IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
11/7/2014
08:46 AM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
100%
0%

IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths

IT pros are starting to feel disposable. Wake up, IT leaders: Relationships like this don't survive.

Successful IT people are fierce, smart, generous, proud, and brutally honest. When I wrote about the IT talent shortage debate, I expected passionate reader email about painful job hunting, and I got it.

"As one of the 'unemployable' IT workers with 3 decades of experience, I think you are missing something," one reader emailed me. "The one thing that was not discussed is how we are treating the people as disposable commodities in an industry where it can take decades to develop the knowledge, wisdom, and experience that is required."

Disposable commodities. Take that in for a minute. For many people, I bet it hit home instantly. He's not the only person to voice that sentiment to me in the past few weeks as I researched this article, but he crystallized it.

In a quest for business and operational speed, has IT started treating its most valuable resource, its people, as disposable?

[Hear from CIOs, CTOs, and recruiters on what it takes to stand out during an IT job search. Read 9 IT Job Hunt Tips For Beginners.]

I heard how the pressure for speed is affecting all sides -- IT leaders, HR pros, recruiters, and job hunters -- as I researched the supposed talent shortage. Today's business environment demands that IT move at a much faster pace. That means companies spin up IT projects quickly and hire people -- often as contractors, sometime as employees -- keyed to those projects. 

Job hunters say the hiring process has become inflexible to the point of being broken. (And in our survey research for this story, 30% of hiring managers agreed that the process is broken.) You're a multi-faceted IT professional but not a 100% perfect specifications fit? The project manager will never even see your resume.

Project manager and HR can't find the right person quickly enough? Bring in a contractor. Show him or her the door when the project is done. Next project. Rinse, repeat.

Talent development discipline such as mentoring, career-development plans, rotations for budding stars among functional teams -- all that gets harder when you are working on an agile development schedule, one reader said, where the project managers rule -- and time rules the project managers.

Consider this comment from reader CliffBerg: "I think the disconnect is between IT leadership and project level leadership. Agile projects in particular: there is so much pressure to start producing immediately (team "velocity" is measured continuously)."

IT leaders, is it any wonder people start to feel like disposable commodities in this kind of environment?

Likewise, can you honestly inspire young people to pursue IT careers if this is the way they will be treated?

On one hand, CIOs often tell me that talent worries keep them up at night. Those darn Millennials, the smart ones who really stand out, job hop as soon

Next Page

Laurianne McLaughlin currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Editor-in-Chief, overseeing daily online editorial operations. Prior to joining InformationWeek in May, 2011, she was managing editor at CIO.com. Her writing and editing work has won multiple ASBPE (American ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Angelfuego
50%
50%
Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 11:20:27 AM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
@Michael Endler,

Your point is well taken. We need to praise terrific CEOs. We are so quick to criticize lousy CEOs, but I think appreciation of a great CEO should be voiced. Our words have such power and impact that we need to be careful to not just use our words in a negative light. Negativity breeds negativity. Expressing gratitude or extending a compliment can go a long way to boost the morale and to encourage a continuation of great work and treatment. CEOs are human just like we are. We need to lift each other up, when an authentic opportunity presents itself.
Angelfuego
50%
50%
Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 11:14:17 AM
Re: MS layoffs
You are so on-point. It is a sad truth. It seems like a growing trend in all industries, but especially prevalent in the world of IT.
MPRYCE
50%
50%
MPRYCE,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/12/2014 | 4:30:26 PM
IT Talent Shortage: Ugly Truths
Hi Laurianne,

You hit the nail right on the head! I hope everyone is taking notes.

-Maurice
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2014 | 1:27:33 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
When you talk about jobs like mobile UI design, or heck, any UI design, tech skills have very little to do with success. That type of skill is far more artistic or pragmatic than anything technical. One of books I have on my shelf is Franklin Coveys Style Guide for Business and Technical Communcation.

Being an old timer that went thru school when punch cards changed over to green screen time sharing monitors. one of my biggest learning curves when I began writing browser applications was UI styling. What colors go with each other? How should you layout a page to make it intuitive for end user who has no user manual. Mobile/Touch, especially on small screen devices, raises that bar even higher. Nothing in a Comp Sci degree makes you good at that.

So I think I get where these leaders you are talking to are coming from. Being tech like I am, UI design was (is) a very difficult thing to grasp when writing for non tech people. What seems obvious to me is not so obvious to them. So why not put a "them" in the loop if you have a company big enough to afford it? I like the idea, more efficient than organizing user feedback groups all the time.
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2014 | 11:50:08 AM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
People like Padma get the need for a diverse team with various backgrounds. I am sure she knows many technology experts with a wide range of educational backgrounds. Recruiters on the front lines, however, are rewarded for one thing: quickly matching candidates that are the most likely to meet the hiring manager's needs. They are not rewarded for presenting a great but unusual candidate. This is true in many fields, not just IT. I empathize with the demands on the recruiters, but I am not a fan of this narrow-match style of hiring. Some of the smartest people I know are a lot more than the numbers and buzzwords on their resumes.
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/11/2014 | 11:42:57 AM
Re: MS layoffs
MS has long been one of the loudest voices calling for H-1B program expansion.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 8:00:33 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
"Get rid of the H-1B and you will have companies hiring even English majors to do IT work."

