Code Wars: The All-Industry Competition for Software Talent

Code Wars: The All-Industry Competition for Software Talent

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Code Wars: The All-Industry Competition for Software Talent

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    Securing the Talent You Need

    Fast-rising demand, an increasingly complex mix of programming skills, and intense competition from the information and communications technology sector mean that companies in traditional industries are unlikely to solve their software talent needs without a well-planned strategy to guide acquisition, development, and retention—as well as the commitment of significant resources. Companies need to plan for, and manage, software talent through a combination of approaches.

    Strategic Skills Planning. Companies need to develop a strategic view of the technologies required to realize their corporate and product strategies and translate those requirements into human resource capabilities and skill sets. Software talent should be regarded as a precious resource that is essential to realizing a broader corporate strategy. Managements must plan for the life cycle of their talent, including mapping patterns of normal attrition, determining when people with certain skills will be leaving their workforce, projecting future hiring needs, and developing programs to attract and retain new people. This undertaking must be fully integrated with overall strategic-planning efforts and monitored and updated on a continual basis. The difficulty of the challenge is compounded by the supply-demand imbalance in many areas and the fact that software skills are easily transferred across multiple industries.

    Some companies will want to experiment with new models for key functions to make the most of available talent. Manufacturers are already using community collaboration models in the product design and development stages, tapping into external and internal open-source and crowd-sourced solutions to solve design challenges. New methodologies, such as Agile, are increasing productivity for certain types of software development. Companies of all kinds should consider collaborative techniques to drive innovation and to attract young engineering and design talent familiar with rapid, iterative, and open approaches. It is important both to hire these new employees with appropriate lead times and to plan career paths for them—including in technical and management tracks. Companies need to provide ongoing career training and integrate technical capabilities into the broader capabilities of the business.

    Increased Use of the Global Talent Pool. Talent is a global commodity—sometimes. It is akin to carbon, which can take the form of ordinary coal or of precious diamonds. Specific skills can be highly valued and demand a premium. Companies will need to access remote centers of capability, especially when they need certain hard-to-find skills or a particular capability for a limited period of time. Multinational companies already have resources spread around the world. Automakers, for example, have been investing in more integrated product-development IT systems that will enable global engineering collaboration, virtual simulation of engineering designs, and greater reuse and sharing of components and designs.

    Many companies in other industries have pursued using remote talent as a way to lower development costs—an approach that will become a more important means of gaining efficient access to necessary skills. India is a well-known source for software talent; China and Russia have also been making names for themselves as centers for outsourced software expertise. But companies should take note before looking overseas: recruiting international talent requires developing the management practices and infrastructure necessary to manage remote workforces.

    New Employee Value Propositions. Competing with companies in the tech sector is tough, so if you can’t beat them, try joining them. Companies may be able to increase their attractiveness to software developers by establishing new employee value propositions and, in some instances, by rethinking their branding. Jobs interviewees at tech companies look for four distinct elements in a strong community: mentorship, professional networks, magnet companies, and visibility. Companies with significant software-development needs should consider developing in-house software organizations located in established centers of tech activity. Major manufacturers are setting up shop in Silicon Valley precisely because it puts them in the heart of the world’s leading high-tech community. Wal-Mart has opened two e-commerce offices there and is using e-commerce-company recruitment tactics to attract talent. Comcast recently expanded its technical presence in Silicon Valley as well—to ensure access to the best engineering and software talent.

    Increased Use of Third-Party Talent. Companies will need to determine which layers of the software stack they want to develop in-house and which layers can be programmed by others. This determination will likely be made on the basis of how essential to the business various tasks might be. Companies may find themselves increasingly relying on key suppliers for product differentiation; and those that construct the most effective collaboration models, thereby encouraging and rewarding supplier investment in R&D, can build a long-term advantage. Companies will also need to think about codevelopment and joint-venture models to capture innovation from external sources. All of this raises potential issues of IP ownership and control, which will likely require companies to develop new IP and risk-management models to govern nontraditional, but increasingly important, relationships.

    Emerging Recruitment Tools and Collaboration Models. Coming full circle, recruiters are now using big-data tools in the quest to hire top software talent. Workforce sciences, a growing field of human resource analysis and planning, uses empirical data to map future needs. Several new tools—such as Entelo and Gild—are increasingly used to predict programmer performance with proprietary algorithms. Some companies are exploring new models for collaborative development, especially for less sensitive—but no less complex—software modules. Working with local university resources, for example, gives them the added advantage of being able to get an up-close look at the skills of high-performing students prior to graduation. These models also demonstrate to students that there is often “cool” work to be done in nontech companies.

    Software increases every company’s potential in all aspects of business: product design, manufacturing, supply chain management, and customer relationship management. It also heightens complexity—nowhere more so than with respect to talent. The Industrial Revolution elevated the importance of skilled labor. The advent of the information age put a premium on educated workforces. Globalization allowed companies to access talent wherever it is based, including in emerging markets. As the digital age extends its impact further into all industries and sectors, the significance of software talent with high-level skills developed through advanced education and training becomes a defining factor of success. Since every company these days truly is a software company, those that understand the implications of this reality—and organize their management teams and HR operations to address it—will have a head start in building a sustainable advantage.