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How to close your testing talent gaps in the remote work era

Stacy Kirk CEO and founder, QualityWorks Consulting Group

Six months ago, no one anticipated that the way we work and do business would change so drastically. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every industry, resetting major trends in consumer behavior and forcing businesses to quickly strengthen their technical capabilities to facilitate digitization and a remote workforce.

With these changes, technical leaders are facing greater challenges in delivering digital products and services to the market. One challenge that has become even more nuanced is simply finding the right talent. For CTOs and technical leaders, finding the right people to fill gaps in their teams is one of the biggest pain points in building and delivering great products.

Here are CTOs' and other technical managers' recommendations for how to resolve your resourcing issues, now and in a post-pandemic work environment.

Finding specialized talent is still a major challenge

Tech changes fast, which means that skill demands also change quickly. Finding talent with specialized skill sets to match product and market demands remains a nagging challenge for hiring managers and CTOs.

Technical talent is still hard to find, particularly for architecture, data science, development, technical management, and DevOps roles, said Tony Karrer, head of the Los Angeles CTO Forum and CTO of Aggregage, which creates online communities.

This challenge is often compounded by the need to meet tight deadlines, said Mark Long, principal of independent firm Interna Consulting.

"In many instances, you need to find people who have a very specific skill set to meet project needs, and with looming deadlines you need to find those resources now."
Mark Long

You simply can't hire fast enough through your traditional HR process, Long said. Since speed is a deciding factor, you also don't have the time to train members of your team to fill the role, making it difficult to quickly ramp up your team to respond to changes.

Furthermore, disciplines have grown quickly, and as they get deeper and deeper it becomes much harder to find the right candidate and to adequately assess candidates' knowledge and skill level.

Eric Gruber, IT manager at Amazon, said cybersecurity is a prime example. The cybersecurity skills shortage is expected to result in 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

As cybersecurity becomes even more critical due to the threat landscape, "managers are put in a precarious position of competing for the limited talent to meet the demands ... or finding other creative ways to temporarily fill gaps until more talent becomes available," Gruber said.

Moving beyond technical skills when vetting candidates

While recruiting specialized talent for product teams is a struggle, that is not the main concern shared by tech leaders. More and more, the emphasis is shifting from hiring for technical skills to finding talented people who have a deeper understanding of what it takes to build the high-quality apps users want, said Amit Nayar, VP of engineering at FloQast.

While technical skill is definitely important for engineers, being able to think about what users want and use that data to drive development is an extremely valuable skill set.
Amit Nayar

There is a need for developers and testers who focus on quality, can think like a customer, and can make user-driven technical decisions. Managers want team members who go beyond the code and the tools to think about overall product value to customers and to the business.

Getting the right people on the bus can be a challenge. For an engineering team, you get no points for just shipping a feature; you get points for creating customer value.
—Mark Long

It is not enough to have testers who just tick off boxes, said Steve Motola, CTO of EntWise, a technology consultancy. "We need people who can understand the product and think about product quality as a whole. Skills in QA design and planning and in creating an end-to-end QA strategy are lacking."

Priyanka Halder, senior manager of QA at GoodRx, agreed. "More and more, companies are looking for quality advocates rather than just quality engineers," she said.

The ideal candidate's profile couples technical aptitude with soft skills such as critical thinking and communication. While these additional criteria make it even more difficult for leaders to recruit the right talent, the consensus is that team members with these attributes add significantly more value to a team.

Creating a better filtering and screening process for these additional qualities is still an area that most hiring managers are trying to figure out. There is a need to go beyond the traditional coding interviews to be able to discern great talent with the right mix of technical skills and soft skills, said Shahin Mohammadkhani, executive director of enterprise technology at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

"I'm really looking for two skills: resourcefulness and emotional intelligence. Knowing when to use the right tools and the right tech and understanding the thought process behind it is actually more critical than being an expert in a particular skill set."
Shahin Mohammadkhani

Now more than ever, it's critical to build quality-driven teams where each member is considered a champion of both quality and of the end user. 

Distributed teams and remote work change the game

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution, and the recent acceleration of the remote work culture due to COVID-19 has pushed companies to rethink how they hire and retain team members.

More companies are considering a move toward distributed teams as a viable way to fill resource gaps. The effects of this change are twofold: For some, it has opened a can of worms, but for others it holds new and exciting opportunities.

