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The Ruthless War for IT Talent in 2017

02/22/2017 by: Stephen Mann

Security has been the number one barrier to cloud adoption for most of the ten years since Amazon Web Services (AWS) brought public cloud to market. However, the new king of cloud concerns is cloud talent, or the lack of it. The 2016 RightScale State of Cloud Report, a survey of over 1,000 respondents, elevated the challenge of finding cloud talent above solving cloud security to be the biggest challenge enterprises face when adopting cloud.

Looking closer at this problem, it's not just a cloud talent shortage - there's a talent war happening in the IT industry as a whole. This blog looks at what the war is and why it's happening. Most importantly, what you can do about it as an employer or as an employee or candidate.

Understanding the Ruthless War for IT Talent

There are many perspectives on the IT talent war, but a well-known debated perspective is the Gartner Bi-Modal model which illustrates the starkest IT talent battle line in play today. Which pits the "marathon runners" of mode 1 against the "sprinters" of mode 2, with "marathon runners" at least a positive, sporty word instead of using the sometimes-used negative labels of "traditional" or even the pejorative "legacy" for mode 1.

As a rule of thumb - if you're a start-up, powered by fast-growth and unencumbered by an IT legacy, then you're on the right of the image and in the tribe called mode 2. The rest and vast majority of the IT industry, sized by IDC at $2.7 trillion by 2020, is in mode 1.

As to how big mode 2 is - public cloud is heavily used by mode 2 companies and can be used a bellwether for the size of mode 2. Comparing the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and IT spend figures of everything versus public cloud alone, according to IDC:

  • Worldwide 2015-2020 is 3.3% and will be at $2.7 trillion in 2020.
  • Worldwide 2015-2020 is 20% and will be at $195 billion in 2020.

By 2020, public cloud might only be 7% of the size of the whole market but it has been growing six times faster than the rest of the market using IDC's projections.

So, if there was a rule in the war for IT talent it would be: mode 2 is hot, mode 1 is not.

Battlefield Analysis of the IT Talent War

The IT talent war can be seen from the above perspective, as being fought across the bi-modal model suggested by Gartner, but there are multiple battles within the war:



Mode 1 staff won't/can't reach mode 2

The mode 2 pool is not replenished by the larger mode 1 workforce, and the talent pool can't keep pace with mode 2 growth

Mode 2 companies dominate the talent pool

Mode 1 companies can't compete with mode 2 for talent on opportunity, peer/team quality, and project prestige

Mode 1 companies can't hire mode 2 talent

Mode 1 companies struggle to do mode 2 projects because they can't hire mode 2 talent. Then the lack of mode 2 projects reinforces the undesirability to mode 2 talent

Mode 2 companies "gazump" each other

Candidates are switching jobs/opportunities on a rapid per-project basis, rather than a multi-year career - hopping to the best workplaces in a fast-changing environment

Mode 2 companies, such as start-ups, can't compete on compensation

The one way that Mode 1 can trump mode 2 companies, such as start-ups, is through better compensation packages; mode 2 responds with equity promises

If there's simply not enough IT talent to go around, what can you do as an employer or an employee or candidate?

Advice for Employers in the War for IT Talent

Surprisingly, although mode 1 and mode 2 companies are quite different, the ways to win in the IT talent war are very similar:

  • Invest in mode 1 staff (existing employees or candidates) who show the aptitude and attitude to move to mode 2.
  • Create and publicly discuss real projects, with real business outcomes and a risk of failure - these attract quality talent. And talent can spot fakery.
  • Commit to mode 2 behaviors such as open source.
  • Copy companies such as by hosting meetups, putting code on GitHub, and opening up as a way to attract talent.
  • Share graduate trainees between mode 1 and mode 2, blend them and them give experience of both.

Advice for Employees and Candidates in the War for IT Talent

If you consider yourself a mode 1 employee:

  • Learn about the types of companies that do mode 2 - the public cloud companies, the start-ups.
  • Follow what public cloud and Agile consultancies are saying/doing in the social sphere, e.g. on LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, webinars, and weekly lists such as DevOps Weekly?
  • Learn about the job specifications for opportunities in mode 2 companies, e.g. what are the key skills required? Identify your gaps and ask yourself if you want to, and feel you can, bridge the gaps.
  • Learn more about the required skills by watching webinars, reading blogs, and signing up for online training from companies such as and PluralSight (and there's lots more companies out there).
  • Go to meetups, engage people on Twitter (follow, retweet, reply) and form an opinion that will get you involved and maybe noticed.

One of the best ways to learn is to explain, so regurgitate what you've learned and practice your skills in your public-cloud AWS Free Tier instance. Walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

So, whether you're an employer or an employee, be prepared to change your game to win in the ruthless IT talent war we find ourselves in. The new talent dynamic requires new attitudes as well as new approaches and skills where coming second - as an employer or an employee - isn't an option.