Can't find IT talent? It's all about marketing: Obama 2012 CTO

The whiz kid behind US President Barrack Obama's re-election campaign shares some advice on attracting IT talent and vents his frustrations about the term 'big data'.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

As the discussion on whether Australia is suffering from an IT skills shortage continues, and companies like Westpac use it as an excuse to partially justify the rise of outsourcing, Harper Reed has a different outlook. According to Barrack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign CTO, the root of the problem is that companies are not making these IT jobs look desirable.

Reed has been described as the mastermind behind US President Barrack Obama's re-election in 2012. He has been recognised for using technology to stimulate voters to hit the polls and drive donations to the Obama campaign. Prior to his work with Obama, he was the CTO for Threadless and has a wealth of experience when it comes to hiring staff for various IT teams he has put together in the past.

"What I've heard over and over again is that there is a lack of tech talent in Australia," he said at CeBit Australia 2013 in Sydney. "One of the biggest problems is people don't talk about the solution — they don't talk about what they're doing that's compelling."

"When you're hiring people, you always need to talk about why people want to work with you."

With many IT job descriptions sounding awfully dry and in need of "jazzing up", selling what you want to achieve to a potential employee is much more effective than just telling he or she what you expect them to do for you, Reed said.

"You really need to sell what you are doing," he said. "You can't just say 'I need a Ruby Rails engineer' — you need to say 'I'm saving the world by doing so and so'.

"Attract people by telling them the problems you are trying to solve, not by telling them the requirements for the solution. It's not fun to be a Rails engineer, but it's fun to solve big problems."

'Big data is bullshit'

Reed is officially sick of the term big data, which has been thrown around in the IT industry with rising frequency.

"The thing about big data is the 'big' is bullshit — the big part is already solved," he said. "We've done big, and we should be talking about the data, so just say data."

Reed is famous for using large amounts of data during the Obama re-election campaign to target individuals — what he calls "microtargetting" — through a number of outlets including social media and emails. The campaign would use the data to contact people at a very personal level, encouraging them to either rally up some friends to vote in a country where voting is not compulsory, or to simply donate money.

But Reed is bored with big data. Rather than being obsessed with the term, he wants to see IT vendors think more about how to use data to answer big questions.

"I don't want to see big data anymore," Reed said. "I don't want to see all the marketing stuff — I want to see Oracle, EMC, and all those companies to come out and say 'here's a product that will give you big answers'.

"Because I'm tired of big data; I think it's boring."

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