HRD Talk

Episode 3 - Interviewing tips for hiring tech workers


Michael Gibbs, CEO of Go Cloud Careers, shares his strategy for hiring tech workers, including which questions to ask during the interview and what skills he looks for in job candidates.

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Speaker 1 [00:00:39]: Michael,I appreciate you taking the time to join me today. Let's get right into it here. How has the tech space, if at all, been impacted by the Great Resignation?

Speaker 2 [00:00:52]: You know it's a really interesting point you have there. The tech space and the health care space were the two industries that were hit the hardest with the Great Resignation, in that so many people from these fields have actually resigned during the Great Resignation. To us, this is the best opportunity in the last several decades for people that are looking to get their first tech job because right now there's so many vacancies. So, if people are trying to move up in their career and position, there's vacancies. If people are trying to change companies or change jobs, there's vacancies and for career changers, there’s vacancies. Right now there's nowhere close to enough qualified individuals and people that are working hard to change careers, they're getting hired every day. So, the point is now is an incredible opportunity because of the Great Resignation.

Speaker 1 [00:01:42]: So let me ask you, because of the Great Resignation, you're saying that there's all these vacancies. Are we seeing more interest in in the tech space with more people applying or is it just that they're looking for people to apply?

Speaker 2 [00:01:54]: Well, we've been going through this. We previously worked in a traditional computer environment where organizations had these data centers that were connected to each other via networks and I've been designing these systems for 25 years now. About 10, 15 years ago, we started virtualizing our networks and outsourcing our networks and data centers, meaning renting somebody else's data center that's the formation of cloud computing. As organizations have moved from their traditional data centers to these virtualized rented data centers such as Amazon or Azure or Google's data center, you know there's been an incredible amount of vacancies to do the work because these new cloud computing environments are very transformational. They enable businesses to be far more agile to make changes much quicker to scale beyond things they could ever do before. So, this technology is transformational.

So, let's be fair. Before the Great Resignation, there were hundreds of thousands of open positions for people working in cloud computing. Then what happened is people like me that have worked in tech for a while, you know, we may have set up the environments for the main data centers and dealing with a small number of work from home players. Now out of nowhere, we've got millions and millions of people all working from home in this country far more than ever. So, the technology people like me have had to set up the remote access environments and have had to deal with these new security threats. So, the technology professionals that are there have been working really hard. Early in the pandemic, when we had all of our lockdowns, what was going on is organizations were actually laying off people. We had a shift to new technology and then we had the Great Resignation, so there are millions of IT jobs that are actually open right now and it is the best opportunity for people that are looking to change their careers.

Speaker 1 [00:03:40]: What about for companies that are looking to hire these tech workers – where should they be looking to find this talent?

Speaker 2 [00:03:48]: You know, that's the interesting thing. So, I've been interviewing people now for more than two decades. What I'm going to tell you is finding a technology professional that can actually do the job is like finding a needle in a haystack. I mean, it's really rare. I've interviewed 5,000 people in my career and I've hired 10 of them. You wouldn't imagine it to be that challenging, but it is, so we really run into a couple problems in technology. Getting someone that truly understands the technology is really tough and then when we finally get someone that can understand the technology, do they have the right attitude? Can they communicate with others? Are they pleasant to be around? I gotta tell you, when we're dealing with engineering folks, that knocks out 50%. I did some engineering and I spent a lot of time with engineering folks and we kind of lived in our world. We were babbling about acronyms all day long and what happened is outside of the engineering world, no one knew what we were referring to.

I'd say there's plenty of good people out there. I'll give you two examples: I recently hired my chief operating officer who comes from the hotel industry. Why did I hire him even though he had no cloud competing background? He's extremely analytical, which I'm not He's very process-oriented, which I'm not. He's extremely methodical, which I'm not. He's the person that can make sure that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed and nothing gets left out. And in fact, the skill that he had was opening hotels from the time that a hotel was conceived till the time they took their first people and that's what he was doing for years. That skill for me, that organizational structure for me, is fantastic.

I'll give you another example. I remember the first person I hired we'll call him Avi. He had another Israeli name, but we'll call him Avi. Avi showed up on the interview and Avi had the best attitude I've ever seen. I asked Avi, ‘What do you know?’ He says, ‘Windows NT.’ I said, ‘Well you know, this is a networking job, not a computer job.’ He says, ‘Mike, I would love to learn networking. This is my dream. I know a lot about Windows. I know a lot about this and this, but I don't know anything about it. But I will work hard, I will do anything to be here.’ I liked him so much I went to my manager and I said we have to hire Avi and he says what's skills does he have. I said ‘Well, he has the best attitude.’ And he said, ‘Does Avi know how to do networking?’ I said, ‘No, but I'll teach him’ and my manager said ‘Are you sure because if it doesn't work out…’ Fifteen years later, Avi is the CEO of a company that's selling computers to the developing world and he's made a huge impact.

