The IT Talent Shortage Debate - InformationWeek

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The IT Talent Shortage Debate
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jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 4:36:13 PM
I hear you, but...
...the IT shortage rhetoric sounds like a blatant appeal for corporate welfare (via artificial inflation of the supply; thus depressing salaries and making it harder for those laid off or fired to get new jobs in the field).  Even if those making such claims were absolutely right, it's not the job of government to alleviate it by either pushing people into the field not otherwise so inclined; or by importing guest workers.   Indeed, the classical economic theory generally espoused by "pro-business" commentators (except when it's inconvenient) is that if there is a shortage, wages/salaries will rise and people will be financially motivated to do what they have to to qualify; or it will be financially worthwhile for employers to train people to do those jobs (it's called "supply and demand").  Adam Smith made the argument that artificially inflating the supply of workers trained in a particular occupation was counterproductive, as the inevitible result is a lot more people in the occupation than could reasonably be accomodated; and I think he was right.  And if there were a shortage, it would certainly not be the case that older, experienced computer professionals would have a hard time finding employment if they lose their jobs (I know someone going through that now); indeed, they'd be in high demand.

Overspecification of qualifications has been a problem for a very long time and was a major part of the reason why I didn't land my first programming job until five years after I got my degree.  Artificially increasing the supply of people meeting them won't help matters; economic pressure on employers to abandon the practice will.

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/3/2014 | 3:47:33 PM
Re: Poor IT Management, Lazy HR
I want to echo the notion that poor management is part of the problem. My personal observations don't encompass IT hiring in general, of course, but talking to people I know who work at some very big tech companies, I've heard several chronic managerial products that much up hiring, including

-- Too little communication. Marketing wants to change something at the last minute and doesn't appreciate what this entails for engineering. Engineering is stretched too thin because its budget was established under the assumption that marketing won't change its schedule every other day. Brand starts to get angry because Engineering makes a change that Marketing requested but that Brand wasn't included on. Engineering makes a mistake but doesn't want to own up to it because Engineering is already catching heat from Marketing and Brand. And so on. There's this quixotic notion that the hiring budgets established at the beginning of the quarter will be adequate for all of the managerial disarray that follows.

-- Quarterly goals. Too often, a manager realizes that everything is going to hell because he (or his bosses or collaborator) hasn't planned adequately. That person might realize a need to hire more people. But that manager's bonus (or perhaps his boss's) depends in some way on projects getting rolled out on budget-- so no hires are made. Sometimes, the manager plans to switch jobs soon anyway, because his job is a nightmare. In this scenario, achieving that bonus, even if it screws up long-term company plans, is a way to pad the transition. Because of the aforementioned communication problems, this sort of self-serving management goes undetected by superiors who are actually invested in the company's success, and so on.


-- S--- rolls downhill. People work ridiculous hours because their bosses aren't communicating, are protecting quarterly budget goals, aren't listening, etc. Some people get burned out, some of them very talented. More money is spent on recruiting efforts-- money that might have been better spent just hiring another person to begin with and retaining a valued employee. And so on.

-- Contract workers get abused. Because of all the disarray, people contracts for specific jobs get pressured into broader roles. Sometimes this results in contracts being illegally denied OT and health benefits (because they shouldn't be classified as contract workers anymore), but the employee, hopeful he'll be given a full-time position, never challenges anything.

Again, I know not all companies are like this. Many of my friend who work in IT have very satisfying jobs, with great pay, benefits, bosses and co-workers. But more than a few other friends and acquaintances have relayed horror stories along the lines of what I described above. Perhaps a talent shortage is one of the problems facing IT, but good old corporate bureaucracy and poor management play roles too. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/3/2014 | 2:27:33 PM
Re: More survey details?
Hi Susan. This was not a flash poll but an InformationWeek Research report. It reflects US respondents. (Readers, see our full lineup of research here: http://reports.informationweek.com/. ) We will post the full research report from the IT skills crunch survey soon. Meanwhile, the article includes some of the key statistics that US IT leaders shared with us about the state of the talent market.

