The technology industry has come a long way since the days of Steve Wozniak’s garage and Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room. Whether it’s social media, business applications, or smart home devices, technology and software touch practically every consumer and industry on a continuous basis.
But with growth and success come challenges — some predictable and others unanticipated — that technology companies across the board are grappling with today. And as the industry formulates solutions for issues like data management, rapid product development, and increasing user experience (UX) expectations, one thing remains constant: great tech must work in concert with great people to succeed.
Managing Data More Effectively
From securing sensitive user data to managing online social media content, tech companies face increasing pressures with regards to how they protect, monitor, and use digital information. “Some of the major trends we’re seeing in the tech space are around data breaches, usage and ownership,” observes Phil Lewis, Senior Vice President for the technology industry vertical at Aquent.
Lewis notes that data protection, spam control and online community management are some of the prominent areas that tech companies are pushing to address. It seems that data breaches of minor and major impact are in the news every day. Regulators and the public are paying close attention, and rightfully so.
“A lot of platform companies are taking data even more seriously than before,” Lewis continues. “They’re trying to manage the validity of data that goes out on their platform and manage the flow of correct and accurate content - without censoring, of course.”
For tech companies trying to ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of data that appears on their platform, or for those seeking to better protect valuable customer or client data from malicious actors, there are a variety of roles that Lewis sees tech companies scrambling to fill. “You have data scientists, data analysts and database managers for protection purposes,” explains Lewis. “Then as you go across the spectrum you have roles like community managers, community moderators, and judges of content."
There’s perhaps no greater “hot button” topic than online security in technology today, and companies will need to put an increasing focus on beefing up data management, security and validation personnel to maintain their user bases and reputations.
Developing and Scaling Products
As the Chief People Officer of Credit Karma, a tech company now valued at over $4 billion, Colleen McCreary is all too familiar with the workforce challenges associated with the rapid product development, scaling and user growth. “Going from idea to execution is incredibly difficult,” says McCreary. “You’re talking about getting a product from market fit to user adoption, and through to monetization. Having to focus on these external goals, while building a company on the inside, are tremendous obstacles.”
In McCreary’s experience, ineffective hiring strategies, insufficient attention to the establishment of corporate cultural norms, and people management challenges are some of the common stumbling blocks that hamper many organizations’ product development lifecycles.
Moreover, tech companies themselves are not immune to disruption. As innovations like virtual reality, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) become more ubiquitous, organizations will need to rethink their workforce strategy to develop new products that will serve tomorrow’s marketplace.
Due to greater demands on development teams, which requires availability across time zones, “we’re starting to see more companies be open to multiple locations, at much smaller sizes, than in the past,” she observes. “Companies are having to do development work across locations and time zones much earlier in their growth cycles. They’ll also need to be open to more flexible and shared roles in product development, which the industry has been traditionally unwilling to do,” says McCreary.
Besides just time zone availability, McCreary cites major factors such as competition for talent, labor cost challenges, and the need to incorporate greater diversity in thought and opinion that are driving this new geographically distributed model within the industry.
Enhancing and Extending UX
At the heart of any app, platform or system is the overall experience they provide to the end user. Without a simple, seamless way to navigate to information or complete necessary actions, users will simply abandon the app or move to another platform. That’s why tech companies of all shapes and sizes are putting an increased emphasis on UX hiring.
“Whether it’s a social media platform, cloud software solution, business application or software-as-a-service (SaaS), UX is continuously the number one category we place people for,” says Aquent’s Lewis.
This is especially true for tech companies involved in retail and e-commerce, for example. With malls and bricks-and-mortar stores going out of style, sites from Amazon to Warby Parker compete not only on price and products, but on the usability of their web, mobile, and tablet interfaces. And as mobile becomes a mature technology, Lewis sees UX proliferating to newer areas like IoT and VR.
“You’re going to have all these different devices connected to the web, and tech companies will have to extend the user experience to things like smart light bulbs, thermostats, and security cameras. User experience will extend much further beyond mobile apps, shopping carts, and e-commerce” predicts Lewis.
Tech companies are responding by hiring user experience (UX) and interface (UI) researchers to work in tandem with artificial intelligence and IoT technologists. Creating a smart home AI assistant that integrates with a mobile app, for example, takes a combination of data science on the backend and UX knowledge to deliver on the front end.
Moving forward, McCreary recommends that tech leaders look for employees with “rookie smarts,” who aren’t necessarily young or junior but are in constant learning mode as opposed to relying on what they’ve done in the past. Hiring a seasoned HR leader early on is also critical, as many CEOs simply can’t cope with both product and people challenges, especially during a massive growth phase.
“It's incredibly important to slow down before you speed up,” McCreary advises. With the right talent in place, tech companies will be well-positioned to compete for market share, despite a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive marketplace.