A Digital Ecommerce Transformation – How to Avoid IT Integrators – Part XIX

Part XIX of a multipart series.  Start at the beginning with Part I.

As we eased into 2012 and we continued to build up our teams at TWLER.com, the IT leadership decided that they needed to get their integrators more information on the architecture and technology we were pursuing. Over the course of a few weeks, I proceeded to have 2+ hour meetings with all the major IT integrators, C* G*, I**, Acc*, T*T*, W*P* and a few others. I think they thought I didn’t understand the value brought by these integrators, and that talking to them about my architecture and direction for TWLER.com might somehow win me over. I proceeded to give my well-oiled architecture presentation to each of the integration teams. At this point I’d probably given this presentation a hundred times. The integrators had sent their top technical architects and salespeople to these meetings. They would have been better off without the salespeople waylaying the conversation, but the tech people tried to tone them down.

They were all very excited to hear about what we were building and eager to bring in consultants to help me build the systems. It was just a matter of signing off on the work orders and people would start showing up next week. That’s not how I wanted to operate; here’s how you manage integrators:

  1. If they wanted to be part of the project, they needed to send me their three best candidates
  2. I would interview each of the candidates, and if they passed the screening, they could start as individual contributors on one of my projects
  3. I expect that they would stay at least one year
  4. If they performed well, in a couple months we would interview more of their candidates
  5. If they continued to perform well, and their resources were not removed from our account, we would continue to ramp up individuals
  6. At this rate, you might have 20 people on the account in a year’s time

For some reason, this set of criteria did not sit well with the integrators or the candidates. If you understand the incentive system of the integrators, than constructing a hiring process to make your project unappealing is fairly easy. The lead sales people are only interested in placing consultants onsite. They are incentivized by the number of people placed and number of hours billed. Since I was only looking for top tech talent, the individuals that show up for the interviews are some of the best technical minds at their companies. Their job is to start up tech teams, pile on a hundred people in 3-6 months, and move on to the next company.

Probably half the candidates that were sent to interview were good enough to join the team and act as one of the coders. However, during the interview process I made it clear that I expected them to stay one year, and there would be no account building during that time. They were expected to code 100% of their billable hours. If they spent any time wandering the company looking for new projects, I would kick them out.

Given all those criteria, not a single consultant that came through was placed on our teams. The technical folks thought the project would be a great experience, but they were all in career building mode in their firms. My project would set them back a year against their peers, as they would only account for their own billable hours.

The sales people weren’t interested either; a ramp up of 20 people in a year is nothing for them and not worth their time.

After about two months of this charade, our IT team finally got angry. They decided to sit in on one of the interviews to determine why we either kept rejecting candidates, or the ones we liked declined to show up. I thought that was a great idea, and said they should get one of the integrators to send their best candidate to the interview.

So we scheduled an interview with T*T* later that week, I was sent a resume of a lead engineer that actually looked pretty good. When the day arrived and the interview was about to start, I met one of our IT Senior Directors at the interview room. The candidate was escorted in by the T*T* representative and we started introductions. It turned out the candidate wasn’t the person from the resume.

Well, that was a surprise and the TWLER Senior Director was ticked. But I said, give me this new person’s resume and let’s do the interview. So we all sat down with the new person they had sent in as their “best candidate” and started into the questions. This all turned out rather badly because the new candidate had no web background and rather limited technology skills. The interview consisted of repeated failures to answer junior level easy software engineering questions. Like, “what are the four basic SQL commands?” It was an unmitigated disaster driven home by my unmerciful continuation of questions well beyond the point where everyone knew the interview was over.

Afterwards, the TWLER Senior Director was actually abashed and said he’d pull back on the interview process with the integrators. Again, I thought I had won, but I continued to underestimate the persistence of the TWLER IT management team to instill amateur engineering hour on the TWLER.com project.

Goto Part XX