Roanoke Region Stability

February 27, 2009

There’s some press for the Roanoke Region and its stability in these turbulent times in today’s USA today. There’s something to be said for having strengths in strategically beneficial areas – in this case healthcare and education.

I’ve always thought of Roanoke as stable, maybe even frustratingly so when times were booming. There hasn’t been the mass commercialization seen in many other towns along I-81 for example. I think of Harrisonburg and Winchester as examples of this with their rows of new strip malls right off the interstate. Roanoke still feels comparatively mature.

Home prices are notably affordable and I hear very little talk of people having lost value in their homes in the last few months. I’d love to see some data on this some time- that is price fluctuations in the last 2 years compared to NoVA, or even Blacksburg.  the I bet Marty Martin would know.

Thanks to the folks at the Roanoke Regional Partnership for pointing this story out.

IT Recruiting Redux

February 25, 2009

I got a few good responses from some recruiters I know to my post earlier in the month. I encourage them to comment publicly, but they’ve asked me not to attribute their comments for now.

Regarding the “hassle” of phone calls, one recruiter out of Roanoke had this to say:

The main thing that a good staffing company should do before ever placing someone at Vision Point Systems, would be to learn as much as they can about your business and what you want. And what your concerns are. And what you can’t stand. They can do this anyway, whether it is reading your blog, or meeting with you in person, or seeing your work environment… If you do decide to turn to a company to help with your staffing needs, I would recommend picking one and sticking with it. That would cut down on the time you have to spend on the phone with different recruiters, it would create only one point of contact and eliminate a lot of repetitive conversations. Working with only one company would also probably give you benefits on cost, and you can set expectations with a company on how you would like to be contacted. We work exclusively with companies and we always discount the rates for exclusive clients.

Granted. I can appreciate the truth that a partnership in this arena will lead to less hassle and the ability for me to objectively say to new contacts “We’ve already got a partner”. My problem is that I don’t yet have  a partner and I can’t shake the feeling of sharks circling around me waiting for me to jump.

On good developers being hard to find, another recruiter out of Richmond had this to say:

…you mentioned a few times that even in these turbulent times good software developers are still hard to find.  True.  That’s because most of them are still employed and if they’re not, they have built a decent network (recruiters included) around them.  Therefore they don’t stay unemployed for long.  In watching and meeting and networking, etc. in these economic times its becoming more apparent that good TECHNICAL talent is still a sought after commodity.  So a good portion of the talent recruited is just that… recruited.  They may not be actively looking, but maybe they are a contact that has been in our pipeline and they are just waiting for the right fit.

I’ll take this as a good reminder that networking is as important in staff development as it is with business development. I suppose my view is that I would rather be the one doing the direct network development with potential recruits. This can be through participating the Software Developers Forum, forming direct relationships with universities, social networking (we’re on facebook) or just better overall marketing. Vision Point Systems can do a better job at this, and this is one of my goals going forward.

The other rebuttal I received was on the culture point – that bringing on people as contract-to-hire could lead to cultural exclusion. I concede that I as the employer can control that to a great extent, but I think there would always be a distinction in the individual’s mind.

Since that last post, we’ve hired two new people, a developer and a business analyst, both through traditional means. We’re still hiring now for another developer position. You can be sure I’ll keep posting updates on this topic.

I still invite other recruiters to make their case.

Came across this good article from Motley Fool on businesses that will get better during a recession. Here’s a good quote:

Even recessions can be blessings in disguise for strong, well-run businesses — but it takes some time for these blessings to become apparent. And that’s why it’s important to identify now the companies that will likely enjoy these advantages going forward.

In terms of strategic marketing for a consulting firm like Vision Point Systems, I think the recession is a opportunity for us to recognize the kinds of operations activities we should gear our long term focus on.  If companies are still putting money into enhancing certain types of systems now, then those are the types of systems we need to be able to support as our core.

So far, we’ve been successful in providing added value for our clients while times are tight, and our business is successful.

