In the 80’s, a little old lady famously asked “Where’s the beef?” It was a well-targeted putdown of typical fast food burger purveyors and became a meme before memes were even a thing.
After traveling the world this year, I find myself asking “Where’s the devs?” They are certainly not in the glitzy downtown buildings where the executives, bankers, and other well-dressed professionals work. The fancy offices with views are reserved for the important people.
The developers are somewhere off to the side. In NYC, the devs are in Jersey City or further down the NJ Turnpike. In Toronto, they are in Scarborough or Mississauga. In Singapore, they are in Changi. In many cases, the devs are half way around the world at a random office park in a “low-cost” offshore region.
To be fair, things have improved. With the adoption of Agile, most businesses have realized co-located teams solve problems and get things done faster. As executives have gotten the “digital” religion, insourcing has brought more developers back into companies and closer to HQ.
Ok, so we know where the developers are. But do we know where the developers that know “X” are and have “Y” skills? In speaking with the CIO of a major investment bank, the answer is no. her biggest problem was she had no idea what level and type of talent they had across their tens of thousands of developers globally.
You often have no idea what type of talent lies hidden in your organization. Take the inventor of C++, Bjarne Stroustrup. He had a long history at AT&T, and more recently spent time in academia and advancing C++ standards. So what’s he up to now? He works at Morgan Stanley.
I am sure plenty of folks at the bank know about Bjarne, the guy is a legend. But maybe not, it is a pretty big organization after all with an IT team spread across the globe.
What about developers that do not have such rockstar backgrounds? Some companies have implemented “fellow” or “distinguish engineer” programs. Increasingly companies are hosting events such as internal hackathons and coding challenges to raise the profiles of their technologists.
One CTO I spoke with shared with me a coding competition they hosted a few years back. It was a series of increasingly complex coding challenges, the last one being so difficult that no one solved it. Except for one, a younger staff developer out of Hong Kong that completed the entire challenge in a 8 hours.
All the programs and hackathons still manage to fall short in identifying the hidden talent and the high potential up and comers. More importantly, it misses the people that have the specific skills and knowledge needed to get work done. That is the institutional knowledge that comes from critical thinking and experience.
Getting things done does not require having the smartest people in the room. It requires people with the right aptitude, attitude and acclimation. Miss any one of those three and you are likely to accomplish a lot less. You can certainly pick things up faster if you have aptitude and attitude, like picking up a new language, but it still takes time.
That is why having a well-structured strategy around your organization’s knowledge architecture becomes important. It gives your most talented developers an extra boost in getting up to speed. Onboarding takes less time, projects start farther along, teams are less idle.
The side benefit of this knowledge architecture however is in finding your hidden experts. As more contributions are added and more people engage with the content, more awareness is generated. This is how folks like Jon Skeet became legends on public sites like Stack Overflow.
Could an internal community platform help you find the hidden talent on your developer team? It is certainly one method of a broader talent management program to identify where the skills and specific domain knowledge exist in an organization. Along with fellowships, contests, and supportive management practices, a community platform fills a missing gap that exists in the talent strategy by allowing people to connect with and learn from experts within the organization.
Who are the hidden Bjarne Stroustrup’s in your organization? How do you connect the people with questions with the people that have the expertise?
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