I was talking to a developer the other day, asking him about how he ended up working for the company that he did.
His story wasn't that dissimilar from the many I've had over the years, when it comes to WordPress developers.
He was looking for a job and told a friend. His friend suggested he head over to the VIP partner page of WordPress.com and contact each one, to see if they were hiring.
After all, they're all hiring. All the time.
Because there's such a scarcity of WordPress developers.
Is there such a scarcity?
If you ask the question the right way, the answer is most assuredly yes.
Is there a lack of existing resources that have years of high performance WordPress development (plugins, themes, integrations) who are sitting at home waiting for a phone call to join a company?
Yes. For sure.
And you can even go further. We can make the question WordPress agnostic even – because we “know” how difficult it is to find people who are “quality” programmers, right?
Is it hard to find quality programmers currently available for hire?
We might answer yes before probing what we mean by “quality.” We do so because we focus on the search problem (“hard to find”).
After all, we all have stories of looking for the right person for the job for months, right? Many of us may even have stories of hiring someone only to discover they weren't the right person soon after they started.
Which goes further to prove that the problem is a search problem. It's plain hard to find the right folks with the right skills and right experience.
So we'd land on the quick affirmative that yes, the scarcity is alive and well and anyone who suggests otherwise is a fool.
I'm that fool.
I'm not the only fool that thinks such a scarcity isn't reality
Andrew Clay Shafer spoke in New York at the Velocity conference and referenced much of the same research and material I've not only studied but come to embrace on organizational learning.
I don't think talent is primarily a search problem. I think that’s the wrong way to frame it. I think the talent is there. I think there is a ton of underutilized talent that is right there in front of us … Success is not about finding the right people. Success is about being the right people.
Dimas Guardado looks at the supposed talent shortage in computing and rejects the line of thinking that only a few people have the ability and capacity to do complex computational work.
This belief in the inherent capacity for skill in computing is problematic for several reasons, the least of which being that it is simply not borne out by the study and practice of learning and pedagogy, the volumes of research on brain plasticity, nor by our own experience developing our own skills and those of our present and future colleagues.
We all want to hire smart people
What we can all agree on is that we all want to hire the right people for the right job at the right time at the best rate possible. Right?
One way we talk about this is finding smart people. Yet few people I've met or spoken with can articulate what they mean by smart. Does it simply mean someone who has the requisite experience to be able to deliver on the objectives set before them?
Or is it something more? Like the ability to quickly learn or adapt to their environment?
Or something else?
And are these qualities innate? Or can they be learned.
I know some folks who think I'm silly to think they can all be learned. That's ok. I'm emboldened in my approach because I think it delivers a competitive advantage over others who hold on to a paradigm I reject (that there is indeed a scarcity because there's a general scarcity of people who can write code).
And the research suggests I could be right. Or at least right enough.
Defining Smartness as Habits
Long before I did my own masters in leadership and research into high performance organizations, my wife did her masters in education. We were dating at the time and I began to read some of the work she was assigned.
I'm crazy that way.
And I came upon the Habits of Mind research and books that have not only bolstered my approach to staff development, but changed what we reinforce in our family.
It turns out, what many of us consider as “smart” can be distilled into several habits that can be taught, learned and developed.
Here are just a few of them.
Persistence – Remaining focused even when getting stuck is a worthwhile habit to learn. It produces results.
Accuracy – Learning to double and triple check one's work has the result of consistently finding and fixing silly mistakes.
Thinking about your thinking – Metacognition has a profound effect on being able to change our “defaults.”
Taking responsible risks – When we push out to the outer edges between what we know and what we don't know, we truly learn.
Continuous learning – Choosing humility over pride and being willing to learn from anyone normally means we will.
The power of culture
The other day I highlighted that I wasn't looking for the absolutely smartest and best talent in the world.
I've been leading and managing remote and virtual teams since 1996. I love the model and find that it's very useful in many cases, particularly new product development (the realm I've been in for 20 years).
I announced recently that I was changing jobs and joining Crowd Favorite – a company that focuses on WordPress work. It's a company that has a twist on remote and virtual teams – by also having physical offices.
The post I wrote reflected my own twist on why having physical offices can end up being a powerful component that furthers talent and culture development.
After all, at Emphasys where I currently work, we started with 30% virtual staff, moved to 70% virtual over my time there, and in the last two years, started moving back to 50% virtual.
In all three situations and models, the dynamics we were dealing with was not only talent but culture creation. When you hire new and young staff, having them together and having them with mentors accelerates their growth.
This is why I agree with Andrew Clay Shafer when he says,
You're either building a learning organization or you'll be losing to someone who is.
This is why I think the scarcity lies elsewhere
Don't get me wrong. I think a scarcity exists. Not just in the WordPress ecosystem, but in software companies in general.
I think the real shortage isn't in the people who can learn to code, think abstractly and become great programmers.
No, instead, I think the real shortage is in the number of companies that invest, in serious quantities, in their staff. The shortage is in the companies that believe everyone is worthy of investment. In this, again, I think Dimas Guardado articulates it best.
Unfortunately, reasoning in terms of inherent aptitude often only serves to justify individual and organizational underinvestment in the very resources and experience that can develop a worker’s skills. The conclusion drawn from such notions of aptitude is that, at least in the field of computing, some people are not worth an investment at all — after all, you either have the talent, or you don’t.
What's this mean for you, if you're looking for work?
Here's the good news – most of the companies in the WordPress ecosystem are getting better, every day, at coaching, training, and developing their staff. It's a requirement, I believe, of keeping them.
My friend that was sharing his story with me this weekend happily works for one of them. He had contacted a couple, done a few interviews, and landed a job relatively quickly.
What's more important isn't that they may be hiring. It's not that they're selective because of the perceived scarcity of quality WordPress developers.
What's more important is that he was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing him.
The scarcity, after all, lies in the companies (WordPress or not) that understand how valuable you are.