Here are five ways you can start.

1. Hire for passion first, tech skills second
Hiring managers often prioritize tech skills over passion -- which is a big mistake. "Technology changes so fast, and new tools come out every day. You need to look for passion in what they do and passion for the field you're working in. You can teach everything else."

[Do you deserve a bigger paycheck? Read IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise.]

Before Kenigsberg brings in candidates to interview, he looks them up on sites like GitHub, an open source developer community. "I like to see if they've done any public projects and whether they've shared code with others. Passionate people care about sharing their knowledge with others."

2. Be aware of your gaps
If you track your diet and record everything you eat, you're better able to determine your nutritional gaps. Kenigsberg transferred this method to his tech team to determine its skill deficiencies.

"We have a skill matrix that includes various technologies and other skills like managing and communicating with stakeholders," he said. "This helps us not only grade the people who work for us, but it's useful to see where we're weak when we put together job recs."

3. Avoid common questions
Kenigsberg takes a different approach to the questions he asks in interviews to test a candidate's critical thinking skills.

"I flip the script on them, and I'll use the answers that many people might give me to the usual questions." Instead of asking, "What do you look for in a team?" -- nine out of 10 will say "teamwork" -- he will ask candidates what teamwork means to them. "It's interesting to hear what teamwork means to candidates, because many people never think about what buzzwords really mean."

4. Ask the candidate for a "premortum"
While a postmortem examines what went wrong after it's happened, Kenigsberg says that a "premortum" will give you more insight into the candidate's critical thinking skills. During interviews, he asks for two stories: one about what the candidate would hypothetically do to manage the most successful project ever, and one about how the candidate might fail.

"I want to see how you got to failure and how you got to success. What went wrong when you were on your way to the office from New York and you were late by an hour? Did your cab get lost? Did you miss your train? What process did you put in place if trains are delayed next time?" he said. "These are the things I want to hear, but about something like a development lifecycle. It's easy to see if people are smart or experienced enough to see what could go wrong."

5. Care less about perfection
Tech teams should shoot for greatness but keep in mind that the idea is to ship. "We fall way too often into paralysis analysis. You can't get stuck on projects. If you can get to 85% on a project, great. Make sure it's good and ship it. But the 85% to 100% on a project is really hard and expensive. It has to be good, but don't get held up on perfection."

Our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue -- our 26th ranking of technology innovators -- shines a spotlight on businesses that are succeeding because of their digital strategies. We take a close at look at the top five companies in this year's ranking and the eight winners of our Business Innovation awards, and we offer 20 great ideas that you can use in your company. We also provide a ranked list of our Elite 100 innovators. Read our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue today.

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 10:27:26 AM
Re: Common questions have common answers
 Lots of people play with technology - not as many understand how they got there.



^^Great point here, and another way to hone in on critical thinkers. A few commenters have discussed interview techniques; what other ones can you all share to separate the good from the best?
awinter015
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awinter015,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 8:05:49 AM
Common questions have common answers
Lots of good ideas - here is how we go about it.
Since we are a company whose sole function is to implement technology in other companies - we ask - what is your network like at home, what is the latest technology you have tought yourself, how do you see this technology helping other companies?  In short - all of these questions are to assertain the individuals passion - and technical prowess.

Common questions have common answers.  We always ask "what is your greatest achievement" and ask for the why.  The we follow up with "what is your greatest failure" and ask for the why and what was the follow up.

Lastly we propose a few scenario's on a white board and ask the person to troubleshoot the issue with us being the client.  this attempts to measure their decision making/analytical thought process.  Lots of people play with technology - not as many understand how they got there :).

These are our tips so if you are currently looking for an opportunity in MA - talk to us. :)
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/2/2014 | 3:05:13 PM
Re: 5 Ways To Build A Balanced IT Team
First of all, I will definitely agree that interviewing (from both sides of the table) is an art form unto itself. It's absolutely worthwhile for us to talk about that when talking about the hiring process. As much as we swap tips as IT pros for what do during interviews and how to land the job, it's important that interviewers themselves swap strategies, and hone that process to keep the whole machine running smoothly - otherwise, as others have said already, we run the risk of interviews just becoming a rote process; a formality. However, today interviewers are often not trained HR people - for example, IT managers (not known for their great personal skills) are often interviewing the IT candidates. It's great to see some team-building tips targeted squarely at tech managers.

I do have some concern about the idea of being novel just for the sake of being novel, though. I think you could just as easily get a buzzword-laden answer to the question 'what does teamwork mean to you?' as you could to the question 'what do you look for in a team?'. Maybe it will catch your interviewee 'off-guard', but maybe that will just lead them to giving a safer answer like they've been conditioned to, rather than really thinking on their feet. I think there's a little more to refinement to be done on the hiring process in the modern age than just the questions that we ask - but it's a good start, and the beginning of a conversation worth having.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
7/2/2014 | 9:45:19 AM
Re: GitHub
Any kind of exam have shortcuts and tricks behind, interview is not an exception. The interview questions of Top-500 enterprises have been cracked all the time. So HR and hiring manager need to come up with new questions.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/1/2014 | 5:30:30 PM
Re: GitHub
Seems like the point of all these "innovative" interview questions is to see if people can think on their feet and improvise. As potential employees get wise to the tricky questions, HR people need to keep coming up with new ones.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/1/2014 | 2:47:49 PM
GitHub
We hear that GitHub advice form lots of people. Almost a must-have. What do you think of the premortem approach, readers?
Research: 2014 US IT Salary Survey
Research: 2014 US IT Salary Survey
Our survey of nearly 12,000 respondents shows IT pays well -- staffers rack up a median total compensation of $92,000, and managers hit $120,000. Industry matters. And the gender pay gap is real and getting wider.
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