Skills - CIO goes: ¯_(ツ)_/¯

"We can’t hire the right people” is the eternal complaint of CIOs everywhere. They’re beset by all this FUD’ing out about Facebook coming and disrupting the toothpaste industry, Google accidentally dis-intermediating car insurance, Elon Musk launching a bank1, or Amazon doing anything new.

I call this freaking out the “macro-economic headwinds” part of any pitch, freakout, or “TED-style” talk. The CIO’s reply is often: if only they could just hire the right people to sling the code, install Kubernetes the hard way, write good ChatGPT prompts, or whatever, they could turn those headwinds into tailwinds.

We’re trying our best, the executives clamor. But, the skills! Our people just don’t have the skills! So, like, sorry: can’t improve.

CIO goes: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There is, of course, this:


And there has been this for a long time as well.

Solving the skills problem

The Skills Problem came up a lot during the VMware Explore executive summit I was at earlier this week. Instead of just being mopey about it, though, there was a lot of talk about how to solve it. Most of it sprung from the notion of: instead of focusing on hiring new people, focus on training your current staff.

Solving the "skills" problem is possible, people were saying. It just takes some planning and operating changes. One plan was very prescriptive: (1) put in place all you can eat self-directed training services like Pluralsight and O'Reilly; (2) plan out (in person) classroom-like training for new technologies and practices that you’re planning on using; and then (3) activity encouraging staff to always be learning. You can “enforce” these with annual review metrics, sure, but if you just make it part of expectations and allocate time with it, most people in IT will be happy to learn. Some enjoy stacking up certificates, which is fine if it works for you.

If "skills" means that you either (1) can't afford to hire people who have the skills in the new tools and ways of working you want to do, or, (2) that your existing people are not learning how to use new technologies, then solving #2 is likely easier and cheaper. It just has to become a high priority: training and education.

Fortune 100 CTO: "We can't copy Netflix because it has all those superstar engineers, we don't have the people."

Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix: We hired them from you, and got out of their way..."

A good way to discover how high a priority "skills" is in your organization is to track how much time executives spend on planning, meeting, and budgeting on that topic. You can also track people's use of the self-directed learning platforms. As ever with management, the managers are the ones responsible for the overall system of the "organization," so if skills are a problem, that's something they have in their power to solve by changing the organization, how it works and allocates resources (time and money).


"Developer Thriving: The four factors that drive Software Developer Productivity across Industries," Cat Hicks, Carol S. Lee, Morgan Ramsey, March, 2023; “The SPACE of Developer Productivity,” Nicole Forsgren, Margaret-Anne Storey, Chandra Maddila, Thomas Zimmermann, Brian Houck, Jenna Butler, March, 2021.

The second related topic that I found interesting was making people happy at work, and happy with their work. Since knowledge work (most IT work) requires a lot of self-motivation to learn and adapt (see above skills problems!) and to problem-solve with open-ended, unknown problems, you need people who are in a good state of mind, not grumpy and unmotivated. As one discussion participant put it "a happy developer is a productive developer," which applies to any role, of course.

A lot of the important work in studying developer productivity over the past few years has been on this topic: how do you create the environment for thriving IT staff. There's the SPACE work from Microsoft and others, and some work from this year that I just discovered at Monktoberfest from the Developer Success Lab. A lot of this work is about metrics and measuring, but there's also a lot to learn about creating those happy employees who will then thrive.

If skills are a problem, that's great! Unlike all those macro-economic headwinds that executives have no control over, they can actually do something about that by putting in place operational changes. As ever: you just need to do it.


Garbage Chairs of Amsterdam, Barcelona Edition.
  • I’m Barcelona, you can always get an Uber in five minutes if you don’t mind waiting fifteen minutes first.

  • I propose we call all official conference events in the evening “soirees.”

  • AV guy at #VMwareExplore “I presume this is another talk about computers? You should try doing one sometime on wildlife.”

  • “an activity that is restorative, intentional, relaxing.” Here.

  • Sometimes, being the person who knows how to print something out at their hotel is the most valuable thing you can do that day.

Relative to your interests

CIOs ranked excelling in customer experience, improving operating margins and generating revenue as their most critical enterprise outcomes from technology investments for 2024. From Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2023 Barcelona: Day 2 Highlights.

VMware Corner

I’m at VMware Explore EU this week. There’s a lot of VMware announcements. Here’s some coverage:


We went to a small Italian place in Barcelona called Teta de Monaja last night: it was great! I feel like a mother and son were running the place. At least, it had that vibe. And the food was tasty and affordable.


Actually, as pointed out by many, this is probably not a problem: would you trust your money to to that business?,, @cote,,