re: How To Scare Off Your Best IT People
Excellent points about the treatment of IT technical workers. Putting the technical teams in the position of being collections of commodity entities is extremely poor practice. Although computer systems and software have improved the efficiency of many things throughout an organization, the job of writing software is decidedly something that resists that kind of simplification. There is simply no substitute for talented developers.
While my background is much more in software development for engineering projects, I do have some experience in IT. There are similarities and differences between the two, but as far as hiring and management are concerned I think there are more similarities.
As to the recruiting practices, there are so many cases of poorly written requirements. Beyond that, so many come through recruiting agencies where the recruiters don't have any background to evaluate resumes or job requirements. From one submission I made, I got a call from a recruiter who first of all admitted she didn't remember what kind of job the client was trying to fill and had to call the poster to find out. Then she couldn't tell from my resume whether I had any experience that would match the job. All she had was some resume screening process match and my phone number. In my opinion this indicates a practice of treating the IT workers as commodities where a simple "feature search" will yield the right IT worker to buy. Also along that line there appears to be the belief that the best hiring practice is to find a perfect match to a set of skills at the lowest price. However, what are called skills in the requirements are often not really skills at all, but rather specific software tools or architecture types. I would not call JSON a skill, but with many screening processes a junior programmer who has written something using it will be considered more skilled and a better match than someone who has never used it but with a much higher aptitude for solving problems. I consider the ability to solve problems the real skill here, but nobody seems to know how to screen for that.
I also find that the hierarchical structure of IT departments fosters the treatment of the developers as commodities. When a company as a rule values the management team as more valuable than the technical team workers, the natural tendency is for the top technical workers to try to find a way to be promoted to management. Once there, they aren't necessarily good or bad managers, but it is very likely that there was an overall loss of a valuable technical person who is now not contributing to development efforts. The new manager can then be faced with the situation where the remaining team can't perform as well as it did when he or she was doing development. Depending on temperament, this could lead to dictatorial behavior, frustration, divisiveness, or simply ineffective project management. The highly skilled tech worker who has no interest in moving up the organizational ladder is left to be lumped in with the rest of the commodities, feels unappreciated, and eventually looks elsewhere or underperforms. If you put a ceiling on your talented people, they will either get out from under it, or languish there and find outlets for their interests outside of their jobs.
Simply stating that we need to move more people into STEM degree programs isn't the answer. I have interviewed prospective students for college admission for a number of years for a school known for it's strength in STEM. The candidates always had interesting things to discuss when it came to the sciences and the types of careers they might pursue there. About fifteen years ago I started to see a shift from candidates that aspired to science, research, or engineering careers. Many rather stated that they were interested in a "career in business", which basically translated to getting some technical background, then an MBA, and then a path to some sort of executive position. They had found, in high school, that there was an impending ceiling to a tech career and were making sure they never got under it and therefore would avoid the work to get out from under it. Telling a talented student that he or she should aspire to a tech career will just be viewed as poor advice.