Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum

It has been said that one man’s meat is another man’s poison and this is most evident in the way people order steak. Some like it well done, others like it medium, I like it rare, while some don’t like steak at all. This is all a matter of taste. Some people like one thing while others like something different. These differences make life interesting.

Even in The Matrix, Cypher knew the importance of a good steak

In the world of work people like different things too. Some like accounts, others engineering. Some people love to sell, others prefer to paint houses; the choices and options are infinite. Even within a specific profession, like Information Technology, there must be millions of career options available in millions of combinations. When faced with such a wide variety of choice we must remember that we are not all suited to all the options available to us, that’s how we narrow down our choices to what’s best for each of us, no matter what profession or trade we pursue.

I’ve recently had the good fortune to be in the position of interviewing people for a job. I consider myself to be extremely lucky in these dark economic times to be able to be offering work and I’m doubly fortunate to actually enjoy the process of recruitment as I find it to be deeply interesting, as is any area of life that exclusively deals with people and the infinite differences that we all manifest. Writing a job spec, contacting appropriate recruiters, and reading the CV’s that come in though is only the warm-up act for the main event: the interviews!

Interviewing is an interesting and challenging experience with lots of different opinions concerning how to approach the process and how to get the right people. Personally, I quite like The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing by Joel Spolsky (people who know me know that I like his writings). In the Guerrilla Guide the two most important things to look for in a candidate can be boiled down to 1. Are they smart, and 2. Do they Get Things Done. After that the only other big piece of advice is to only hire the superstars and never ever settle for second best.

I like these points, they make sense to me, but I would have to add a third point about ensuring the candidate can work with the rest of the team. They may be super-smart over-achievers but having Gregory House on your staff might not be the best approach for building a successful team in a sustainable business.

House, M.D.House, M.D. – On again/off again Drug Addict, not great role model!

For management coming from non-IT fields, the recruitment process can seem cut and dried; hire someone who can look after the systems in use and can handle the implementation of new things as and when the need arises. This line of reasoning seems to follow the notion that IT is all to do with computers and if you understand one aspect then surely you can wrap your head around the rest. Thinking this way does a terrible disservice to IT and not only sets up the candidate to fail but also has far-reaching consequences for the business as a whole.

With IT having fingers in every pie in terms of the reach and influence they can subtly exert over an organisation, it’s essential that the right approach is taken to ensure that the right people are entrusted not only with the maintenance of technology already in the business but also the future direction of that technology, and when you consider the impact a new IT project can have on the success of a business you realise just how influential the geeks in the basement can really be.

In undertaking the recruitment process for a key position in IT I found myself re-assessing what I consider to be the important skills and characteristics for IT personnel working in a Small to Medium sized Enterprise. This analysis helped me to determine not only what I was looking for in the right candidate for this job but also what it really takes to succeed in Information Technology and what the natures of the different challenges presented to IT really are.

IT is not the same everywhere but there are some common approaches and common mistakes that are always made. Perhaps unsurprisingly to those in the trade it’s not just all about computers, and even less surprisingly, it’s all about the people – making sure you have the right people doing the right things.

In my next post I’ll take a look at the Nature of IT in the SME.

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