Your Situation and Interests
My last column focused on employer challenges relating to the increased demand for the decreasing supply of qualified talent in the data center marketplace. This market situation presents a tremendous growth opportunity and responsibility for experienced data center professionals.
In the executive search business, most conversations start with “Let’s talk about your situation and interests.” It is surprising the disparity of answers to and perspectives on this question. How many of you take inventory of your skill sets and compare them to those of your supervisors, peers, colleagues, and direct reports? Let’s put the perspective of situation and interests in the context of the demographic, market, and organizational imperatives I discussed in my last column.
Employers believe that the supply of experienced data center professionals is not adequate to meet the growing demand. This apparent unmet demand creates two distinct opportunities for industry professionals.
The current situation provides plenty of opportunities for professionals to expand their skills and to have a bigger impact in their current organizations. The trick here is to be proactive; recognize what talent gaps exist in your work teams, in your divisions, and across the organization as a whole; and endeavor to fill them. As the data center industry matures, employers will increasingly like to see obvious convergences of qualifications. Individuals with broader skill sets are likely to emerge to lead teams, divisions, and business lines. As new talent is brought on board to help fill work functions, cross-functional knowledge, and capabilities will put you in leadership and mentoring roles.
Whoa … you’ve suddenly become that manager you loathed! Take care to handle the privilege better!
Additionally, as an experienced data center professional, you have the opportunity to recruit your friends and colleagues in other businesses into the growing data center industry. Contrary to common perception, not many people are aware of the data center industry. It is indeed a new darling, with capital flowing in and reinforcing a bullish future, at least in the near term. Where else do you hear about new organizations being created, existing organizations expanding, and a healthy acquisitions appetite?
We need to promote the industry as a whole to a talent base that may not know about the “growth engine of the new economy.” A simple point to their smart phones with applications, pictures, music, and streaming data galore using consumer applications should help make the point about the future. You can point out that these applications represent less than 1 percent of the data storage and transfer requirements in the world today.
We’re watching the data center market validate and mature. Leading organizations and market makers have gone public and set a precedent for others to follow. Terremark, Savvis, Equinix, etc., grew from bold, creative, fast moving, entrepreneurial minds to environments where decisions are more carefully scrutinized against budgets. Collaboration is now necessary for decisions at these firms, slowing the velocity of their business, no matter how valuable.
Recognize that it takes talent to create these organizations. Ultimately, however, organizations need different talent to sustain growth than they need to get started. Sustaining growth takes careful planning, performance against forecasts, budgets, and schedules, most of which are heavily influenced by the demand for maintaining and increasing shareholder value.
More mature firms must meet performance requirements that are financially engineered to objectively return shareholder value. The respectful perspective is to recognize and admire the disciplined talent who keep these organizations running.
As the data center market grows, you’ll likely face a career change choice, which could very well define you and your professional future. The larger “A” players will continue to lose talent to “B” companies, smaller, growing enterprises that are eager to leverage the experience of proven data center talent. The “B” companies will experience traditional market competition and fracture into more successful and less successful enterprises.
The more successful B companies tend to attract experienced talent from the A companies and the unsuccessful B companies. The successful B companies become attractive acquisition targets. Talent tends to move from A companies to emerging B companies for the opportunity work in a less-bureaucratic and more empowering decision-making environment. The less-successful B companies suffer infighting with legacy leadership and their boards as they endeavor to find the keys to unlock the potential of the company.
In a few unique circumstances, the moves also come with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Emerging B companies typically attract investor capital. After all, what is the most sincere form of flattery? Imitation. Early movers in any market have a distinct advantage of learning from the grind of the early years and mistakes and then capitalizing on what they’ve learned the second time around.
Consider Joe Pue, operations officer and 10-year employee at company A, an ISP that grew to understand the value of its assets and began a hosting service. Looking around, Joe begins to realize that he’s in an industry that’s getting pretty popular. His company is growing, but other companies are entering the market. The beauty is that they are all healthy and growing. So Joe could stay and do the same job at Company “A” for the next three years, earning a predictable, incremental salary, and a variable bonus. Or Joe could make a change and go to work for an emerging private equity-backed Company B for the next three years and realize a substantial financial package at their “end game” event horizon. This would be the outright sale of this business to Company A or perhaps going public offering.
How many industries do you know where even the option of a company going public is even discussed around the water cooler? These opportunities are few and far between, but they should be an important consideration in your long-term career planning. Windows of opportunity exist for moves that are progressive and responsible. Those people I’ve seen make these kinds of moves they are very uniquely qualified, but more importantly, the opportunity uniquely fit their specific situation and interests.
What are data center organizations going to do to keep and challenge talent? What are they going to do to remain competitive, alluring, and compelling as employers of choice?
These issues are two-way streets in a market with a rate of job change like this. The greatest opportunity for career growth may be within your own organization. After all, who knows better the rapid and radical advances in technology better than those who help manage and grow the information superhighway where the applications reside? Continuous learning and awareness have become an absolute imperative to remain relevant and succeed in today’s data center organization. Consider the competencies of your particular job description just three years ago and compare it with what you are doing today! The rate of change and expectations for handling multiple disciplines and responsibilities are accelerating.
The proliferation of digital applications and technologies is forcing entire industries to face complete obsolescence. The era of long-lasting, specific-function job competencies is gone and will likely never return. No longer do organizations need indefinite access to narrowly skilled talent; instead, they need medium-term access to versatile talent and short-term access to specialized talent.
There is no ceiling, internal or external, to an organization for individuals who demonstrate an eagerness and ambition to learn and are self-directed enough to seek answers to their own questions. These individuals tend to stay ahead, and they take pride not just in knowing more than others but also putting that information to practical, immediate, and valuable use in their organizations.
Gone are the days when generally accepted actions or principals are followed for a decade before some radical proves them wrong. A multitude of people stand ready to challenge convention and to confidently suggest productive alternatives and progressive methods. In the data center industry, we watch and care for the intellectual capital of other organizations. They rely on us to ensure safe, reliable, retrievable harbor. The collective benefit to each of us pursuing a career of continuous learning is that the industry as a whole continues to prosper longer.
So take a moment to look around and appreciate the unique business environment that you are living and working in. Recognize and stay connected to reliable resources of information. Continuously consider which direction you endeavor to grow. Whatever direction it is, endeavor to learn and prosper.
So what are your situation and interests?