by Martha Heller

Start Recruiting IT Talent Now

Sep 28, 20124 mins
IT Jobs

To lure top tech students into the enterprise, CIOs must sell youth on the idea that Silicon Valley isn't the only place where IT is fun.

Here’s a paradox: Your need to hire great technologists is at an all-time high, but the talent pool is shrinking. Computer science enrollments are down, young people are not interested in IT, and “experienced mobile architect” is an oxymoron.

The traditional keys to the IT talent paradox–great recruiting and retention–will be ineffective as long as the tech products industry is booming. Why would a smart technologist work at your insurance firm when she can get a job at Google?

Now it’s time for all good CIOs to come to the aid of their industries. Get out of your office and visit high schools and colleges. Tell young people about the joy of IT, its importance, and the money that comes with it. (Definitely don’t forget about the money.)

Michael Gabriel, CIO of HBO, is doing his part. Working with parent company Time Warner, HBO has produced “IT is It!” a video that features young people extolling the excitement of a career in IT.

“Most young people have no idea what IT jobs are really like,” says Gabriel. “There are TV shows about careers in law and medicine, but not about technology. Everyone thinks we fix PCs and that IT jobs are all offshore.”

To change that perception, Gabriel approached the CIO Executive Council, which suggested producing the video. (Watch it at The video is a way to attract young people to the IT industry, but it’s also good for Time Warner.

“Young people know us for Time, HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. Now they will also know us as a technologically advanced company focused on distribution via mobile devices and Internet-connected TVs,” Gabriel says.

So get out there and make a movie! Or do what Bill Blausey, CIO of Eaton, did–use the Time Warner video to further the efforts you already have underway. “We put the video on our RITE [Regional IT Engagement] website,” he says. “We need to tell kids IT can be exciting in companies other than Oracle and Apple.”

Blausey and other IT, business and higher-education leaders formed RITE at the urging of the Ohio Board of Regents to address concern about the IT talent crisis. The goal is to engage the local student population. “We approach our mission as we would any marketing initiative: We pick our targets, craft our message, and go after them.”

RITE members also work with local colleges to conduct evening workshops that educate high-school students and their parents about IT. “We have a panel of CIOs and some cool technology around the room,” Blausey says.

Keeping good tech talent local is an issue across the United States. “Students graduate from the University of Texas at Austin and move to Silicon Valley,” says Eric Hungate, CIO of the Texas Association of School Boards. “But there are tons of jobs in Austin.” To engage students, Hungate works with Campus2Careers, which helps companies build intern programs and manages InternInAustin, a city-sponsored event aimed at retaining and attracting talent to central Texas.

If there’s nothing like InternInAustin in your region, you may have to be more innovative. “Reach out to your local chamber of commerce and see what they are doing to retain talent in your region,” suggests Hungate. “Get together with local professional IT association chapters; collect a roster of CIOs and visit high schools, community colleges and universities,” he says.

And once you have your first speaking gig, don’t blow it. “When you speak to students, lead with jobs,” he says. “Tell them right off the bat that they can make a lot of money. And I would push passion. I was IT director for Robert Mondavi when my passion was wine.”

Martha Heller is the author of the upcoming book The CIO Paradox and she is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.