Monday, August 10, 2009

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is visionary

Apparently not satisfied with the quality of on-the-market technology talent in the real world, Amazon held a job fair on Second Life recently. Huh. Seems they were looking to fill actual, flesh-and-blood positions.

It's an interesting angle. Attracting and retaining quality people are two of the hardest things an organization can do. Talent retention is the more complicated of the two, but it's not a discrete thing (it's the culture and vision and day-to-day operation of the organization itself that is going to do the heavy lifting there).

Attracting good people also has to do with vision, culture, day-to-day stuff, since that often manages to leak out to the general community (especially if the community is small enough) but there is a discrete, deliberate and focused part of attraction that ya gotta work on as well.

Let's take an organization that is primarily a Java-based technology company. In the Philadelphia area in mid-2009, the Java community is fairly large but the percentage of those active in social events such as the Java User Group (JUG) is relatively small. They like to talk, though. About what makes an organization worth working for and what doesn't. Word of mouth about any Java centric organization of size spreads pretty quickly, for good or ill. It's uncannily accurate in the facts but rarely possesses all of the truth (usually because even the folks working at an organization likely don't know what that is).

It takes a concerted 'marketing' effort to help keep the community vibe positive, especially if other parts of your organization are unknowingly tipping the scale in the other direction. You have to make your technology investments very public, especially if you are digging into areas of interest to local talent. Give your best and brightest time to present at local events and actively participate in forums and such. The best software developers will always recruit more real talent than an army of recruiters will.

If you don't have technology visionaries somewhere in senior management, though, you'll always be swimming upstream. You might be able to band together with other like-minded folks and if you work hard enough and are lucky enough, turn the tide and reverse the flow. If the senior management realizes that the vision thing is missing among them and they trust enough in the rank-and-file technology leadership, this might just work. If however you have an activist executive force that feels they possess the vision, two things will happen:
  1. they'll be right and the organization will fail because the grunts on the ground do not believe in them
  2. you'll be right and the organization will fail because those on high don't believe in the ones charged with delivering on the dream.
In the end, the failure in either case won't be spectacularly obvious to outsiders and it won't happen quickly. Think white dwarf rather than supernova. In fact, it will likely be declared as a small victory of some sort. I'm sure if you've spent more than a few years in corporate America, you'll recognize these hollow "victories".

If you're committed in any way to your organization, ya gotta fight the power to prevent these "victories" from happening.

Software people know that "fail fast" can be a very good thing indeed.

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