February 12, 2004

Plenty of Linux jobs -- at the top, anyway

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

Stacy Holland is a California-based executive recruiter who specializes in finding people with Linux-related skills. Her business card has her photo at the top, and beneath her photo it says, "The Linux Lady." She started working with Linux people (and using Linux) in 1999, and decided to concentrate on Linux because, she says, "It's a very exciting, close-knit family of technically-motivated, interesting people." This doesn't mean every NewsForge reader should immediately send Stacy a resume. She only recruits management types. But she has plenty of career advice for coders (and others) who want to become top management, along with tips on how to ride the waves of today's shifting IT job market.Realize that a recruiter like Stacy works for the hiring company, not for job applicants. When we spoke, on February 5th, she was focusing on just three searches: Two for sales VPs, and one "for a very senior VP of engineering for a systems management company."

She shuffles through huge (electronic) stacks of resumes to fill each position. "Have you ever gotten 6,000 resumes?" she asks.

To Stacy, 6,000 is not an alarming number. "I get thousands of resumes," she says. "You have to be really discerning. That's what you get paid for."

An employer who hires through personal contacts isn't going to pay fees to Stacy or other recruiters. She admits that she is looking for "la creme de la creme," as reflected in her company's original name: Exceptional People, Inc. (which is now part of Stanton Chase International).

Stacy says her job goes far beyond sorting resumes; that in order to be a successful recruiter, she needs to "get the rhythm of the person they're going to report to... their metabolism and brainpower, all their 'soft skills,' so those people will want to work together for a long time."

Once again: "Retained" recruiters like Stacy work for hiring companies, not applicants. They get paid to find better people than the companies can find on their own, and ones who are likely to stick around for a while. Stacy says most of the hires she arranges "stick" for at least three or four years, which is pretty good in an industry where people are known for jumping jobs as often as possible.

This, she says, is a big reason venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, which first turned her on to Linux-specialized recruiting, has continued to use her services through good times and bad, and why she has such a strong and stable client list.

A growing Linux job market

While the IT job market may not be -- and may never be -- as hot as it was during the dot-com craziness, Stacy says that even though she's still getting thousands of resumes for top-end jobs, in 2004 "the odds are getting better for applicants."

She says, "Good people always get hired. Exceptional people always have choices.
The commodity roles have been outsourced. But the people who migrated from, say, Solaris to Linux, and feel the same passion for possibilities in Linux? They're going to do extremely well.

"That's where the Linux market's coming from -- out of the Unix world.

"I felt that at the Linux show in New York. Money's back, and people are spending money. The thing is, Linux saves you money, so there's value."

Some of this Linux expansion, says Stacy, is due to "better use of hardware with new solutions based on Linux."

Companies, she says, are going out of their way to find what she calls "architects" -- people who can conceive and build entire entire software and hardware structures. Even in sales, Stacy believes this sort of vision is the biggest need. In her words: "Finding ways to save clients money using Linux is 'the' marketable skill for sales and marketing people."

She also thinks the embedded market is hot-hot. "With so many new products coming out of embedded devices," she says, "Linux has tremendous potential in this area. Many jobs being created around [embedded Linux]."

Becoming the perfect job applicant

Stacy says there are a several ways applicants can make themselves more attractive to potential employers:

"[They need to] take classes in software architecture and design. They need to back-solve; to look at six companies they think are terrific, and if they couldn't make the grade [with those companies] with their current credentials, figure out what they have to do [to be attractive to those companies].

"They may have to learn more development, and how to use different tools.... They should also have a very senior guru -- a mentor, a friend -- who will tell them how to improve their menu of skills. They need to buy that person lunch every six months, and see if they're getting better.

"Having objective friends is critical," she says. "If I have someone going in for an interview, I will practice with them. Anyone who goes into an interview should practice with someone who's critical, a good sounding board."

She has special advice for Linuxites who specialize in sales:

"For sales position, [employers] want to hear all the aspects of why they are going to be an asset, and fast. You have one hour in front of a good hiring manager, if you're lucky.

"When they walk in, they need to have a story -- hard facts about what they can do, strong evidence that they're good at problem solving, and a clear message on how they have been consistently promoted through their career.

"Knowledge of Linux is an advantage, but is not the showstopper. If it's a top salesperson, they are not just an ordertaker. They understand how to bring their product or service to -- say its an OEM situation -- how their system could be wrapped into the offering of a bigger client. The days of the old Roladex are over. You've got to be able to figure out how [your employers] are going to be able to join up with the right distribution channel."

For techies:

"They should go into systems management, and get into markets that are hot. They need to look at markets that aren't going to get outsourced. Think network management and specialized applications. I think you're going to see software tools getting huge in Linux -- the Tivolis, BEAs, Oracles, and CAs. People are trying to take their current hardware and leverage it. You should be looking at software companies -- like storage, disaster recovery, and security -- all the software that will leverage hardware that's already in place."

At higher levels, even in companies that aren't focused on Linux, she says, "Say a vice president of engineering... Linux knowledge is an advantage. He has to deal with major open source development work. He has to know how to integrate open source into products, has to know MySql, Apache, and he has to have the specifics on the resume that my client wants."

Stacy stresses that if a client wants someone who "has C and C++ experience on Linux," she's not going to present anyone who doesn't have exactly that. "I'm paid to bring my client what they ask for," she says. "If they want C and C++, and seven other things, that's it. If applicants keep seeing jobs that require 14 items, and they're missing four, they need to figure out what they're missing, and go learn them.

"If there's anything the last two years have taught us," she continues, "it's that you have to distinguish yourself. You have to work harder. It doesn't matter where you live. It's the same everywhere."

And, she says, techies have a big advantage when trying to find a job for which they might not be 100% qualified on paper: "What they don't know, they can learn. All they have to do is find out what they need to learn, go learn, then go deliver it."

Age can be an advantage -- at the senior level

Stacy says employers now want to see "some grey hair in their executive suites. For example, I've been strategically bringing in several seasoned, older candidates for one firm. They have a young management, now they want that experience in there, someone who's lived through good times and bad and knows what's what. I'm seeing more understanding, like from this company, that age is a plus. Obviously, [the person they select] has to be a winner. We've got a lot of people of every age out there who are average."

What about the average people?

I asked, "What about the best job hunting tactics for average people?" Stacy didn't want to answer. She reminded me again that companies pay her to find exceptional people, not average ones they can easily find on their own without paying recruiting fees.

Most people, apparently, are better off looking for work through personal contacts or by plugging through direct job listings instead of going through professional recruiters. But anyone -- even an "average person" -- who takes Stacy's advice on preparation, and listens to her words about what kind of job to go after, will have a big advantage over people who don't know how to prepare themselves to meet with employers or what kind of employers they should be trying to meet.

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