Looking for IT talent in all the wrong places

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A recent report found that California is the place to be for IT talent. The study, from nonprofit trade association CompTIA, ranked U.S. states by overall number of tech jobs, number of IT job openings, salaries, and rate of tech job growth, and California won in each category, outranking other technology meccas like New York, Florida, Massachusetts, and Washington.

It’s easy to see why talented IT employees would flock to the West Coast to take advantage of these trends. That’s why CIOs in other geographic regions are thinking outside the paycheck to attract and retain their best IT talent.

We asked a few IT leaders to share their approach.

Cultivating an open culture in Pune, India; Work-life balance in Chicago

Peter Markos, CIO, Rotary International:

“We have IT employees in Pune, India and Chicago, with unique approaches for each. Pune, considered the ‘Silicon Valley of India,’ houses a massive amount of IT outsourcing, and the norm is to work in a job for a few years and move on. But at Rotary, many of our Pune employees have been around for five to seven years, and there are even some who have been here since we opened the office nine years ago. 

It’s because we strive for a different culture than the hierarchical, pressure-driven work environment that’s typical in offshored locations. We do ask people to work, but it’s an open culture that values individual contributions, encourages exploring new ideas and, unlike many entities, emphasizes collaboration with our U.S. team so that employees get plenty of business exposure. Instead of saying, ‘Here’s what you need to code,’ it’s, ‘This is what we’re trying to achieve, and we want your input on finding the best solution.’  

In Chicago, it’s about work-life balance, which we emphasize to prospective employees. As a nonprofit, we’re not here to drive the bottom dollar — we value our mission, our people and creating a sense of purpose. We’re not asking for 12- to 16-hour days. Obviously it happens from time to time, as that’s the nature of IT, but ultimately our goal is to be an organization that gives back. That’s very fulfilling for people. We can’t always pay top dollar with salaries, so you have to reward in ways that feed the soul.”

Tech community stewardship in Dublin, Ireland

Tiho Bajic , CTO of Nitro:

“Just like with building distributed software systems, there is a lot of value that can be garnered from distributed software engineering teams. They both require thoughtfulness, careful planning, and long-term dedication before results become self-evident at scale. We have four global engineering teams, and this year we established our Dublin, Ireland engineering team. We scaled it to a dozen people with plans to more than double it in the new year. 

To do so, we transplanted to Dublin our tech community stewardship approach that was essential to growing our San Francisco headquarters team. We quickly introduced ourselves in the community through sponsoring various conferences, tech talks and meetups. We talked about the type of work we were doing, our solutions to challenges we encountered and where it was benefiting a broader tech community through our open-source efforts. We made it clear our Dublin team would own one of our core products and that we’d also sponsor our engineers to participate in the open-source tech community. 

As a result, we recruited some of the frequent speakers and attendees in Scala, Spark, C++, Docker, AngularJS meetups who are passionate about the same things we are – practicing the software engineering craft in large-scale distributed systems and openly sharing our learnings while embracing best practices established by others. These folks are now our local Nitro engineering ambassadors helping attract others in turn.”

Overcoming talent wars in Dallas, Texas

Tim Elkins, senior vice president and CIO for PrimeLending:
"I wouldn’t have said this even a year ago, but Dallas, specifically North Dallas, the metropolitan area where I work, recently has turned into quite a hotbed of corporate activity. Many large enterprises are relocating here. That’s a challenge to us because we’re not recruiting industry-specific talent, but IT and technology-specific talent. 

So what comes with this influx of new neighbors? A lot of employers that pay competitively and offer good benefits. We’ve had some positions open for months at a time where we just have to hire contractors and third-party companies to come in to fill roles because we can’t find full-time employees. Then when we do find a person, the salary that they’re looking for is $50,000 more than we’re offering, even though what we’re offering feels like very competitive rates.

This is true from database administrators to Salesforce developers to everything in between. And it has all happened in a year.

What do you do if you have more positions than ready talent?

1. Study up. Look at salaries, look at benefits, look at how positions are evolving. What can you offer that makes you stand out?

2. Partner with HR. Your HR lead should be able to offer insight into broader trends that are shaping your industry and your region, and brainstorm ideas for how to attract new candidates.

3. Make a great impression on everyone. Whether it’s a contractor or temp or even an intern, do everything you can to prove that your work culture is healthy and thriving. Sometimes that counts a lot more than a few thousand dollars on a salary agreement."

Unlock the unique 'why' in your employees

Jason Wudi, CTO, JAMF Software:

"We have found there are a number of ways that have worked for us to attract talent – and be attractive to talent. One of the most meaningful has been very simple: as an organization, be committed to what your people are into. Our staff are not just co-workers at a software company. They are also musicians, artists, parents, coaches, students in an MBA program, philanthropists and community leaders – and more. Our best people want to know they are committed to something bigger than themselves, and this feeling is not limited to the workplace. 

There are a number of ways that we as a company can involve and recognize other aspects of our people's lives. When an organization is proud of its people, it is often reflected in the way employees feel and share their feelings about it – including both the good and the bad! The real gist is that there is great talent everywhere we go, so it is a matter of identifying with and unlocking the unique 'why' people are involved in a particular region. It also doesn’t hurt that the comparable cost of living is pretty awesome outside some of those key areas!"

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.