These things

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Technology Deprived: Treading Water in a Big Pond with Big Fish

I was sitting in a Chamber of Commerce meeting one afternoon and it just dawned on me.

Why am I the only IT professional in the room?

Yes.  In a room of professionals I was surrounded by bankers, real estate pros or some type of service industry business owner related to everything but Information Technology.  This began my obsession with Columbus and the culture surrounding technology businesses in our area.

After months and months of dredging this issue through my mind I have come to this conclusion.

Our Greater Columbus Georgia area suffers from a vacuum of IT jobs that begins with the TSYS “labeled” programmer factory at CSU to the deep bench at Aflac.  These two giants have mined our local IT talent to the demise of the next generation of professionals disallowing locally owned IT businesses the opportunity to compete with warm fuzzy benefit packages and demanding salaries.

So, like a majority of IT built businesses in the area, I am backed against the wall looking at risky choices to attempt to acquire talented, creative individuals that end up getting sucked up into the heavily trafficked conveyors that are TSYS and Aflac.  Demanding salaries aside.

I don”t stand a chance.  Or do I?

Creating a Small Business in a Big Business Climate

It seems Columbus has done well in fitting two IT giants in our area and rightfully so.  Their economic impact is evident.  It”s an “honor” to wear their badge in public.  If you are employed by these moguls, you are considered successful. Great marketing for talent acquisition.  Even my undergrad and Master”s degrees were earned at the “TSYS Department of Computer Science” at CSU.  I was trained to work on mainframe, JCL, COBOL and a few other non-creative languages just in case I decided to submit my resume to one of the two IT moguls.

But I didn”t.  By the time I graduated I had enough advice  from colleagues in a series of decidedly horrible experiences from layoffs to downsizing to bottleneck career paths. Even some carrot dangling was involved.  Sure, if you live in the area you are accustomed to hearing these terms with our IT giants.

So, I went to work for a private company and never looked back.

Now, as a business owner, my biggest task is acquiring talent.  Building a team in this climate is two sided.  Resumes come in from undergrads who have no experience or from 10 year programming vets that spent those years working on the same project to find themselves jobless before becoming vested or [enter coporate excuse].  They were being held hostage with medical plans and benefit packages.

That leaves the people in the middle.  Those are the ones I want.  Unfortunately, they want me too.  The catch is that they have 2 mortgages and kids and nice cars and require something I can not offer.

And here I am.  Bursting at the seams with work and no workers.

Challenging the Culture

“Every revolution was first a thought in one man”s mind”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

We can argue all day that my opinions are not accurate but there still leaves a huge gaping hole in our community.  In order for us cultivate a smarter business culture we must engage our communities with smart and interactive jobs that spark ingenuity AND compete with the “Big Fish” recruitment leaders.  The latter being the issue. I am sure Aflac”s awesome marketing team and TSYS”s payment strategies are focused. But not on our shriveling IT community.  Not on the growing need for IT professionals in small businesses that support the weight of a growing industry that is changing faster than new graduates are coming out of area colleges and universities.

This is wholly why I have changed the business model of Stand And Stretch.  Media literacy and advocacy is my mission now.  I am supporting the entire community by helping small business owners find cost effective solutions to help bridge them into commerce channels that have only existed in the past few years.  This includes hybrid website development models allowing sensational results for low cost and low effort empowering the small business to stake their claim in the digital community.

This also includes Social Media.  Visit Stand And Stretch here and see what we are doing in the community today.  Click Here:  http://standandstretch.com

What I Plan to do About IT

I see the job fairs and events built to find and secure talent.  I understand the nature of these meetups are to find and retain talent and wrangle them in with promises of future careers and great benefits.  For us, it”s about creativity.  Cultivating the employee to live and breathe their job is something new professionals are wanting.

Current resumes where people worked 15 years in one location are of the past and companies like mine see sedimentary activity as a negative attribute.

My plan is to dedicate time to workshops to bring awareness to private culture and the differences between working in a overly structured environment.  Can you imagine a programmer who writes code like poetry becoming stifled by red-tape?  Or the web designer who has the key to unlocking the next generation of user interfaces being stuck making static HTML for corporate policies?  In places all of the world, corporate structures are loosening their grip on “traditional” ways to retain those individuals who are being enticed by companies like mine.

I am writing this to create awareness for change; corporate and alike.  We have great minds in our town and I have seen what can happen when those minds collide.

I have been given permission to utilize CSU”s Career Center meeting rooms to organize a workshop that will explore the benefits of working for a private company.  We will also venture into the life of corporate Columbus.  Our mission is to help educate undergrads, and alike, that there is more available than just money and benefits.  While I am sure the recruitment departments are filled with documents that state culture is important, we are prepared to examine corporate life as a whole and compare with personal experiences of local and state level private companies.

Disclaimer

I have all but seen the inner-workings on our IT leaders of the area so my claims are based on living in the area as an IT professional.  I have watched Columbus grow from a small town to an industry leader because of the companies I speak of.  I am merely bringing awareness to the negative impact that I am feeling due to this “vacuum” on local IT talent.