The concept of remote work isn't new in the tech space, but it has been accelerated. Some 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the worst of the virus has passed, versus 30% before the pandemic, according to a recent Gartner poll on the future of work trends.

Sony Pictures Entertainment's Mohammadkhani sees the change to remote work as the new normal. "We've established the technology platforms now for everyone to be remote. By opening up their models to facilitate remote team members, many businesses have expanded opportunities and their reach to the source pool and different markets. Unlike the past, remote is now a preference and no longer an impediment."

Halder of GoodRx agreed, adding that finding top testing talent for her company has "become easier since COVID-19 because of hiring freezes and layoffs from bigger companies. We now have more resources to choose from that weren't accessible previously."

On the other hand, this openness to remote work has unlocked a new level of competition for small and medium-sized companies trying to find great resources for their teams. Large corporations that previously would not have considered hiring remote candidates outside of their city or country for critical roles are now more open to the idea.

This may place startups and small businesses in the precarious position of figuring out how to compete successfully for staff against the perks and lure of working for large Fortune 500 companies.

COVID-19 is redefining tech team structure and culture

Going beyond heightened concerns about finding remote tech talent to fill gaps, the COVID-19 pandemic has reset major work trends. Companies now have to rethink not only their workforce planning and employee brand but also their work culture.

According to a survey of employees on the state of remote work by Ultimate Software, 54% of respondents prefer to be remote, 90% feel more productive, and 50% are less stressed than when they are in office. 

But remote work also brings challenges for managers, including:

  • Monitoring remote workers' productivity

  • Building team morale and balancing the mental pressure of COVID-19 with the pressures of meeting team deliverables

  • Finding the right mix of tools and technologies to foster effective communication and seamless collaboration

  • Managing security and access to sensitive data

Creating a productive and encouraging remote-work culture will be essential for the success of tech teams even in a post-COVID-19 environment.

Adopting new models for finding top tech talent

The pandemic has validated that a remote workforce can be just as productive as in-house teams, if managed well. As a result, remote insourcing and outsourcing are gaining traction, especially in markets that have been oversaturated with tech job openings. 

Essentially, remote insourcing means that roles that traditionally would have been contracted out are instead being filled internally, but with resources that work remotely.

Access to a wider sourcing pool may help to resolve issues around finding candidates with the right balance of technical expertise and soft skills.

According to feedback from the Los Angeles CTO forum, the major transition since the pandemic is toward hiring more remote talent to build in-house teams. The CTO Forum's Karrer said that "many CTOs have found that they can work effectively with a fully remote team. Further, other executives in the organization have seen a fully remote model working well." 

The philosophy of requiring everyone to work in the same office has changed dramatically, Karrer said. This means that CTOs are now looking at sourcing talent that would be in the workplace only a few times per year.

Outsourcing can fill in the gaps

This can work with outsourcing to fill more difficult roles such as cybersecurity or product quality specialists. This combined hiring approach allows managers to quickly meet skill demands while also managing costs. Managers can hire an outsourced consultant on an as-needed basis instead of taking on a full-time employee and the associated overhead costs.

According to research by Gartner, "organizations will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management post-COVID-19." Some 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure, the Gartner study said.

A McKinsey report found that the outsourcing industry has been an integral partner in companies' crisis response across sectors, particularly for the delivery of technology services. Pre-pandemic, the IT outsourcing market was already forecast to reach approximately $413.7 billion by 2021, according to Statista.

Key outsourcing challenges

Finding reputable, trustworthy outsourced experts will be critical. Leaders must commit to doing due diligence in creating an effective screening process that goes beyond just budget and timeline.

Other factors such as level of maturity of outsourced resources, thought leadership, contribution to the community, and track record of working with distributed teams are important to consider.

But despite the new challenges that may surface, outsourcing can help resolve some of the major tech talent gaps. This may very well become the new normal for building strong product teams. Companies that are quick to adapt will lead the pack.

Facing the new normal

Finding great tech talent is one of the biggest challenges tech leaders face today. The acceleration of remote work culture and related workforce trends has created new opportunities for hiring and finding specialized talent, and the pandemic has proved that remote workforces can be effective.

Companies are moving toward more distributed teams, and access to a greater talent pool through outsourced, distributed resources can also help fill talent gaps. However, you need to be strategic in your approach to building a remote product team.

With the promising opportunities for finding talent that come with this trend, managers must focus on what matters most: Finding talent that will allow them to build a quality-driven team and culture, where delivering customer value matters above all else.

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