Careers advice: Balancing tech and business skills

Careers advice: Balancing tech and business skills

Advice about balancing tech and soft skills, job satisfaction, résumés and youth vs. experience

My company seems to hire no one but youngsters fresh out of school and short on real experience. I have nothing against these kids, some of whom are very nice and show potential. But us old-timers spend more and more of our time showing them the ropes, teaching them how to do stuff that you'd think they would have learned somewhere along the way. I'd like to ask a CIO or someone who does hiring, Don't you think you'd get a lot more productivity if you threw in a few hires with 10 or 15 years of experience? It seems to me the extra salary an experienced person earns is well worth it. So tell me, why can't those in charge see this? I've seen this way too many times in our industry. In almost any other industry (except Hollywood), age and experience are prized. Who would you rather have perform your open-heart surgery, a 21-year-old whiz kid or a 52-year-old who's done 2,000 such surgeries before?

Part of this is human nature. Organisational maths seems to be easier at larger numbers. Need 10 per cent more output? Hire 10 per cent to 12 per cent more people. Need to produce products 30 per cent faster? Increase head count by 3 to 40 per cent. Yet budgets are fixed.

To save money, push down on the unit cost of each head. Hire as cheap as you can, and outsource wherever possible. The costs treat people as manufacturing units. Adults fresh out of college fit the bill -- they're cheap, they're abundant, and they're replaceable. This is how many organisations run today.

The harder task is to get underneath the numbers, and truly understand the capabilities of the individual. In software, the great artists can produce code at an astonishing one to two orders of magnitude faster than others, at higher quality. They'll cost you a relative fortune, but the impact is extraordinary.

I've found that smaller, highly motivated and highly compensated teams can outperform large teams in many tasks. These teams have a lower overall cost, higher productivity, but a unit cost that can make HR and peers choke. The business results speak for themselves. The harder challenge is culture -- getting an organisation to accept hiring fewer, better resources and empowering them with the tools and support to succeed.

The first-line manager will have to know their art cold, be it J2EE, networking, project management, regulatory issues, security or whatever. Second-line managers have to seek those extraordinary individuals that love their art, yet have no fear of hiring their future boss.

Directors and above have to foster a culture of do more with less, focus on the bottom line. It takes true leadership. These are the people you want to work for, IMHO. Examples abound in corporate and start-up worlds. Grab a copy of Business 2.0, Harvard Business Review, Fortune ESB, and flip the pages. Follow the online musings of Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software, Paul Graham of Y Combinator or Thomas Marban of Popurls.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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