How to find tech talent hiding under your nose

Sometimes the best place to look for new talent is inside the team you already have, writes Infoworld’s Dan Tynan. Then he gives seven ways to find them.

I can vouch for numbers 4, 5, and 6 especially. In the places I’ve been most successful, there are people who spend a few minutes a day talking tech. Some people think it’s wasting time, but it’s a way for the people to find out what one another can do. When the time comes to solve a problem, that’s exactly what you need.

The employee shuffle worked to bring out the best in me. We lost our best security person, and management thrust me into his role, not really knowing what would happen. They didn’t know, because they didn’t do #4, talking tech. That security person recommended me because he and I did spend time talking tech, and he knew what I could do. As it turned out, I ended up doing well in the role.

Bringing out the stars also helps, particularly in interviews. You need the people who’ve been in the trenches to listen to the candidate’s war stories. They may pick up on details that a manager will miss, or see right through something that sounds good to a manager, but not to the person who spends the day immersed in the technology.

Now, I once interviewed for a job where they brought out people and hammered me with inane questions. Questions like, what’s the one thing root can’t do in Unix? Answer: write to a read-only device. Nice trivia, but what’s that have to do with the job at hand? They also hammered me with port numbers. Again, that tested my book knowledge, but we weren’t administering firewalls, so what did they really learn about me by asking that question? I’ve gone to other interviews where the interviewer constructed a problem from something he read on my resume, then either watched me step through it, or even played the role of the naysayer to see what I would say to convince him of my approach. Those guys learned a lot about how I think. With that approach, you don’t just identify talent, you identify how to utilize it after you get it (or already have it).

I’ve never seen #7, which is knowing when to let go, but I know someone who’s working for a very large company who has exactly that conversation with his boss, on a recurring basis. The theory that you keep people longer that way makes sense, but there’s something else to it, as well. Once your stars move on, they’re in position to learn new things, meet new people, perhaps refer people back over to you, and–imagine this–maybe come back again someday in a new capacity.

I boomeranged once, and for a few years, it worked out well for both the company and me.

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