24 February 2017

Is your experience an Asset or a Liability?

We are already into few weeks into 2017. As with any new year, a lot of resolutions would have been made. I wanted this year to be the best one, better than any other year in the past and I am very sure most you would want the same. As with any year progressing, there are two things that will happen whether we wish or not. For professionals, (which is where I direct this article), you age a year and your experience will increase by a year. I am going to analyse on whether this natural progression is good or bad for our careers.

The Information technology is a niche industry that started booming, exploding, rather, in early 2000. Due to this immediate inflation and vacancy, opportunities opened in every direction and everyone wanted to cash in towards this boom as the demand of resources was on the rise. As for supply goes, it was relatively young. In fact, the potential was so high that there was a surge in Engineering colleges worldwide in the past 20 years. In a country like the growth can be said as almost Exponential. As with any emerging market, this enormous demand was met with lots and lots of Information technology professionals since the start of the millenia. The profession was considered Youth's epoch into the industry. The salaries that this generation got suddenly raised the eyebrows and at times irked a lot of the older folks respectively a generation above. It was a flourishing period for a lot.

Any sudden growth like this is bound to bring with it a perception of sameness spread across time. This Inflation, occurring right at the start, was destined to reach equilibrium at some point. That is what has started to happen. Around 2006, any Software Engineer with 6 years experience and a working knowledge of Java was considered highly valuable irrespective of their objective competence. The folks who were entering the market then started to observe this pattern and there was this natural association people started to make - that the more the experience, the more the intellect and knowledge, thus more money. People started to value themselves high with time irrespective of the type of choices they were making for their careers. This attitude was deeply rooted within the entire industry and it became a pressing problem for the companies as the experienced non-performers have started to become a nightmare.

The current phase is that organisations are fearing to take a stance or a bold decision because when I say organisations - they are not some idealistic machines, they are people in flesh like you or me where some of the problems to be solved are the problem solvers. It is kind of intertwined right now.

Normalisation phase
However, as with anything else, time will play catch-up. Since the new set of engineers are learning a lot of new and novel ways to do things and the amount of startups that are exploding with their own sets of ideas, the perception of time being reduced, these bad outliers have made themselves sitting ducks. The ones who are in the most pathetic state are the ones that think that "I deserve this and that" simply because they have more experience on paper. It will be a harsh fact to accept when reality reveals itself which it often does.

An analogy I can relate to is with our planet. My brother hates when people call “Save the planet”. His argument is that the planet does not need any saving. Planting trees and making it greener does not matter an ounce for the scale of something as big as earth - perhaps the beneficiaries are none but humans and other species with humans always being the primary. Whatever we try to do to Mother Earth, she has her own defence mechanism to bring things back to Equilibrium. Perception of time on our human scale - may look very long, but the laws of the universe do not change a bit. Only our perceptions do.

Same is the case with the perceived experience factor. I am seeing this first hand that experience has become a problem especially during recruitment. When we want to fill a particular position, obviously we don’t want more engineers with 10-15 years of experience. Here are some arguments towards the same.

  1. Recruiting an experienced player is a difficult job. For one to hire an experienced player, there needs to be a good availability in the assessment front as there is going to be a considerable investment. So the one who is assessing should be theoretically at least as good as the position that has been sought out for. Unfortunately when people are trying to add resources at scale, this becomes a problem. The chances of making a mistake are high.
  2. Experienced resources are expensive: This is a very “current” trend. The ones who are experienced are usually expensive for the reason that both the market and the candidate perceive themselves as valuable and hence the cost factor.
  3. Experienced resources are older: With the sample space and the heavy availability of young blood, people tend to prefer younger engineers as there has been a lot of stagnant folks big organizations are finding ways to shed. This may be a hard thing to digest, but this is how it is.
  4. Distribution of experienced resources are very thin: Although there may be 10 million resources each with 10+ years of experience, the industry does not need all the 10 million because of the hierarchy structure. If you consider the pyramid, the volume accounts more towards the worker bees and not more towards the Queen bees. This does not mean that Queen bees are not needed, but the spread or distribution is very thin. So the more experienced you are, chances are more likely that you are going to face a very harsh time in the coming decade as the number of positions to fill will exponentially reduce.

So how to avoid this deadly trap?
Fortunately, the situation is not all that bad! At least, not yet. Yes, this is a problem that many organizations inevitably have to address and many have already gone through multiple cycles addressing it irrespective of the backlashes it face, there is still a chance from the individual’s perspective to convert any baggage that one has a into an X factor that is bound to increase the value.
  1. Switch from a knowledge worker to a deep worker: Ask yourself whether you are a knowledge worker or a deep worker. It is not a rocket science to know where you stand. Perhaps try to answer yourself these simple questions honestly and you can assess whether you fall on the knowledge or deep worker. Do I proactively look for sensational/political/social feeds? Do I use facebook/twitter/social media sites multiple times during a day? Have I solved any real problem which only a few in my industry could solve? Do I have a learning/positive habit building routine? Have I worked in recent time on an issue in total isolation for days together?
    Based on answering some of these questions, you could roughly assess whether you are a knowledge worker, gathering a bunch of haphazard information which is easily repeatable by others and does not add any special value. If that is the case, you should switch from being a knowledge worker to a deep worker. The best resource I can point you to is the book Deep Work by Cal Newport where he dives deep and emphasizes why it is very important to go deep and why it is a valuable asset amidst a highly distractive environment.
  2. Attitude check: This is a very subjective and a tough thing to assess for anyone to do it to themselves. Our ego may interfere and will give some sweet answers that are acceptable to hear. Your number of years ARE NOT directly related to your experience. Perhaps on paper, yes, but do a fair judgment. Again this should be easy. Ask yourself this question. Assuming you are having 10 years of paper experience in the industry - How long will it take for a truly “focussed” engineer to be able to meet the job profile I am performing today. If the answer is 10 years, either you have not understood my question or you have skipped most of what I’ve said earlier.
  3. Technology immune: One other pattern I am seeing very closely is that people are associating themselves with a particular technology. I am  a Java person, I am a Manual Tester, a Scala guy, and they believe that working in that field magically makes them a subject matter expert. Again I am talking about the players who are with the "I-Deserve" attitude. These players are very reluctant to change. When the technology or the process becomes obsolete, they get obsolete along with it. Making them cross-train into anything else is both a painful and costly juncture which many organisations assess and instead shed them. That is the reason, the change should not come from the outside, but these things should be realized by the professionals themselves.

Being lethargic and thinking things will take care of themselves is not going to work, not with the pace at which the industry is moving. Being proactive is no longer merely an option for the passionate but a necessity for the normal. The good news is, before things are dictated to us, we can take the baton in our hands and realise where the industry is heading and make the right moves. Wishing you all a fantastic year!


1 comment:

hari said...

Hi Bragadeesh,


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