It's Time To Consider Human Capital Again.

Throughout history there has been a cycle that ebbs and flows where new technology makes production more efficient and reduces the need for manpower in a particular space, thus forcing those in charge into the difficult position of deciding who stays and who goes. This is normally replaced by an uptake in needs for employees elsewhere, and eventually by expansion of the original vertical market, a return to labor-heavy workloads. This cycle has existed (in a variety of forms) for ages. With a crossbow, less skill and more bodies were needed to field an army. With early guns, more skill and less bodies were needed. The cycle goes around again. The same is true of any marketplace where technology can help improve efficiencies. In the case of farming, fewer small farms and an increasing number of massive farms with staff no larger than the small farms whose land the large ones take up. The reason being technology improving the rate of all the jobs that are required on a farm.

And in the technology space we rock this cycle (as we do all cycles) at a much faster pace than most vertical markets. Improving dev tools reduced the number of developers required to complete a program – so we started developing more programs. Networking made it easier for customers to get to us, while at about the same time purchased packages, easily customizable, made it easier for us to serve them. Virtualization increases the number of servers a single administrator can handle, so of course we create more servers.

In the boom years, the talent pool runs so slim that the barriers to entry drop from four year degrees to two year degrees to certificates to as low as high school diploma. I personally think this is a benefit to IT that many industries don’t have. We all know the individual that doesn’t have a degree but can run circles around most people that do. That person would not have stood a chance at getting into the field if not for our cyclical hiring needs. In the lean years, those responsible for IT recruiting and hiring are able to be more selective, given the advantage of a large pool of potential candidates. Again this part of the cycle is a boon to the industry, allowing the cream to rise to the top, and helping IT staffers figure out where they really fit in the hierarchy and what makes them most happy. I’ve known some people that had to face some hard truths in lean years and found their niche through adversity.

So where are we now? That’s a good question that perhaps a recruiting firm could answer but I cannot. By looking at the global economy, it would appear we are in the lean years, but listening to CIOs talk, the talent pool doesn’t seem big enough to manage all the new projects and new technology bubbling up. So I guess we’ll say it’s a boom year, kind of.

The thing is, those technologies need intelligent people, preferably with at least some experience. Cloud does not exist in a vacuum, and unless your staff can figure out where they are, it is difficult to map a path forward. The same is true of support for tablets. Any developer can develop apps for Android or iPad, but people who’ve done it before are more cost effective. Those skilled in networking – given the right tools – will work out solutions for cloud bursting, those who have done security for virtualized applications – again, given the right tools, can manage to secure your data “in the cloud”, the list goes on.

While we’re not in a lean time, there are plenty of skilled individuals looking for work, and plenty of work to be done. It is a good idea to make sure your best employees are happy and that you’re hiring with an eye to the future when you do hire. Needing someone for a specific project is great, but you don’t hire IT staff for a project, you hire them for the long term. Having skills in your existing architecture is of course important, but don’t forget to look at their other skill sets and the level of drive they’ve shown. The interviewee who gets excited about what you might do in the future is far more valuable than the one who handles the concept of new and cutting edge with wary caution. Because our industry is not done changing yet. Not by a long shot.

I know the tools that we offer – from cloud deployable versions of BIG-IP to ARX Cloud Extender will take a lot of the load of when deploying in virtualized or cloud environments, but employees with experience in F5 products will help smooth that transition. And it is not just our products that rule applies to.

Medieval Crossbowman,

compliments of the forums at Armchair General

Of course, there is nothing wrong with new blood. Every employee started somewhere and there is some truth to the idea that you “don’t want them spoiled by some other shop”, just remember to give them the tools to come up to speed on your environment, and if you hired well, they’ll be rockstars soon enough.

And if we’re lucky, it will soon be a boom time, while you’ll have a solid core of IT folks to build from.

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Published May 15, 2012
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