Now I've hired several Avies in my life. So what I say is you look for the person that has the best attitude, the best cognitive function, the best communication skills, the best emotional intelligence, the best enthusiasm. Someone that's thirsty for knowledge and very intelligent and someone that knows something. I don't care what it is, but they have to know something well to prove that they can know something else well. I've hired so many of these people, but then again, I run a global cloud computing education organization and I take people that have no background in tech and I work with them. I have people getting hired by the world's best companies for extremely good high paying jobs that prior to tech were working serving food. They were working as geologists. They were working as psychologists and the point is to look outside of tech. You know where I came from? I came from internal medicine. I used to practice internal medicine and one day said I want to work in tech. Six months later, I was the lead architect on my team at MCI World Com, which is now Verizon, which was the world's largest internet service provider.

So I think the key is to find the right people with the right attitude, energy, enthusiasm and the ability to learn. We can always train skills. It's all about the fundamentals. It's all about the process. It's all about the thinking and I also like to look for ancillary careers. So here's what I mean by that. So let's say I'm in the world of cloud computing and a cloud architect meets with a customer. They ask the customer about their business, their business goals, their pain points, their challenges and then they craft the technology solution to solve those problems now. What else is like that? A doctor interviews a patient. They come to the office and the doctor says what brings you in today and the patient says my throat hurts and then the doctor asks some questions and then the doctor evaluates their system. Maybe they look in their throat with the tongue of the press on a flashlight and they say oh wait you have pharyngitis here's your prescription.

They ask some questions about their business. They evaluate the organization systems. They make a diagnosis and they make a plan. The only thing is you know for that patient with the sore throat I wrote a prescription for amoxicillin assuming they're not allergic to penicillin and here I've created an architecture. How about management consultants or lawyers? They enter, they meet with clients, they ask their questions, they evaluate the available evidence and they make a suggestion. All of these jobs are identical to tech. So what I try and do is I try and look for people that have the same skills from another industry and then just teach them the tech.

Speaker 1 [00:09:01]: Are there certain types of questions, you know like when you said that people have a good attitude, is there something that you ask them that you hope you get a kind of sense for that attitude based on the questions that you ask?

Speaker 2 [00:09:15]: Yeah, I ask a couple of questions. I mean I always start the interview with a tell me about yourself because I'm going to see what the person says about them themselves. After I asked them to tell me about themselves, I asked them to tell me their strengths because you know when we look at it from the hiring manager perspective, what do we want? We want someone that's technically competent, someone that we can trust, someone that knows what they know and knows what they don't know so they don't make massive mistakes, someone that's energetic, someone that's enthusiastic, someone that's passionate and then from there we're looking for people that are willing to go above and beyond and the people that are great team players. So I start at tell me about yourself. I'm hoping to hear some of it in there and the next thing I do is I ask them what do you know best and the reason I do is I don't expect anybody to know everything. I just want to know that they can know something and know it well so I asked people things in the core competency and then I always ask a question that I know they will have no idea the answer to and here's why.

I asked that question I want to see if I can trust the person so when someone starts bluffing to me or they're lying to me, the interview is over. And I will tell you I've done 5000 interviews and 4950 people have lied to me. In fact, I actually keep a box of cookies in my office and I don't eat grains or sugar and I do that so when I interview someone if they start lying to me, I just feed them for the rest of the interview because I can't hire them and I don't see the point so I try and make it a relaxing thing. So what I'm looking for is the person and tell me, ‘I'm sorry I've not had the opportunity to learn that yet. But I'm highly energetic, I'm highly motivated and I love technology and if I was part of your team. I would do whatever is necessary to learn it. I want to be honest with you, but I know a little bit of this this and this.’


You know, I did that on my first interview. I was hired and not only was I hired with no experience, I was promoted on the interview. I asked to be a network engineer and was hired as a senior network engineer just because after that, the manager said, ‘oh my god, wow you know more than half of my people that are here and you've never worked a day in your life. Wow, I've never had somebody that never lied to me before. I love your attitude, I love your energy, I love your enthusiasm and I trust you're going to be good.’ Six months later I was the team lead. So it's really about asking the person what makes them tick, what do they want to do. I do ask a lot of behavioral questions, tell me about a problem that you had with a person at work and what you did about it. And I'm not doing it because I believe in the behavioral interview philosophy where you have the mistakes you made when you were 12 are going to mean the same mistakes you make when you're 86. Why am I doing that? Because it gives me a perception of somebody's emotional intelligence and conflict resolution and communication skills. I want to see how they solve problems.

