Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evolution of an accidental techie

I have always been a fan of the Accidental Techie book by Sue Bennett (even if she hasnt returned my recent emails). I enjoy the structure that they suggest for these new nonprofit techies to try.

The book goes through:
  1. Job intro
  2. Inventory your tech
  3. Supporting your staff and tech
  4. Assessing and purchasing
  5. Disaster prep
  6. Funding
  7. Resources

I think all of that is fabulous. But a good friend of mine always hated the term Accidental Techie, he would (and still does) say that there should never be anything ACCIDENTAL about how you manage your tech. I would nod my head and agree, but tried to avoid starting that same old soap box speech from coming out. Luckily it seems that the term is being used less, but is that because they are gone? NO, I dont think so.

Anyway, that is not what I want to focus on. As a part of job search here is one thing I want to talk about, as we grow in our jobs as a nonprofit techie are we helping our organization be ready for the future?

Each day we learn more about our jobs, we develop new skills and refine old ones. We improve the way our org works, we get new tools and our jobs mature. But do we ever take the time to make sure our org will be able to support itself when you leave? Maybe you think you will never leave, but you will.

We take pride in saying things like our job is "anything that plugs in or turns on" or "jack of all trades" or whatever. We will do everything and anything to keep our orgs running. As a new task arises we just add it to our list. We continuously expand and grow our scope of work and responsibilities. But do we ever take the time to rewrite our job description to match that?

You might say, who cares if the job description doesnt match, dont we all spend 60% of our time under that category that says "other tasks as assigned?"

Well here are the problems that I see with that:
  1. You cant get credit for something that isnt documented and you sure make it tough to measure the effectiveness of it.
  2. When you leave, how will they ever know what you did?
  3. When you go to build your resume it would be easier if your job description was accurate.
  4. Job descriptions are a great way to frame a conversation with your supervisor about what is most important and where to spend your time.
  5. Helps clarify department structure and new hires
I want to focus on that last one, helps claify department structure and new hires. Hopefully you will eventually be able to increase your staff size to meet the growing needs of your org. When that happens, how will you define that job and the skills you need? Often we will create the job based on an immediate need or just offset some of the technical skills we lack or focused on a specific new software/hardware we just purchased.

I think we can often be too short sighted in how we hire because we dont understand our own job as technology decision maker well enough. Or more importantly the organization doesnt understand the role of technology. This comes from an accidental techie that has grown into an IT Director in one org and that organization has never know anything different.

So you just continue to hire more technical staff, a web coder, a database expert, a widget builder, citrix pro, etc. But you never look to see if you have enough strategy, project management, group collaboration, mission focus, content experts, etc.

And why do so many jobs have to be a silo? Would it be the end of the world to have an overlap\connection with other departments like marketing, fundraising, etc.

Anyway that is my thought for the day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to hire IT, Channing does it better than me

OK, so I have said that I was eventually going to get more positive and offer some ideas on how to hire good IT staff. Well either someone read my mind (or my blog) or it is just coincidence, but there is a great two part blog post from Channing on the TechSoup Net Squared blog.

Part 1 -Don’t Just Hire a Geek: How to find good IT help for your organization

Part 2 -Don't Hire a Geek 2: How to find good IT help for your nonprofit

here is a great quote:

Here’s the reality: when you spend money on information technology, you’ll need to spend more for support. If you’re a two-person operation, running out of a bedroom and a garage then, yes, you don’t need to hire anybody. You can rely on the kindness of strangers. Any bigger than that, and you’re going to need a budget. The killer truth is that there’s also a minimum threshold that you have to spend, whether you have a 5 person office, or a 50 person office.

The two thoughts that I had about his post though were:

1. Do we do enough to make our existing staff more self sufficient? Do we provide enough training to all staff to enable them to use the technology we have?
2. If we can find the right person to meet our technology needs, cant we get them the technical training they need?

Anyway, I dont think I need to blog anymore, Channing is better than me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Online Marketing Manager, what is that?

Ok, so to continue my posting about jobs I have applied for, I want to talk about positions called the Online Marketing Manager.

First a position that has Marketing in it to me implies that this job will have a sales or advertising focus. Yet the online part seems to imply web or techy stuff. Then there is the word manager, does that mean manage the online marketing or manage the staff doing the online marketing? I think this job title is something of a slippery slope and you will inevitably get the wrong people finding the job and applying if you arent careful in your job description.

I found it nice to look over the description that Chris Brogan gives if he was to hire a community manager. In his description he focuses on the measurement and goals, and when talking about the skills look at the focus on content, not on technical skills or marketing suave. So maybe a community manager isnt the same as an online marketing manager, but here is a thought, should an online marketing manager have a job focused on heavy duty technical skills or maybe one based on old-school marketing\advertising? Or maybe should this person really be focused on understanding how to engage a community or audience. And maybe this should focus on content, not on cool tech or slick marketing.

So what is most important in this job search, having just the right set of skills like:
  • Extensive dreamweaver experience, understands XML, HTML, CSS
  • Background in managing database integration with online activities
  • Strong technical understanding with blah blah blah certifications
  • Marketing degree
  • Experience running print and mail campaigns
  • Extensive experience in marketing field
Or should it focus on:
  • Content, building useful and deep content focused on your audience
  • Building relationship with your supporters, clients, customers, funders, etc
  • Strengthening brand, make the whole love who you are
  • Passion for mission and focus of organizations present in all communications
  • Creativity to make the message heard in an online world competing for attention.
Again, I think Chris Borgan makes good points when he talks about the skills of a community manager, it is all about the content and the conversation, not about the marketing and the tech.

So when hiring is it more important to be able to populate that content, make the message meaningful and building a community? Or is it just about making a sale, having great e-commerce, cool flash objects, great marketing tied to the print stuff, telling people things without a real conversation?