[A]dvertisement for a senior … engineer reads in part, “You’ve pulled back the covers and know how this Internet thing works end to end. Networks, servers, protocols, operating systems, services, databases, query optimization, disks: to you nothing is a ‘black box.’ If necessary, you can debug performance problems through the whole stack. …” What I propose is, you’re not going to hire those people. You’re going to need to form a crack team of them internally, and then help the rest of your organization get on board. DevOps Teams Are On The Move, Alexandra Weber Morales, Software Development Times, April 2013.
I worked with one company who was looking for just the right person. They said they could not find anyone even though our local environment was rich in engineering companies. A couple of companies had just downsized and so we had a lot of experienced engineers looking for new jobs.
They couldn’t find anyone who had the specific skills, specifically as written in their job advertisement. They needed someone to come in who was already completely skilled and experienced in their particular niche. The VP told me that they were not taking on all the work they could because they simply didn’t have enough engineers.
Did they ever get their engineer? Actually, I don’t know. What I do know is that the next time I spoke with one of their senior engineers, they were having a hard time keeping everyone busy because the economy had turned and they didn’t have a lot of work any more. They missed opportunities when they were available.
I’ve interviewed at a few places where it was clear that the company was trying to hire the exact same kind of person who had just left. If I couldn’t fill in the exact shoes (especially as to how I interacted with the team and the types of technical issues I could personally decide) then I just wasn’t going to be a good fit. Did they ever hire the exact replacement they wanted? Nope. Why? Because he was working someplace else now.
I spent some years as that guy who could do it all (work with the customer, program their requirements, deliver it to them as fast as they could take it, repeat). I had replaced another “superman” who had done the same thing. Neither of us were experts when we took on the job. Both of us (and our successors) worked around the clock until we figured it out. We were experts when we left, but not when we got there.
In fact, I’ve never seen an expert walk in the door who could hit the ground running. Instead I’ve seen very capable folks walk in the door and hit the ground learning. Within a short time they would become the go-to gal for some aspect of the system or business. The real strength of the person was not that they came in knowing it all, but the came it with the ability and desire to learn and adapt. Yes, they usually had great skills already, but they rarely were exactly what we had before or exactly what our job advertisement was looking for. What was always nice is when we realized we now had some new skills or insights we never knew would be so useful, until that person put them to work.
For more on experts see: Why We Don’t Really Need All Those Experts
I do like to advertise with the skills we are looking for, often based upon the expert who had just moved on to greater things. But I am looking for someone who I believe can jump into the position and master the job. Not someone who is a clone of the previous guy or someone who can do it all so I don’t have to manage anything! I probably couldn’t afford such a person anyway.
When we’ve accepted the fact that we would probably have to grow our own experts, we found a lot more, and often better, experts buried within our own organization. It is great to hire as much talent as we can get, but if our business is based upon finding that perfect expert, then the odds are that we’ll miss a lot of opportunities while we are waiting and looking for just that perfect person.
For more on how to get experts see One Great Way Of Using Your Staff Hours
Could you reduce the risks on your projects by growing rather than hiring the experts you need?