Finding (and fostering) IT talent in Central Europe

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Having worked in the United States, Japan and now Central Europe, it’s striking to arrive in an IT skills market where other first-world countries outsource in order to stay competitive. You find yourself in situations where the companies you are attempting to purchase capabilities from are also competing with you for talent.

That’s why, rather than building much of our applications and systems in-house, or working as a “build shop,” we need to build a workforce that is able to buy, integrate and broker technology. I’m confident this change will create the conditions where we can win in our market.

Mobile development, UX design, innovating on CRM platforms, BI platforms, and analytics platform – all of that is more exciting than maintaining legacy technologies.

Luckily, we have some incredible skill sets already, so I am able to drop them in on strategic projects to lead and help develop and mentor people as we execute. I want to also bring a different mindset to hiring. I do not want to go after the senior-level guy or even mid-career people in this market. I want people coming straight out of college, or even starting with internships with students in their junior year, where they can start in a part-time role. Because our strategy will direct us to a different skill set than a legacy mindset player, I doubt we will be going up against our industry competitors for the same resources, so we simply won’t need the same kind of talent.

In creating a value proposition for some of the younger programming talent we still need to excite them with our story. The story is that we are building for the future, and in the future we will leverage technology a lot more effectively; we’ll leverage more innovative technology and we’ll innovate on our business. I can already tell from the types of recruits I am seeing they are finding this approach attractive. Mobile development, UX design, innovating on CRM platforms, BI platforms, and analytics platform – all of that is more exciting than maintaining legacy technologies.

To this end, I want to meet with some of the deans of technology at the local universities to help them build the right kinds of programs for the future. I see these study programs as pools for innovation. Get people in during their junior year, put them on some business challenge, let them go at it from a new perspective, and create an innovation lab with this talent. In the long run, I believe this strategy will pay off because when these students graduate and are making company choices, they will think back to where they were able to do innovative things. And, hopefully, that’s when they think of us.

Houston Ross is Chief Operations Officer and Board Member for Czech Republic and Slovakia (formerly of Japan) at NN pojišťovna a penzijní společnost at NN Life Insurance, Ltd. Houston brings more than a decade of experience in the financial services industry with senior-level roles in insurance operations, investment banking and securities sectors.

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