We sent one of our developers, David, to represent Vision Point Systems at Tuesday’s Software Developer Forum in Blacksburg hosted by Mailtrust. Here’s what he had to report:

The forum started off with a discussion of using OSS in businesses as a way to reduce costs. Mailtrust uses open source code for the base of their products. Additionally, OSS was also mentioned in support roles like word processing (OpenOffice) and ticket tracking (Trac). The main point being that companies can leverage these products as a reduced cost and can modify them as needed, sometimes contributing changes back to the project. Then the discussion moved to the topic of making money on OSS. The main way discussed was selling support for the product. Both Red Hat and MySQL were mentioned as examples of this. Another way was the accepting of donations, however it was pointed out that a large userbase works best. The rest of the discussion did not focus on business talk, but on Open Source as a whole.  Topics ranged from the awareness of open source in the mainstream to how  the government should/could use it. The most interesting bit of this was the discussion of open standards in regards to medical records. If there was a standard format for how medical records should be, then each state could use or reuse the software that they wanted. The government bit was the most intriguing section of the night because there is, I believe, a great potential for change and savings on a state and federal level. Caution is warranted because just because something is OSS does not mean it is of high quality. Sometimes and in some applications, closed source programs just work better.”

That’s a pretty good summary of OSS as a whole and corresponds with the last roundtable discussion I attended on the topic at an NJTC event last spring. I’m going to try to reach out to a contact at EnterpriseDB that I had met there at that event to try and set up a discussion in this forum on MySQL vs PostgreSQL.

For my MBA cohorts, keep this in mind when we cover this topic in IT Management class later in the semester. I’m interested to see how consistent the academic view is with the real world usage.

One assignment for this weekend’s Strategic Marketing class was to present your company’s value statement. We’ve been talking a bunch about this within the company, but it hasn’t yet made it to paper.

We have been given two main guidelines for what should be covered:

  • A promise or claim in the form of 1 shattering value plus 2-3 secondary value element
  • Proof or reason to believe in the form of evidence or arguments supporting each promise

Here’s my stab:

“Vision Point Systems solves the tough technology challenges our clients face first by discovering the true nature of the problem and only then delivering the solution with a quality integrated and flexible software development process. Instead of simply placing isolated resources on a job, all our clients receive the benefit of the combined collective knowledge of our experienced consulting team. Throughout this process we work as an extension of the client’s business team, and our reputation for reliability, responsiveness, and attentiveness frequently results in strategic long-term partnerships beyond the initial project.”

I’ll try to follow up with any feedback I get from the instructor.

I’ve been contacted by at least 5 different local (SW VA) IT Recruiting firms in the last 3 months or so. I know that despite the general hard economic times, good software people are hard to find. So I’m sure there’s something to be said for the value of providing access to known, but out-of-work talent. I’m still trying to find the business advantage for a company like mine, however. I invite any such recruiters to make the case here (I know some of you already read my blog)

Here’s my perspective. The hiring process at Vision Point Systems is very subjective. We hire people, for whichever position, that we feel will be a good consultant in whatever their specialty is. This is a qualitative trait that is hard to filter in any sort of pre-screening or skills assessment that I would expect a recruiter to do. In that case, I would expect to have to interview any candidate directly myself anyway. Interviewing seems to be the most time-consuming part of the process from my position. I’ve gotten into a good rhythm and am comfortable with the productivity of the traditional job posting channels we utilize today (jobs.roanoke.com or Hokies4Hire, for example)

I also don’t like spending as much time on the phone as I do with the recruiters on a recurring basis, when I haven’t yet reached out to any for them to help me fill a position. I won’t be looking forward to the number of calls I would be receiving if I do engage a firm’s services.

The other value argument I’ve heard is the “trial period” arrangement. This means I could hire someone through a staffing firm and not have to worry about signing the new employee up for benefits, etc, until we’re confident they are a good fit. This isn’t how I like to approach hiring. I want new hires to come on board with a sense of ownership right away. Keeping them at arm’s length by having them off the payroll doesn’t match the culture I’m working to build.

All this being said, I’m sure the recruiter model works in some situations – larger or product-based companies, for example. For a small consulting firm where everyone is expected to carry the company banner, I just don’t see the value.

So please, anyone with another perspective on this, chime in.