May 6, 2013

Thoughts on Technology Talent Development

By Matt Genovese

Traditional Talent Development roles often fall under the umbrella of a company’s Human Resource organization, and are primarily focused on assessing individual and group performance, and addressing any behavioral or technical skill gaps through targeted learning opportunities aligned with the business goals.  Such initiatives benefit the organization through gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace, as well as aiding both the attraction of new talent and retention of existing talent.

While some companies choose to actively staff Talent Development initiatives, fewer appear to devote resources to a mission I label Technology Talent Development.  As an engineer myself, I am persuaded that employees working in engineering capacities have unique needs that warrant distinct attention and initiatives within the technology organization.  Here’s why:
  1. Strategic Investment:  Engineering talent is a core company resource.  In fact, a rule of thumb by some angel investors is that each engineer adds $1M in a start-up’s valuation.  It stands to reason that ongoing investment in the development of internal engineering talent should be a strategic mission that yields future rewards for the entire company.
  2. Focus on Creativity:  Engineering as a discipline is interwoven with creativity.  While certain skill gap assessments remain valid for engineers, I believe creativity itself cannot be treated as a skill, nor will it necessarily show up directly as a skill gap.  Creativity is inspired, and though that very statement sounds nebulous and intangible, it can be purposefully fostered.
  3. Depth and Breadth:  Over time, an engineer may become a specialist, acquiring a depth in a specific knowledge area.  While recognition as a practice expert is attractive, stagnation may become side effect, both in terms of the engineer’s ongoing interest level (leading to boredom), as well as his/her ability to devise unique solutions to ongoing problems.  With a breadth of knowledge in adjacent areas of practice, new approaches to certain problems may stem from analogies of solutions applied in other areas.
  4. Staying Technical:  While some engineers aspire to ascend the managerial ladder, others may wish to remain as engineers without management responsibility.  Traditional Talent Development initiatives often serve managerial-bound employees (engineers included), and those engineers wishing to remain individual contributors should be afforded relevant and equally proactive development initiatives.
While the above reasoning highlights some obvious benefits, other benefits of Technology Talent Development include cooperation with academic research institutions, which in turn can positively affect the graduate pipeline into the company.  Couple that with strategic involvement in the local technology community and professional organizations, and this technology role now possesses exciting HR fringe benefits.

Interestingly, when speaking with some companies about creating Technology Talent Development roles, the most common pushback argument I’ve heard is that investing in engineers’ development would make them more marketable, and thus more apt to leave the company.  Without sounding too brash, I find that argument as inspiring as a parent who would refuse to invest in their children’s education because one day they’ll leave to live on their own.  I’ll go out on a limb and assert that employees who are unhappy will eventually leave, and ironically an investment in Technology Talent Development can positively impact both employee retention and recruiting.

My hope is that companies will see Technology Talent Development as a role worthy of investment as they desire for their engineers to help the company innovate their way ahead of the competition.

NOTE:  Matt is continuing on the Painpoint Report hiring survey to assess the critical needs in Austin's software industry.  Shortly he will be sending out the Q2 hiring survey to local employers.  All who complete the survey will receive a complimentary copy of the final report.  

The link is here:


Our many thanks to Matt Genovese for his contribution to AHRMA and "We Are Austin HR."

If you want to learn more about the importance of building a strong talent pipeline within our businesses and communities, please come hear Matt Genovese speak live on May 23 at 9:00am during AHRMA's Workforce Readiness Day.  

Click HERE to register.

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