Conclusion

Maybe I should make more money so I can compete with corporate salaries.  Maybe I should offer ownership in my business.  Maybe I should offer free lunches and lavish vacation time.  I am finding that shorts, flip-flops and open leadership is not enough.  Our local IT talent is something to be treasured as we roll into the new era of commerce.  Eventually, if allowed, our community infrastructure will be mostly built by coporate IT employees with what little spare time they have via contract and freelance work.  Or worse, outside IT companies.

That”s not what I would recommend.

New graduates will need to make a decision; corporate or private.  In order for local IT companies to compete for talented graduates, a possible course of action is to educate these graduates on the long-term benefits and cultural effects of working in and out of corporate IT realms.

I”m not saying either one is better.

I only want them to know there are other possibilities.

 

 

About the Author

I am a husband to a beautiful wife named Whitney and Dad to a wonderful baby boy. Yay! :) Damien Augustus Shaffer has come into this world on March 15th 2010. In my professional life, I have accumulated over 4 years utilizing a wide range of technologies to develop software solutions for my current employer. Most of this time was spent learning methodical approaches within different environments to broaden my programming knowledge and project planning abilities. These environments include both open source and Windows based development, mainly Web. I also dabble in Social Media and it applications in today's culture and marketplace. I consider it a hobby but some may say its an obsession. ;) I enjoy it immensely.
  • Brian Bolton

    I caught this post via Colleen on Facebook.  I feel compelled to read or comment on any blog from an IT worker in Columbus.  There’s just so few of us.

    ******Interesting analysis of the IT workforce in the Columbus area.  I think many grads (myself included) don’t think to apply anywhere but TSYS and Aflac.A few things surprised me by this article. You said a TSYS badge was an honor to wear in public.  It might be for some people, but among my programmer friends, it was a sign that you settled.  I liked my job there (mostly because of my friends there) but it wasn’t prestigious.You said TSYS paid well.  I cannot speak for Aflac, but starting pay for a programmer at TSYS is low 30s – That’s not a great salary considering 90 miles north you can get 50K+ starting.TSYS and Aflac do suck up a lot of the talent, but so do other places outside Columbus.  Most of my talented programmer friends (the ones with nothing keeping them here) move away.  They spend their time in other cities making 70+ working at small and big companies – places like Atlanta, Birmingham, DC, Florida, California.*******If you are to looking for talent, come to some of the local computer clubs.  My friend Tim runs a sql group.  http://columbusga.sqlpass.org/ I run my own http://www.everythingawesome.org/There’s always someone at these meetings looking for jobs.

    • Hi Brian!  I’ve followed a these communities for some while and glad to see your organization doing well.  I must attend the next event so we can connect.  🙂

      As for the ‘settling’ comment, I completely agree.  The only disadvantage is that the kids who went to school for computers for the money WANT that little badge.  It’s indirect recruitment marketing.  

      I would like to mesh Columbus Creative and your computer club, including SQL Pass to really squeeze together and try a few things.  It’s all about timing and I think this is our time.

      Thanks for reading and sharing.

  • Brian Bolton

    disqus completely jacked up my formatting on that post…

  • “I am writing this to create awareness for change; corporate and alike.” I really like this, and I think your perspective and opinion are unique and very valuable – not only to the small business community but to the corporate community as well. Why? Because the reality is that the competition for IT talent here isn’t just between local small business and the corporate heavy weights. With the rise in availability of remote jobs and the improvement of the technology to support it, we, Columbus, are competing with cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, and New York to keep our IT talent.

    As a community, I think we need to be able to offer a diversity of work options for IT professionals that are appealing. It is beneficial for everyone! If a local corporate giant here could adopt a startup mentality when it comes to innovation (going back to your red tape analogy), think of the things they could accomplish.

    Also, it’s extremely important to consider the evolution of IT leadership in our community. You mentioned this, and I am specifically thinking about your comment as it pertains to the expectations of young, talented IT professionals. Does our community – corporate and small business alike – currently possess the kind of leadership skills that can build, attract, and sustain *communities* of skilled, creative, and energetic IT workers? It is critical to our local economy that we are able to do so. I think offering a diversity of IT jobs would definitely support that.

    This conversation has both near and far-reaching implications, and is one that needs to be had for the benefit of everyone in our community. My hat is off to you for having the courage and the clarity to write it.

    • Very well put.  Having the infrastructure of our areas IT being poked and prodded from remote cities makes my stomach hurt.

      I would like to believe our small business IT leaders in the area are not offering the ‘creative’ possibilities yet.  At Stand And Stretch, we are leaning to smarter and more energetic solutions that the area has not yet seen.  I would like to think we can be the catalyst for producing a business model that attracts diverse IT potential.

      Thanks Jen!  😀

  • In short, great article and I love your perspective. Given the public forum and nature that is the interweb, I’m limited in what I can say, but I am however compelled to react. Mainly, you’ve got a rich new perspective for our area. Very similar to that of ColumbusCreative.com and our vision to fill a gaping hole in Columbus for GOOD design and community run creative. You bring to light an opportunity to do good for the citizens and business owners by giving them a choice and not having to settle. Kudos Lucas.

    • Brian Bolton

      checked out your site… I like it.