Hiring IT Professionals: What's Important to Atlanta VPs and CIOs
Monday, January 3, 2011
Posted by: John Kosar
AITP CIO Annual Roundtable
The Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) recently held its fourth CIO roundtable dinner, an annual event where members discuss current trends in information technology. The AITP Atlanta Chapter regularly conducts meetings that allow one-on-one interaction with IT industry leaders and provides a forum for career education and collaboration among its various local chapters.
For this year's roundtable, the AITP Atlanta Chapter brought together IT leaders from five of Atlanta's major technology-focused firms including Equifax, Focus Brands (whose corporate family includes Scholtsky's Deli, Moe's Southwest, Seattle's Best, Cinnabon, and Carvel Ice Cream), Global Payments, Inc., Toolbank Inc., and Montag & Caldwell. The IT leaders discussed issues and trends from industry consolidation and cloud computing to social networking. Each leader also provided his own unique perspective on the traits he considered most important when hiring IT professionals or building effective IT teams.
The panelists agreed that "street smarts" and a "sense of the business issues" reign supreme. Dave Webb, CIO for Equifax, Inc. said, "It comes down to common sense, good judgment, and really street smarts. Sometimes you can have super-intelligent individuals that don't deliver a whole lot of anything to the business. We try to establish early on whether people are well grounded."
John Whitney, VP and Director of IT for Montag & Caldwell, added that attitude and aptitude are equally important. "Whoever is going to be solving company problems needs to understand simultaneously business and technology. A technologist looking for a nail to hit isn't good enough. The right individual understands the business problem and has the ability to use the technology to address the business solution."
How to Measure Adaptability
The panelists were less cohesive in their opinions of the importance of adaptability in IT professionals. Mike Reidenbach, CIO of Global Payments emphasized confidence and the "ability to carefully think out and defend one's position" as more desirable than adaptability. He revealed his interview technique of using a series of "spectrum questions" where he describes opposite spectrums to each question and asks the candidate to choose one end of the spectrum. "I'm more interested in whether the candidate can choose and defend his or her answer, rather than be more "adaptable" and choose some middle ground," said Reidenbach.
Equifax's Webb, however, emphasized adaptability as a critical trait. He explained that employees who can demonstrate their ability (and willingness) to be adaptable are more favorable in a constantly changing IT environment. "There are underlying principles that have existed for years, but if someone is a deep technologist, things are changing on an hourly basis, almost constantly," he said. "If someone wants to be a developer and they've started out as an assembler, moved to COBOL, and today they're writing J2EE/Java type stuff, that's a good thing in my mind", said Webb. "That shows they're willing to take responsibility for their own learning and development. It demonstrates their ability to adapt and change over time", he said.
Mark Brodbeck, CEO of Toolbank USA agreed, stating that a candidate's adaptability was particularly important in non-profit organizations where each individual is often required to handle a wide range of duties and responsibilities. "People often get too focused on becoming "specialists" when often what we need is someone to fill in the gaps wherever necessary. Sometimes that [ability] is a hard thing to put your finger on," said Brodbeck.
Broad Experience: The Right Mix
All of the panelists agreed that a broad range of professional experiences was highly desirable in an IT candidate. "I actually like to see people having worked in different industries," said Webb. "In some industries like financial services or healthcare, people tend to spend their entire lives in a single industry. That can be good in many ways but I also think it's a downside to keep on hiring people who have a single view of how to get things done, and a single view of an industry. You have to find that right mix of demonstrated track record with variability over time, whether it be different programs and languages, or different industries", said Webb.
Atlanta's IT leaders agreed that the most common sought after attributes could be summarized as: communication and interpersonal skills, customer service, initiative, and technical ability applied with a business outlook. Overlaying these with an ability to display good common sense and business knowledge developed through broad experiences can add up to a highly successful and rewarding career in information technology.
About John Kosar
As Client Manager for CCCi Atlanta, John specializes in providing creative staffing services for the Atlanta IT industry. For the past 10 years, John has built a reputation for delivering IT staffing services with a philosophy that "People Matter".
As the former president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP), John was responsible for establishing the Vendor Management Solutions (VMS) special interest group which continues to provide VMS-specific best practices and cost savings ideas for regional IT organizations.