Uncharted Waters

Apr 11 2016   10:57AM GMT

Emergency Staffing Solutions

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

IT staffing

I have been noticing a pattern in contract staffing lately, it usually starts with an emergency. The client needs an expert with a very specific skill set, and they need that person now. But wait, there’s more. There are almost always constraints on this that make the person nearly impossible to find. The candidate needs 10 years of experience, they need to be located in the south west region of the United States, and they need to be available to start working a full time contract as soon as possible.

This seems like a gold mine to the person trying to get the gig. They are rare and they know it. My bet though is that these emergency staffing efforts either fall through completely before the job starts, or don’t work out after a few weeks.

Let’s take a closer look at the emergency and the problem that got the client there.

There is always a hidden assumption in these emergency staffing cases that as soon as the new jedi ninja rockstar (or unicorn if you prefer) is brought in, all our problems will be washed away. Just like Annie suggests in the song Tomorrow. Does that ever happen though, really? On the inside we can create heroes because people learn the stack and process enough to jump in like a paratrooper and save the day by adding their expertise. Hero culture has its own problems, of course, but what about needing an external hero? To answer that question, we have to take a step back and think about what we did that got us where we are now.

Emergency Staffing Solutions

Here to save the day

Emergency hiring happens from either a pull or a push. The pull might be that our very own hero has abandoned ship and taken her skill set along. I saw this happen at one company a few years ago. We were in the middle of a conversion to Rails and the one person on the programming team that knew the language and framework well got an offer that was too good to pass up. The rest of the development team was coming along, but at that point they were more like a baby horse wobbling up onto it’s hooves for the first time. That person leaving put us into a period of rapid hiring and instability. In the end, we moved on from rails and jumped into a new mess of javascript libraries.

The push is a reaction, a knee jerk. At another company we had pre-release testing cycles that lasted at least three weeks. Each time we got there, managers would pace around and complain about how testers were too slow and testing just took too long. After years of this there was an emergency push to hire more people and to create a new automation effort that would magic away our test problems.

After a week of looking, we had a new outsourced team in South America handling some testing activities as well as building (from scratch) a new UI automation testing framework. The framework was always riddled with problems. Not once did the people with money to hire take a look at the work and think maybe development increments that are 4 months long aren’t the best idea. Or, maybe introducing a new complicated tool into the tech stack will slow things down instead of crank things up.

You’re probably saying right now, those are some pretty messed up cultures and of course no individual could save them with some technical prowess. And, you would be right. Lasting technical problems like that are never technical problems. They are canaries pointing to something bigger that you probably want to look into before signing those papers and on-boarding. The chances that a new emergency hire will solve your problems are pretty slim. In the words of Jerry Weinberg — there are no tech problems, only people problems. If you’re in need of an emergency hire, maybe take a step back and think about how that emergency came up first.

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  • GeorgiaDC
    Thanks for your post.  I have been approached by phone by several of these "emergency hire" reach outs.   I have never gotten past the call as it seems "scammish" to me.  Most have been high dollar, high skillset moves across the country with short notice that sound too good to be true.  It's bad enough to be looking for a job, but I definitely don't want to jump from the pot straight into the fire.  The main problem I see is what problem(s) existed at the work site to cause someone with high skills to leave abruptly and is it something that I want to deal with on a day to day basis.  It's a lot to think about.  Thanks for your post. 
    15 pointsBadges:
  • Veseloiu

    Perhaps managers who "lose" too many people and cause repeated emergency hiring should be taken to task and possibly retrained or retasked if they cannot justify it reasonably.

    Also those who hire (Hiring manager and HR, should look better at job descriptions and not ask for much more than what is needed, just becasue they do not understand the role and want to be sure they covered everything. This usually results in difficulty in filling the position and hiring over-qualified and over-expensive  people who will be head-hunted into more demanding, more suitable and better paid roles  and the cycle restarts.

    100 pointsBadges:

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