Let’s Talk About Tech
There’s this funny phenomenon when you work for a technology company, in any capacity, you suddenly become people’s default help desk.
Even though doing something like marketing enterprise software in no way qualifies you do diagnose, say, why someone’s computer keeps freezing up.
I might be a geek, but Geek Squad I ain’t.
I’ve never learned how to code (besides maybe that DOS-based worm game from back in the day), I’ve never taken a day of formal training in technology, educational or otherwise, and struggle with software as simple as Powerpoint.
But the weird thing is, I somehow know enough about tech to know that HR might be the most technologically backward business this side of barn raising, blacksmithing or print journalism.
The fact that HR and recruiting, intrinsically, are entirely predicated on people (in theory, if not in practice) might explain why so many complete Luddites gravitate to the human capital function.
The fact that HR and recruiting have no barriers for entry and hence, no requisite experience or education, might explain why those with the intellectual curiosity and wherewithal to figure out stuff like software & systems probably have better options than dealing with ER or cold calling candidates.
All you have to do is open an issue of Wired or ask your 13 year old how Google works to realize that, in fact, HR isn’t just behind the curve when it comes to business adoption. In fact, for whatever reason, this industry and function are largely laggards of even the most casual consumer technology users.
Let me be clear: it’s not that HR doesn’t know how to use technology, nor do they inherently fear or avoid it. In fact, many have their professional processes and daily workflow inexorably intertwined with inordinately complex, incredibly powerful enterprise grade systems. Almost every HCM System, not to mention advanced functionality on mainstays like Excel, require an incredible amount of training, hands-on experience and countless calls to product support when performing anything but the most basic of functions.
Running a search in an on-premise version of SAP or Oracle makes coding on Ruby seem fairly simple by comparison, but, of course, getting that perspective requires a willingness to actually look at the bigger tech picture, something that, for some reason, too many HR & recruiting professionals seem loathe to do. Instead of looking to stay on the cutting edge by actively identifying, experimenting or testing tools which might make their jobs easier, too many practitioners would rather rely on the same cumbersome system which, while familiar, actually hinder efficiency and efficacy and overall productivity.
On the one hand, the very high threshold for outdated, obsolete or onerous technology in HR is understandable; it not only gives the illusion of job security (“who else could figure this system out?”) but also of job complexity. The specialized technical expertise and system experience required for simple tasks like sending benefits information or tracking vacation days seem to hide the secret every HR pro knows, but almost none will openly admit: their jobs are not only ridiculously easy (with some exceptions), but also largely superfluous.
Unfortunately, when you’re also one of the primary arbiters of workforce planning and strategy, there are few incentives for retraining, redeveloping or redeploying obsolete, overpriced workers. Which is why recruiters are always the first ones to get fired, frankly, and also why third party recruiters and sourcers, whose professional livelihoods depend on actually putting up results instead of policing policy, seem further ahead of the tech adoption curve than almost any other HR function.
It’s funny so much of the conversation around talent supply and demand centers around this erroneous idea of qualified tech candidates being some sort of critically endangered species that might not be around for much longer, and that employers should horde programmers the way Doomsday Preppers stock up on canned meat.
But there’s no apocalypse on the horizon.
It’s just that if you don’t know anything about technology, then you have no way to know that your vendor, “influencers” or agency is more or less using this invented phenomenon of disappearing tech talent to create fear, which makes selling shitty software and specious services infinitely easier.
Joel Spolsky, the CEO of OpenStack, theorizes that why recruiters suck at hiring tech talent is that the programmers were the nebbish nerds in high school, while recuiters were the jocks; those disparate personality types and inherent interpersonal styles mean, largely, that tech talent and recruiters have what we call a failure to communicate. I think there’s some truth in that, but it oversimplifies the fact that speaking the same language in tech has nothing to do with programming. It’s all about style, sure, but despite superficial differences, there are a lot of similarities. too. HR and tech talent are both pretty nerdy, and both largely dislike people while craving recognition and acknowledgement.
When it comes to mindset, however, tech pros tend to be preoccupied with the tactile and paint issues in the amorphous grays of constant ambiguity. HR seems to think in the absolute of black vs. white while concentrating on issues, like company culture or engagement, that are ambiguous at best. Of course, these are sweeping stereotypes, but they are pervasive enough to be a significant cause of a systemic problem.
The difference in mindset means that instead of looking for answers or experimenting with workarounds, human capital professionals prefer, largely, to be handed answers. That’s why so many product startups and professional services firms, not to mention the pay-for-play analysts and “thought leaders” focusing on the HCM space, are succeeding simply by specializing in tech hiring: they’re creating the solution for a challenge that doesn’t really exist (or is grossly overstated).
It’s not that tech talent isn’t out there, it’s just that they don’t want to be found by recruiters. If you’re working with interesting tech, offer the chance to participate on innovative projects and have a good reputation on those parts of the internet recruiters don’t even know exists (Silkroad ain’t an HCM system to everyone), then good news is, tech talent will find you.