Staffing

Hiring IT employees, Part 107 Sep

Here’s the most important rule for a small business to follow when hiring their first IT employee:

Don’t do it!

As a company grows, one person is usually technically more adept than the others and becomes the de facto “computer person”. When the job of supporting the group becomes too much for that one person, the owners decide that they will hire someone specifically for that role. This sounds reasonable, but in fact hampers the company’s growth.

How?

When they start hiring for the position the owners don’t even really know what skills they need in house. So they look for someone who can do it all.

Owner: Do you have networking experience?

Applicant: Yes, I’m an expert in Windows 2003 and Linux.

Owner: Have you done a lot of desktop support?

Applicant: Yep. I’ve got 3 years experience supporting Windows Vista.

Owner: What about programming?

Applicant: I’ve taken classes in C# and Java.

Owner: Ever done any website development?

Applicant: Yes, I built a website for my uncle using PHP, XML, ASP.NET, and AJAX.

Owner: You’re hired!

In all my years of IT work, I’ve met many people who claim to do all of the above. But they certainly don’t do them very well. In fact, it’s safe to say that the more broadly skilled an IT employee claims to be, the less their actual skill set is.

Think about it this way…Would you hire a brain surgeon that also did heart and knee surgery?

What the company ends up getting is someone who is not an expert in any one thing, pieces together solutions based on the little they know in each area, and generally just keeps things running.

Of course, the IT person seems like a godsend because they make things work when they break. But the makeshift solutions don’t scale. The IT person ends up stressed out just trying to keep things going. Break, fix, break, fix, etc. The company decides to hire a second IT person. They obviously need someone who can do all the things the first employee can so they can support each other’s work. And the cycle repeats.

And the owners wonder why they have all these darn computers anyway.

There’s a better way to do this. A way to grow, put solid technology solutions in place, and not spend any more than it costs to hire the Jack-of-all-trades. And I’ll describe it in my next post!

Read Part 2 and Part 3

2 Responses to “Hiring IT employees, Part 1”

  1. David

    I am a jack-of-all-trades, and while I do agree with you, I find the overall post kind of depressing for someone like me. Looking at it from the worker side, what am I to do? Most of the jobs I have taken have needed someone with my variety of intermediate skills, rather than hiring or using freelance experts in a dozen specific areas.

    Are we really so bad? Interesting post though, I look forward to the follow up.

  2. Tom Rupsis

    Don’t all of us who “do computers” get asked questions well outside our domain of expertise by our relatives? In that sense, we’re all jacks-of-all-trades.

    We’re not bad. To continue my prior analogy, general practice doctors fill a role and make a great living. I just don’t believe it benefits a company when you put someone like that in a business as their only IT employee.

    It’s certainly not fair to you, the lone IT employee. When you’re it, you get trapped in doing fire-fighting and responding to the same old the “printer’s jammed” issues day after day. Before you know it, our rapidly changing field has passed you by. You get really good at keeping your company going, but don’t think about leaving because you haven’t kept up with the latest skills.

    There’s a better way, and from my following of the industry, it’s inevitable. Thanks for the post, David!

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