Even English majors?!?! Heaven forbid.

I'm joking, but man, as someone who actually has an English degree, I've experienced enormous condescension from some Silicon Valley folks who think that if you majored in the humanities, it must be because you're not smart enough to have majored in a "real" subject. I recognize that bbuff isn't saying this; in fact, he indicated the precise opposite—that an English major, with some employer support, is perfectly capable of handling a more technical job. But since that condescension is out there, I feel obligated to complain about it.

I'm not suggesting companies should hire English, Philosophy and Art students who have no coding skill—but I recently had a conversation with an exec from a pretty big company who actually winced when I told him I have an English degree, almost as though I'd told him I'd just been diagnosed with an illness or something. It's one thing for tech companies to invest more recruitment effort in applicants with technical degrees—that's just smart, since this group of people is, on average, going to produce more qualified employees. But it's another thing - a stupider and more insulting thing - for people to dismiss humanities majors as a general rule.

Where I went to school, for example, an English degree would constitute at most one-third of one's unit requirements, and most of us used our remaining course flexibility to develop at least some rudimentary tech skills. Are these skills enough for these English majors to become engineers after graduation? No, not often-- but the skills are certainly adequate for many of these people to contribute in meaningful ways to technical projects. An attitude that instinctively looks down on people with humanities degrees ignores:

a) that linguistic structures with which serious humanities students are acquainted will actually translate quite nicely into understandings of coding syntax;

b) that linguists and critical theory in general cultivate an understanding of abstraction that can actually be pretty useful for developing a working knowledge of how systems are built and how they interact;

c) that  humanities majors will often have unique insights into end user expectations and needs (not all end users are engineers, after all); 

d) that some of us who majored in the humanities are actually plenty capable with math and science but just happened to find other topics worth studying.

All that complaining side, I have met some tech execs who've told me (without my solicitation, no less) that they'd like to see a more diverse mixture of academic backgrounds working in the tech industry. Earlier this year, for example, Padma Warrior, Cisco's CTO, surprised me with this sort of sentiment; I was chatting with her about tech opportunities for women (an issue she is passionate about) and was surprised when she responded that the tech industry needs not only more female perspectives, but more perspectives from people who didn't necessarily major in tech fields.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 7:20:28 PM
Re: IT Talent: Ugly "Realities"
"And while I did my best to put that short sighted CEO in his place, a terrific CEO/leader his worth his weight in gold to the overall company."

That's good to hear, Terry-- it sounds like you're working with someone who doesn't elevate his own interests above those of the company and its employees. And it's important to praise great executives, just as it is to criticize lousy/ overly greedy ones. Polarization, one way or the other, is almost never helpful.

 
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 7:02:09 PM
Re: MS layoffs
No doubt, the visa issue is an important hot button topic, and not just for Microsoft.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 6:58:04 PM
Re: You cannot ignore the root cause
"Actually, they outsource the entry levels. And import the senior levels. Entry level jobs here are hard to find. So there is a shortage in senior levels."

This is definitely a story I hear from friends and acquaintances around Silicon Valley. It's not a huge problem for, say, someone who has a degree in CS or MS&E from Stanford. But for people (even young people) who are trying to switch careers, the problem is quite pronounced. Some Silicon Valley companies talk as though all you need to get a tech job is a bit of gumption and some long hours with Code Academy in order to gain the skills for basic tech jobs. In a sense, these companies are telling the truth, but they're exaggerating the situation in order to score PR points. When these companies outsource so many jobs, where are these Code Academy graduates (at least the domestic ones) supposed to enter the industry? I've heard from several people who basically re-invented themselves by learning a bunch of new skills but who can't get the time of day in Silicon Valley because a) even if they know Java, they might also have a psych or history degree, which seems to be a black mark against their tech credentials, or b) even if their skills are acknowledged, the entry-level jobs for which they're suited simply aren't available.

That said, I know many people who have successfully managed to switch careers into tech, or who have found good jobs, despite the impacts of outsourcing. I've also met people who are amazing engineers who began their careers as foreign employees working on outsourced work, and who earned their spots at big Silicon Valley companies. So it's important not to generalize too much, one way or the other. But outsourcing is definitely a hot button issue, from what I've perceived.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Slideshows
DeveloperWeek NY and MongoDB World Tackle Transformation
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  6/25/2019
Commentary
GDPR One Year Later: Was the Hype Worth It?
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  6/19/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
A New World of IT Management in 2019
This IT Trend Report highlights how several years of developments in technology and business strategies have led to a subsequent wave of changes in the role of an IT organization, how CIOs and other IT leaders approach management, in addition to the jobs of many IT professionals up and down the org chart.
Slideshows
Flash Poll