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
11/3/2014 | 2:16:37 PM
More survey details?
@Laurianne: Great post, excellent questions and points raised here. One question. Can you elaborate on this:

InformationWeek asked the IT community: Do you see an IT talent shortage today in one or more technology areas important to your business? Yes, said 73% of respondents at companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, and a whopping 88% of respondents at larger companies.

Was this a flash poll? A survey conducted by Information Week? How many respondents did you receive in each of these company-size categories? was this just in U.S. or worldwide?

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 2:03:30 PM
Re: Specialist or generalist?
The specialization has gotten out of control in IT. There are so many technologies now and companies seem to want to match up exactly with what you have done. It used to be if you were a programmer, it didn't matter what language because it was assumed you could program in any language, whether you'd ever done it before or not. Now, as @Bob says, a Python programmer can't possibly code in PHP or Ext JS, at least in minds of HR.

That started to change, slowly at first, when Object Oriented Programming came into existence. Some of the old guys like myself from COBOL/RPG on mainframe days just couldn't adjust to that style. When Java use exploded that really came to a head. Now there are dozens of other languages like Java, knowing java doesn't necessarily get you any of those jobs.

Then Touch/mobile exploded on the scene, requiring a completely different paradigm on how you write the UI and programs, regardless of programming language. Now a Java programmer can't get a Java programming job because he never wrote Touch/smartphone apps before.

You can't keep up as an IT person anymore, it is not possible. I just laugh when I see all these self professed experts on security, mobile development and (my favorite) cloud. You're an expert? Really? And exactly how did you become an "expert"? Schools don't have experts teaching in very many places. You didn't read yourself into becoming an expert. The only true experts were just poor saps like ourselves who found themsleves thrust into the bleeding edge of one of these technologies and learned enough to complete a project. But most are hardly "experts", not like they have worked on same technology for 20-30 years like most of old timers used to do.

I have no idea what the fix is for this mindset. What is a new person entering IT supposed to focus on these days? Because chances are extremely high what they learn won't be used 5 years from now.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 1:38:32 PM
Seriously?
Industry is whining about a talent shortage - really?  Hello and welcome to 1999.  LOL I guess when you toss away the employment applications of anyone over age 30 and/or rule out the other half of the population that is female, then it can be called a talent "shortage," but the reality is that this has been the mantra of the IT industry since qualified applicants could demand over $10.00/hr. for a job in tech.  Now it's just all about bringing in the cheaper foreign workers on an H1B visa instead of hiring qualified Americans regardless of gender.  
BobC513
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BobC513,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/3/2014 | 1:02:12 PM
Specialist or generalist?
Seems like the wrong question to me. What happens when the coder with guru Python skills isn't "relevant" anymore because some new hot thing has come along and all the IT herds start chasing THAT?  Suddenly the specialist is on the out. On the other hand, the generalist can't do the very specific tasks that are in the queue.

HR should not be looking for either, They should be looking for candidates that are adaaptable, are quick to learn and have a foundation of good work habits. Companies would do better stop looking at developers, admins, architects - anyone in the IT services stack - as fungible resources to plug in and out of projects as needed. Instead they should be building teams that can work together over the long haul. This grates against the acolytes of The Bottom Line because employees are expenses to be minimized, not assets to utlized at their greatest potential. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/3/2014 | 12:57:22 PM
Re: Oddly specific
I think companies worry about hiring smart people and spending a chunk of cash on training, only to have that person then jump to a higher-paying job elsewhere. However, I don't think the answer is "don't train," I think it's "Train, then treat and pay people well so they want to stay." It's not all about money.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 11:06:58 AM
Re: Oddly specific
I agree that the job descriptions seems to be for people with multiple skills and experience.  It seems they are really looking for a purple mouse.  Right now, I have notice it is about who you know?  In order for job candidates to pass the resume filter.  For me, it seems like trying to climb the Great Wall of china. 
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/3/2014 | 10:32:52 AM
Oddly specific
I've always been puzzled by the over-emphasis on checklists of different tools or even programming languages the ideal candidate is supposed to have experience with. IT is a learning profession, and what companies should prize above all is the ability to adapt to a different tool set or programming language as needed to solve specific business problems.

Harder to make that into a list of bullet points for a job description, I suppose.
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