Originally published in Notes on Digital, September 7, 2010
There’s demand beyond supply for developers and designers who have the know-how to conceptualize and produce new, breakthrough digital products. As The New York Times explained on Labor Day, the technology sector isn’t hiring as quickly as might be expected because of increased automation, growth of skilled labor overseas and a lack of job candidates in the U.S. who have “the cutting-edge skills coveted by tech firms.” Silicon Valley start-ups, giants like Google and Yahoo, Wall Street firms, publishers and ad agencies are all competing for this type of hard-to-find talent. This is an expansive fight for sustenance. Only the companies that come out near the top will remain relevant; those who don’t will fall behind.
I’m in the trenches with the rest of them, and I’ve learned a few things from the battles I’ve won and the friends I’ve made.
First of all, an open, collaborative environment that offers talent the opportunity to evolve the status quo and advance their careers is vital. Digital talent is curious, eager to share ideas and discoveries, and aspires to contribute to a purpose larger than that of pleasing their immediate supervisors. They want to help change the world through the web. If employers don’t offer this, the talent can easily choose to have a lucrative, self-structured and gratifying freelance career.
This digital-friendly environment is quite different from that in a traditional corporate atmosphere. Most companies that aren’t inherently digital are cold, impersonal places with insular silos, a restrictive checkerboard of cubical walls, and command-and-control structure. This, however, doesn’t work for digital talent and is misaligned with the ethos and speed intrinsic to the web. Changes online happen fast. The winners have to keep up.
So what exactly creates the environment that attracts digital talent?
If this is far removed from the office you sit in everyday, fear not. There are ways to make your company an attractive place for digital talent without uprooting existing cost structures and systems.
Take Johnson & Johnson. Their main headquarters looks like you’d imagine. It’s a giant, traditional office complex. But in New York City’s downtown, they have built a digital-friendly space. The physical environment and culture feels very open, collaborative and creative. The employees who work there are tasked with keeping J&J up to speed in the digital world.
All of this being said, digital talent is valuable, but also quite susceptible to depreciation. Not even a digital prodigy can be a know-it-all for long. The industry changes too fast. Digital talent must be offered opportunities to further their education and participate in a community of their peers. This means financing trips to conferences and even facilitating events like Meetups. After all, you want to protect your investment don’t you?