- design. geekery. business. culture.

an open letter to employers

Recently viewed at an employment web site:

  • 3-5 years of Web based application design and administration experience (preferably with Webmaster or similar certification),
  • Expert Level Java / HTML / XML / XSL / PearlScript / CGI / JavaScript development,
  • Familiarity with XML standards/technologies (including Web Services), XML Schemas, DTDs, and XML/XSL development tools (editors/parsers),
  • Reasonable ASP / Vbscript / Php development experience,
  • Familiarity with J2EE/EJB, component development, OO development (RUP methodology), 3/N tier Web application architectures, Web Application Servers (WebSphere, WebLogic, Jboss, iPlanet, etc.),
  • Familiarity with Unix platforms (Linux/HP-UX, AIX, Solaris),
  • Familiarity with ODA standards and compliance,
  • Good experience with Web content management, trouble shooting, site administration and related tools, Web site trend/traffic monitoring/analysis,
  • Familiarity with security standards/issues (PKI, SSL, HTTPs, etc.), backend database interfacing (JDBC, ODBC, ASP), interfacing with Queues and mail providers (JMS, SMTP, MIME), front-end database reporting tools (Cristal Reports, etc.),
  • Good experience with SQL databases (Oracle, DB2, MySQL, SQL Server, Access, etc.), Web Servers (IIS, Apache, TomCat, etc.), NT/W2000 platforms, networking with TCP/IP, MS Office automation tools (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, Power Point),
  • Good experience with Web development/administration/maintenance tools, such as PhotoShop, FrontPage, DreamWeaver,
  • Good understanding and application of state of-the-art Web design/development products/tools/best practices,
  • Business requirement specification, Modeling and Web Application Architecture,
  • Highly developed analytical, problem solving and decision making,
  • Should be conversant with Change / Problem / Issue Management,
  • Quality Assurance Testing of Web applications,
  • Web End-to-end Testing Tools and Techniques
  • Effective Presentation Techniques
  • Documentation,
  • Oral and Written Communication

This, sad as it is to say, was for one job. And the job, amusingly enough, wasn't even for a Web Developer, Programmer, or Engineer. It was for a Webmaster.

Let's put aside the fact that this was obviously written by an HR person who had little technical knowledge (Expert Level PearlScript is one of my all-time favourites). The fact is, employers, that if your job descriptions read like this you aren't going to be able to hire anyone that is good enough to actually meet the requirements.

Taking this one point at time...

Certifications are a pretty rare animal in this biz, at least so far. Particularly for something as vague as a Webmaster. Certification definitely does not mean that you're getting someone with the skills and qualifications you are looking for. In fact, hiring someone with "Webmaster" certification may well mean that you're hiring someone with as little knowledge of the field as you have. Sorry. It's the truth.

Expert level HTML and programming skills in the same person are very rare. Why? It's easy enough to figure out - learning Java, CGI, Pe[a]rl, and other backend technologies at an expert level takes a huge amount of time. HTML, XSL and other front-end technologies also take a huge amount of time. Finding someone who has devoted huge amounts of time to both is difficult. And even if you found them, you'd never be able to hire them. I'll tell you why in a moment.

Programmers rarely know Photoshop or Dreamweaver. Again, this is pretty straightforward. They are two different disciplines. It would be like asking your finance people to start selling, or your salespeople to start balancing the books. Some crossover is possible in many people in this field — programmers who know a bit of front-end, front-end people who know a bit of programming — but by and large you're not going to find expert skills in both. Or anything even approaching expert skills in both.

A job ad for Web services, Tomcat, J2EE/EJB, and FrontPage in the same ad is the funniest thing I've ever seen. Sort of like putting a brand-new engine in a car that's spackled together with PolyFilla and duct tape. You want a quality web site? Don't put the word FrontPage in your job ads.

Traffic analysis is rarely in the purview of programmers. They may look at the numbers to ensure they're not overloading the system. But there is a world of difference between that and actual traffic analysis. Traffic analysis touches the worlds of marketing, search engine optimization, user experience, information architecture, and corporate communication. Rarely is a programmer involved in this kind of thing.

Java and Perl programmers don't play with PowerPoint, Access, or Word. Period. They are too busy playing with real applications.

People who might actually have these skills will never respond to this ad. There are a few people out there who may have 95% of the skills you're looking for, with nearly all the experience you require. There may be quite a few people who have 75% of the skills you are looking for. These are all very talented people, to have even met 75% of the goals set out by this job ad. But by putting together a job ad like the one above — something that absolutely screams “We don't know what we're doing!” — you've guaranteed that none of these very talented people would ever want to come to work for you.

Even in this recession, where there are more out-of-work tech people than ever, employers and employees both have to remember that there is such a thing as mutual respect. If you want us to learn your business, take a bit of time to learn ours. At the very least, avoid laundry lists of requirements if you have no idea what they mean. Build up a relationship of trust with us and we will reward you with loyalty and dedication, not to mention the inevitable overtime that most tech people go through at least occasionally. Don't insult us, and we won't insult you.

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