John VanderSande, a Boston-based principal consultant with WinterWyman’s Software Technology Search group, notes that the use of Big Data in business is relatively new, and that while the number of companies utilizing NoSQL is increasing rapidly, the number of people who have the skill set necessary to harness it is relatively small.
“There’s that wide gap (between need and experienced candidates),” he says. “So we get very few requests for a specific NoSQL datastore.” Few companies would use a one-size-fits-all approach anyway, he notes. “Just because a company is using one datatstore doesn’t mean they’re not using two or three others. Even just a midsize or small startup could be using a couple of them.”
The employment market in software is hot right now and VanderSande says the number of Boston companies that are hiring is booming, as is the number of people they’re actually bringing on board. As a result, if employers placed stringent requirements on a single high level skill, they may need a year to fill a job.
The teams VanderSande works with have been meeting skill demands with what he describes as “a tier approach.” The first tier is the hard-to-find perfect fit, a technologist who is not only proficient in MongoDB, for example, but also ready, willing and able to take on other languages.
“A part of it is about the kind of problems they’ve solved,” VanderSande says. Another part is the languages candidates know as well as how they’ve evaluated data. “If a client is using MongoDB, it’s great if a candidate has that experience, but they’ll consider any of the other datastore experience. Each has its own intricacies and nuances attached to it, and if they learned one and use one, they can probably pick up another fairly easily.”
Even candidates who can’t meet these requirements may have a shot if they have a broad knowledge base and an ability to ace a language-agnostic whiteboard challenge. In those cases, their desirability is akin to tier two’s, with the employer’s focus on the kinds of problems they’ve solved. Companies want to know if a candidate has worked on something technically interesting and complex, and if the necessary engineering acumen and analytical skills can be proven throughout their work.
While VanderSande says he can’t draw on hard data, he’s comfortable saying that “the number of companies that are willing to hire based on attitude and aptitude and less on skill set has increased dramatically,” at least in the Boston area. “Five or six years ago, there were far fewer hires like that.”
That being said, he observes that when intelligence and culture trump experience, the bar is set very high and employers can afford to be picky.