Hiring Tech Talent: It’s All About Altitude

There is a war going on for technology talent. Each chair counts, and they're limited. Hiring managers need to be sure their leaders and architects are able to traverse the complexity of modern data and system architectures.

Are you looking for a leader to align business and tech? So is everyone else...

While it may seem that technology skills are everywhere, the truth is that a good technologist can be hard to find. In today's war for talent, it's all about altitude. You need technology leaders who can run at 10,000 feet, dive to the deck and then come back up. Sounds simple, eh? Unfortunately, too many technologists lack business acumen. Conversely, while many high level business analysts are becoming increasingly more tech savvy, most simply lack the technology depth and breadth required to align technology to the business strategy. Leadership is bogged down with, well, management.

So who's driving?

"We need to align our business with technology." That statement is nothing new. What is new is that folks are actually trying to measure real alignment, as well as the efficacy of all of those highly paid people who are supposed to be delivering it. Most organizations expect those measures to be a function of the CIO's team. As I outline in my article about Getting IT Priorities Straight, however, IT organizations struggle to align priorities with the business, much less report on how well they're doing it. The reason so many projects fail to meet the mark is not difficult to understand: The right people aren't doing the right work.

Successful architects model business capability needs in a way that effectively translates those needs to the techies. They then effectively communicate this to both IT and the business. Here's where the business acumen really comes to play. For architecture to be successful, architects must have the ability to influence. In a structure where architects report up through IT, architecture is doomed. When the Sheriff works for the Land Owner, you get Land Owner law. Architecture, as a discipline, must also guard againt the Ivory Tower syndrome. Solutions have to be good enough. You can tell a good architect - they don't admire the problem - they solution it. At the pace most businesses are moving these days, you have to be sure that the solution domain satisfies the problem domain by at least a margin of 80%. This is called good enough.

Lastly, architects have to demonstrate restraint in the technology domain. If the 'solution' just happens to target the cool new software development plan that the applications team has been drooling over, you may have an un-healthy alliance. Conversely, IT managers and team leads should not be allowed to drive business technologies that align with their career paths or skill sets. Good architects are tool and technology agnostic for the most part.

We don't get a lot of chances to get it right; we get a lot of chances to fix it. That culture drives poor quality. As a former chief enterprise architect, I've come to realize that most EAs make the concept of architecture far too complicated. Our job should be about driving business capability. The goal is to reduce the complexity of technology to that simple principle.

I Dig IT

I made a great living in IT for several years. But I dig business more. Its time that we stop designing systems from an IT-centric point of view, and drive business capability to the forefront. I know that keeping pace with technology is exhausting. I also realize the insatiable appetite that most businesses have for technologies. Trying to keep up with both demands can create a tug-o-war between IT and their business partners.

Why not allow both to bloom where they're planted? Many facets of business are predictable, while many are not. Jeanne Ross, author of Enterprise Architecture as a Strategy correctly identifies that the key is to digitize those predictable elements, allowing companies to focus resources on those things that are unpredictable, such as market forces. Similar to my philosophy on what makes a good architect, I believe that it’s easy to recognize good technology choices; they become part of the business fabric. Organizations that realize technological maturity hold extremely high competitive advantage.

Chris Johnson is a former VP of Digital Transformation and Director of Global Enterprise Architecture for Fortune 500. Currently living the good life as a pythonista.