Speaker 1 [00:12:08]: Well, now I do have to ask. During the interview when someone's trying to get this job and you ask them something you know they be able to answer or know, isn't it natural for people to lie and try to bluff and do anything they can to get that job and then figure it out later?

Speaker 2 [00:12:32]: That's the thing, is it? Well if someone's secure in what they know and their capabilities, if you go to internal medicine doctor and while you're there you say I need brain surgery. The first thing they're going to say is I am not a surgeon – go see this neurosurgeon that the best one I know and if you're really good at your job. You know what you're good at and you know what your strengths and weaknesses are and I will tell you for example, Facebook had like a six-hour outage because somebody made a configuration error. When we talk about the dollar lost per second for Facebook to be down for hours because someone made an error that's because someone doesn't know what they know and doesn't know what they don't know and I will tell you in the last twenty five years I have seen multiple billion dollar outages caused by people that don't know what they know and don't know what they don't know.

So we don't expect everybody to know everything but I expect the person to know what they know and know what they'd hope because otherwise the company's going to go bankrupt. So yes, you're right. It is natural to want to bluff and lie, but it goes back to that person's character. Are they willing to say I don't have it, but I have this, this and this and if they are, I can hire that person because I can trust them. That's $100,000,000 a year a revenue and I know they're going to call me the first time they don't know what to do and I can get them the support but it's that one person that pretends they know I don't need to call anybody I can do it. They make one little change that company's down for 12 hours and let's say it's a bank. Let's say it's a bank that's got a trading system that makes $1,000,000 per minute and if they're down, I mean it could be for four hours, it could be catastrophic. So for me, it's all about honesty and integrity when I hire people.

Speaker 1 [00:14:20]: My last question for you. This Great Resignation, this tight talent shortage going on, how long do you expect this to last? Do you see any relief coming anytime soon?

Speaker 2 [00:14:35]:  Well I definitely see a lot of relief coming very soon. I'm not sure that it's going to work out very well for us in the industrialized world though. So here's what I see going on. We've been migrating towards traditional networks and data centers toward the cloud, which is a virtualized network in the data center. Now when people like me used to go to Wall Street every day to set up the data center for the bank and to be there I was onsite but now with everything on the cloud everything's managed remotely. So if you're going to be turning on a bunch of virtual machines, if that person's in Nigeria, Lagos, or Bangalore India or New York City, it's irrelevant. It can be done at the same speed or time. We actually see the big tech providers actually going into places like Africa and offering free training to try and get people certified to try and help them there. So what I see is I see definite lots of relief coming. I see we're building these global networks. We're training people in the developing world and it's very easy to get someone in the developing world to do our job. If we don't want to go do our jobs when we complain and make it too hard for our managers I believe our managers will replace us.

So for example. I was working on a recent project and I've got lots of software engineers. So I don't need any and I was looking for software engineers. This person wanted $180,000 and then I spoke to someone that was a better software engineer that was in India and they wanted $16 per hour and. One was semi capable for $180,000 and the other one was a rockstar engineer now. It's very hard to manage large global teams but we're getting to the point where if we have no one that can do the job and we've got these data centers that enable you to work from everywhere else, There's a lot of really good, really smart people in the developing world that want to work. I have an incredible number of students in Africa and India and Pakistan and Asia and Brazil and south America. These students are doing really, really well and getting good to great jobs.

So yes I do see an end in sight. I hope, hope, hope people start going back to work and want to work. But if not, businesses won't work. They'll either automate and replace people with technology or they'll outsource the technology. So I do see it ending, I just hope we all go back to work and are really excited and motivated to go back to work. I know I wouldn't be leaving in a time of this. I would be looking around saying, ‘Oh wow, this CTO position that I want or this EVP position I want. It's vacant. Oh, this is my chance to go get it.’ So that's what I would be doing – I'd be looking to climb versus looking to fall.

Speaker 1 [00:17:11]: Well I hope that our listeners take you up on that advice and use this like you said as a stepping stool an opportunity to advance their career and Michael I appreciate you taking a time for talking with me today.

Speaker 2 [00:17:22]: So happy to speak with you.



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