In the late 90’s, before the dot-bomb crash, technology companies had a non-trivial challenge: How do we staff up critical information workers (IT, Developers, Program Managers, Testers, Product Managers) when the price for said individuals was getting out of control? When evaluated, our options came down to three choices:
A. Hire Local.
B. Hire Offshore.
C. Grow Your Own.
I believe we are entering the same environment coming into the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century. What is different this time around? The environment is dramatically different than the days of Office Space, where software developers sat around their HP laser printers grumbling about their workload and protecting their red Swingline Staplers. Today, a few smart developers sitting in an apartment can spin up a new company with an Amazon EC2 virtual server, post the app in the Apple and Google app stores, and start making money for a barely functioning prototype. The MVP concept kicks into high gear and they often don’t spend energy thinking through trivialities like invoicing, customer service, or tax law. And VCs are circling like vultures – only this time, these vultures are better educated, more technology savvy, and dropping wads of cash to acquire the best and brightest, not for the app they just made, but for the brainpower and talent demonstrated. If they can do this in a week, what can they do with capital and a truly big idea?
So what is the modern executive to do when their talent pool is too expensive to buy locally and too important to offshore?
I assert that it is critical to create a culture of real-world, on-the-job learning and train up the talent you need. There are many ways to tackle this, but the best one is to invest in that important “teacher” and make part of their goals objectives to turn young talent with great attitudes into productive employees who contribute to the bottom line. No CS degree? No problem! No Program Management skills! We can fix that! Always be open to those disciplines that are close to the one you need – and train for the demand. An example of this is turning software testers into junior developers. Building an environment of pair programming and intentional mentorship can give you a $100/hr developer for a fraction of the price and build into this employee a long standing loyalty because YOU invested in THEM!
When you create a culture of learning, that rewards the daily efforts of individuals to learn on the job – you are by definition growing your own talent pool that becomes your workhorses of tomorrow. Not only will you create stronger, happier people, you create a talent-pool-engine that will serve you for years into the future.
Growing your own talent doesn’t happen by accident – it has to be intentional and it has to be championed from the top. The risks are low and the rewards are high – just do it!