Very recently a large tech announced layoffs numbering thousands of employees. There seems to be one we’re remembering but it could really be any one of several that have gained attention or maybe it’s a general composite of several that have come up.
Evidently hoping to dampen investor and analyst repercussions the company seemed careful to point out that the layoffs weren’t due to dire financial straits.
Was it due to poor recruiting practices, perhaps the company had made thousands of hiring errors? No, of course, that’s certainly not the story the company seemed to want to tell.
People discussing the layoffs rather seemed eager to point out that the technical skills needed by the company had changed so much in five years that thousands of employees were being shed in order to hire a similar number of employees with newly-desired skills. Many of those employees, by implication, had been recruited within the past five years or so.
We could stop here with a story demonstrative of how intensely and blindingly fast the tech industry is moving. “Yes, the danger must be growing, For the rowers keep on rowing, And they’re certainly not showing, Any signs that they are slowing!” [Fearful screams follow.]
But, where did those thousands of people come from?
They weren’t born with specific trade skills as infants: they learned those trade skills and became engineering employees at a West Coast Tech company. We could probably infer that they’re the crème-de-la-crème of savvy and intelligence. That tech company would probably want us to agree, because they certainly don’t hire B-players and they don’t want competitors, analysts, or investors to think they hire B-players.
This brings us face to face with a question. Can those laid-off employees learn the newly desired trade skills?
One of the answers might be, “No, they’re not bright or flexible enough to learn new viewpoints and new ways of doing things.” Which is quite a statement to make about some of the most savvy, technically proficient, creative, intelligent, and educated people in the world.
But maybe it’s just the common and tragic plight of humanity that we suddenly, dramatically lose capacity for learning; old dogs, new tricks and all that.
Perhaps one of the other plausible answers is, “It’s less expensive and faster to shed those people and get new ones.”
We can see examples of this in other industries and other periods: if a company building wood ships needs carpenters they hire carpenters, and when the company starts building metal ships it lays off the carpenters and hires iron- and steelworkers. The company charges forward, the burden and cost of the change takes place outside the company. (Hence we see development of UI and RI programs.)
Is this approach the right one applicable to our most avant-garde and progressive companies and the tech-industry skills of employees numbering in the thousands? Have tech industry executives and investors made little or no progress beyond the days of wood shipbuilding and unfettered exploitation of natural resources?
We’ve certainly met lots of recruiters who’ve demonstrated a mindset that skills (essentially, trade skills) are not transferable — that’s a Java person, they certainly can’t do Perl scripts — and not a small number of recruiters conducting their search using parameters that were almost insanely narrow. As in “we demand to have a new recruit who knows Knucklehead API 12.3.22b and, in fact, we will flatly and rudely reject any candidate who merely knows Knucklehead API 12.3.22a or 12.3.22c.” Regretfully there are recruiters who behave this way.
How did that candidate come to know API version 12.3.22c? He or she learned it.
Some of this came up in a discussion about the nature of the tech industry in which the word “Transactional” was used to describe some prevailing dispositions in the industry. Out with the thousands of ‘old’ employees from two to five years ago, in with the new thousands.
We’re somehow different in our firm.
In our background we were taught to learn how to learn.
We were taught to analyze and understand and acquire thetradeskills.
And, as if to make us even more different, a Relational approach has been woven into our culture since the beginning:
Develop relationships with clients and other talented people.
Understand our clients’ needs, so we can return to help them over and over.
Be as easy to work with.
Truly serve our clients.
Learn new APIs. Learn new technologies. Integrate great things from multiple sources. Take on new challenges.
Accept new clients from new industries. Cultivate lasting relationships with those who become our clients.
Strive to make our clients better off for having engaged with us.
And draw on breadth of experience, learning ability, skills, and understanding both new and old to develop software that works.
As a practical matter we’ve taken on services that weren’t the most glamorous because we knew they would help our client with delivering their product.
We’ve flexed, we’ve taken new challenges, we’ve worked with clients’ partners around the globe…
we’ve debugged third-party technology without source code and sent recommended fixes back to the vendors…
we’ve joined in with innumerable client design sessions, we’ve integrated with clients’ established methodologies when needed, we’ve reviewed projects in need, and we’ve supported clients with phone calls and digital deliveries on the way out to the tradeshow.
Over the years we’ve consistently been invited to carry roles of trust and responsibility with our clients.
Sometimes it’s not about transactions. Sometimes it’s about relationships.