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12/11/2014
08:26 AM
Chris Murphy
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CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs

You may be surprised what tops Choice Hotels CIO's list of toughest IT skills to find.

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Choice Hotels International CIO Todd Davis is hiring -- about 100 IT pros, to be specific, giving a major boost to his 500-person IT team, which is mostly in Phoenix. What I found most interesting was Davis's response when I asked: "Who are the hardest people to find?"

"Infrastructure people," he told me. "Infrastructure and security people."

We're used to hearing of an IT security talent shortage, but isn't the cloud supposed to commoditize infrastructure? Here we are in a time when every company has the option to hand its infrastructure operations over to the likes of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Equinix, CenturyLink, and Rackspace, and infrastructure skills are in hot demand?

Davis is a cloud advocate, so it's not as if he's clinging to the past. He's considering moving Choice Hotels' most critical software systems to Amazon Web Services. That would include its central reservation systems, which send out room availability to travel websites and funnel back reservations to individual hotels. Already, Choice Hotels' core systems are designed to run in an unmanned, dark data center -- tractor trailers packed with Dell hardware that the IT team monitors from an operations center in its Phoenix headquarters.

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The cloud puts pressure on infrastructure talent in two big ways, Davis said.

First, the cloud vendors themselves are big competitors for infrastructure talent. "They keep stealing those people, whether it's from my company or some other company. Then you have to go find another Linux server administrator, or someone like that, who's highly skilled. And they're difficult to find -- it takes longer to find those people."

Second, the cloud's virtualized, scale-out approach to computing makes infrastructure more complex, and thus it makes the needed skills harder to find. In a virtualized, software-defined data center, "making that resilient and understanding how it works, and making it easy to manage, versus the physical aspect of how I used to line up 10,000 servers, is very different," Davis said.

And while we may talk about "the cloud" as if it's one entity, the reality with Amazon, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace, VMware, etc., is that each is different, and so user companies tend to build skills around one of those platforms, he told me.

Todd Davis
Todd Davis

Don't get the impression that Davis is looking only for infrastructure pros; he's hiring across the IT board. He's looking for Java developers ready to work in an Agile environment, where product owners and developers sit in the same room sketching out software needs. He needs mobile and web developers, QA people, business analysts, test engineers, system engineers, scrum masters, and technical managers. Choice Hotels is also finding the market tight for creative software developers.

"We're looking all over the US and all around the world, not necessarily just in the Phoenix area," Davis said. He'd like most of the hires to work in Phoenix, but he has some people working remotely. With IT systems that must handle spikes up to 50,000 transactions a second, the company needs engineers who understand what high reliability requires.

Data supports Davis's experience. In Foote Partners' August 2014 "IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends" report, Infrastructure Architect is among the top 10 non-certified IT positions commanding the highest pay.

The emphasis Davis puts on infrastructure pros says a lot about the indispensability of the data center, regardless of whether it's in a public cloud or a company's own building. Companies can't function or expand without data center resources, and today's hottest trends -- customer-facing mobile apps, the Internet of Things, data-driven decision tools, high-volume e-commerce systems -- only drive up that importance.

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Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio
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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/16/2014 | 7:29:37 AM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
I'm not saying that you have to fill all of the position with internal candidates that were trained up to the new positions.  You can however fill key positions this way and ease the pain of not having the numbers right away.  Having been with the company for 20 years I wonder if he can map out the growth trends and how long he saw this shortage coming.  I can't say that I know what their plans are that will require so many new technical hires but I can say that if he is having trouble finding people with his current methods then maybe he needs to look at new methods.  I heard an interview with a technical company in India complaining that they can't get enough technical workers to fill their needs so this isn't a problem that is limited to the US.  It is a problem that isn't going to go away unless we actively do something about it.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
12/15/2014 | 9:29:54 PM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
Good point, @SaneIT. It's not the first time job reqs are misaligned with the actual talent pool. But they don't seem to be learning how to get the right people into the right spots. Sad, but true
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/15/2014 | 11:07:25 AM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
In terms of training people up, I don't know Choice Hotels specific track record but I do know that Todd Davis himself has been 20 years with the company, starting as a developer. But when you're doing this large of an expansion, you can't rely entirely on train up. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/15/2014 | 7:25:59 AM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
@zerox203, My favorite are the ones who want 10 years of experience in a technology that only hit the mainstream about 5 years ago and they want hundreds of these folks. They want someone who has been there and done that on a project that no one has ever done before.  It's like saying "we're going to need a miracle to pull this off then saying make that 100 miracles".

 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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12/12/2014 | 2:40:13 PM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
@Zerox makes a fair point. CIOs often say "be ready to change" but also say they need deep experience. When we did our recent survey on IT talent, there was much enthusiasm for internal training. Could a new emphasis on rotation between roles help?
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
12/12/2014 | 10:02:32 AM
Re: CIO Hiring 100 IT Pros: What He Needs
Maybe this isn't so surprising after all, when you frame it a certain way. Basically, it's not that the number of infrastructure positions needed is necessarily increasing, but rather that the value of the existing ones is going up - thus making them harder to fill. In itself, that sounds like good news for the industry, but it also serves as a relevant reminder of the difference between pundit theory and IT reality. That is, we can't always predict how big trends (public cloud) will disseminate to every inch of the broader industry or to every company. Same goes for those junior Java (etc.) positions. Choice Hotels is just one company, but these are 100 real positions. That's nothing to sneeze at.

I like Sane IT's point very much as well. Nobody likes to train up existing talent anymore, and alongside that these lists of job requirements often read like a (very expensive) cake recipe. That's a lousy combination. How can you find someone who has up to 5 years of experience with a specifc technology in your specific industry if nobody in your industry will hire someone who doesn't already have 5 years of experience with it? It's like you're asking someone else to do the work for you. The internet age is blending the lines - many CIOs say the most important thing is to hire someone that's adaptable and can learn new skills quickly, because what's relevant today could be gone in five years. Okay, then let's not say one thing and do another!
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/12/2014 | 7:55:41 AM
Re: Cloud projects
I don't think anyone should be surprised that the big could providers are scooping up the infrastructure folks.  What this means to me is that as a CIO you need to be looking at how to build up your own infrastructure experts and give them a position that they want to stay in.  You can't just complain that you can't find good workers and have them magically appear.  With a team of 500 now, I have to believe that they could recruit some talent from their current employees get them trained and then hire for those easier to fill positions. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2014 | 10:23:42 AM
Cloud projects
Interesting example of what heavy use of public cloud providers like Amazon does to your talent needs as a CIO. As an IT pro, if you have experience juggling mulitple public cloud providers, you are a hot commodity right now. Amazon must indeed lure some of these folks away from its clients -- that would be great experience to have. Likely we will see a lot of back and forth. One thing working in this CIO's favor: Housing has got to be a lot less in Phoenix.
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