CXO

IT operations is king: How to find the best people

Operation pros are not easy to find. They must possess strong technical skills with a host of communications and collaborations skills to boot. Here's what IT managers should look for when hiring (or grooming) operations professionals.

The shift has been underway for a few years now: Company IT systems have become simultaneously business-critical and so complex, that the people who are responsible for maintaining performance, uptime and a high-quality user experience are now some of the most highly coveted employees.

IT Operations teams must enable the success of agile, rapid development (think DevOps) in order to deliver measurable business value; this means making sense of mobile apps, cloud computing and the latest in Web design to deliver the fast, interactive and device-agnostic experiences that customers demand. These professionals are not easy to find; they must possess strong technical skills with a host of communications and collaborations skills to boot.

Here's what IT managers should look for when hiring (or grooming) operations professionals:

Highly refined problem-solving skills with business orientation

This attribute is foundational, as when IT operations personnel aren't troubleshooting or handling support tickets, they should be tackling the limitations of existing processes and tools. It's not enough to be a creative problem solver; one must also understand business prioritization and how IT fits into the overall business fabric of objectives and customer relationships.

For instance, resolving application performance degradation is common these days, particularly with the prevalence of public cloud infrastructure and Web apps. Yet people who can also demonstrate that they've helped resolve an organizational challenge that accelerates business value and prevents future issues provides the support expected from IT today.

Ability to take on a holistic viewpoint

Talented IT operations personnel will often have deep domain expertise in an area, such as databases or networking. This shows the ability to dive deep in a technical topic: a key skill in operations. Yet an IT operations employee should also be able to open their mind when problems occur, so that they can effectively help others from different areas of IT while keeping the end user and business objectives in mind.

If the networking pro can't put on the database hat (or at least make the best effort) for a few moments when called upon for help and doesn't understand what's important for the end user and the business, there's a problem.

Frequent and effective communications

Having a sense of urgency around communications with colleagues cannot be underestimated for this role. During a recruiting or interview process, the hiring manager should follow up with a candidate using different methods, such as text, email and phone. If the candidate takes a day or two to respond to any method, that's a red flag.

As an IT manager, set an example and use the tools that work best for the team (not just for you), acknowledging the value of old-school technologies like IRC as well as the new social networking platforms. While too many communications mechanisms can create chaos, too few methods can cause gaps in information.  Embrace what works and don't be hesitant to try something different.

A respect for flexibility

DevOps was created to enable a flexible, agile environment for high quality, rapid application development. IT Operations team members should also demonstrate a measure of flexibility when it comes to work style and collaborating with others.

For instance, a person coming from the culture of traditional IT project management may not thrive in the new world of dynamic processes and streamlined documentation. As well, an orientation toward rigid schedules won't often work; ad hoc meetings and frequent communications versus "the weekly meeting" are more akin to the fluid culture of modern IT Operations.

Finally, start internally on your search for IT Ops stars (or potential stars) before hiring from the outside. You run the risk of alienating your staff and jeopardizing the entire improvement process if you opt to bring in an army of "experts" before considering the talents and commitment of the people on the inside.  Remember, their insider knowledge of how things work - both from technical and business perspectives - is critical for successful IT Operations.

Michael Butt is Director of Products at Boundary.

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