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How to source tech talent in the gap of uncertainty

Nobody poo-poos a pro-people stance, but building a team requires leverage and risk


Business gurus will tell you the key to success is putting the right people on your team. Go to any workshop or tech event and you hear this piece of advice ad nauseam.

But Daniel pink says there's a gap between what science does and what business does.


Because nobody poo-poos a pro-people stance. Company leaders too often toss out platitudes, like, "It's our people who make us what we are," and no one would respond with: "But do they have five to seven years of experience?!"

Building a team is about leverage and risk. Can a new employee you bring on board provide more value than they consume? If they do, that's leverage.

If value is achieved by making others around your more effective or efficient, you've achieved something of great significance.

But there's risk. If a new team member doesn't work out, slows others around them down or can't deliver on their commitments, they quickly become a liability.

The trick is to build leverage without excessive risk. There's a rhythm and a balance.

Hiring is without question a flawed process, and from my experience, especially in technology. Too often, the process reinforces the status quo.

Think of how job listings are drafted. The person in charge of hiring is rarely technical. So they ask those who are for a specific list of skills required to complete the daily tasks associated with the role. Inevitably there's a disconnect, because the average developer can't articulate what makes them successful. So they list off of-the-moment technologies, and throw out a random number of years on the job expected of their hopeful new teammate. 

The process is flawed, not the intention. The aim here is to mitigate risk. Unfortunately, this process renders a number of perfectly qualified candidates inexperienced and they go unseen.

The job of an HR department is to provide safety for their company and their employees (in that order). HR will gladly forego the opportunity to leverage if it means they minimize risk.

What's the consequence?

The tech industry prides itself on disruption, but faces a talent shortage. There's nothing a technologist loves more than going into a staid company or industry and shaking things up – but we should look in the mirror to see we make some silly decisions ourselves.

My friend, John Dowd, a former Navy SEAL told me that SEALs are "trained to make life-or-death decisions in situations of extreme uncertainty."

The average company is not nearly as dangerous or crucial as the work of our military, but this idea is powerful.

Extreme uncertainty catches your attention, but the most important word here is:


 People can be trained.

Technical talent can be trained.

it requires sufficient knowledge, skill, humility and insight to solve big problems.

The number of years you've solved these problems does not indicate your skill at solving the next problem. Experience is valuable, no doubt. But if your analysis becomes so simplified because you believe every challenge is the same as the last, that's a problem. Experience gives us clues, not a roadmap. The best problem-solvers leverage their existing knowledge combined with fresh perspective and a new set of information. 

How do you find people like this to invite onto your team? Invite them to find you.

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Jeff Casimir

Jeff Casimir is the founder and executive director of Turing School of Software & Design..

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