|25 Minutes

The DEX Show | Podcast #13 – Technologist Table Stakes w/ Mary K. Pratt and Sean Malvey

The DEX Show | Podcast #13 – Technologist Table Stakes w/ Mary K. Pratt and Sean Malvey

With remote work becoming the norm, you’re no longer restricted to your company’s physical location to hire the best available talent.

Mary K. Pratt, Freelance Journalist, and Sean Malvey, Writer, Editor & Content Strategist, are two of the brilliant contributors behind the launch of our DEX Hub. We’ve asked them to join us for today’s episode of DEX to discuss talent as a competitive advantage.

What we talked about:

  • Ferocious competition for top talent
  • Matching skill sets to roles for which you’re hiring
  • Trends across insourcing, outsourcing & hybrid staffing solutions

Check out these resources we mentioned during the podcast:

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to the Digital Employee Experience Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Digital Employee Experience in your favorite podcast player.


Tom  McGrath (00:01):

Hi change makers. Welcome to a special edition for DEX Show where we’re celebrating the launch of a brand new DEX Hub. It’s an amazing new content resource where you can find a lot of informative and even dazzling DEX content including videos, articles and podcasts like this one. Indeed, our two guests today are both responsible for some of the highlights of the DEX Hub launch so if you want to see Sean Malvey’s full DEX career capital report or Mary K. Pratt’s latest articles, go to dex.nexthink.com right away. There’s really nowhere like it in IT. Okay on with the show.

Speaker 2 (00:41):

You’re listening to digital employee experience a show for IT change makers. Let’s get into the show.

Tom  McGrath (00:48):

Welcome change makers to the DEX show. I’m Tom McGrath joined as ever by Tim Flower, Tim how’s it going?

Tim Flower (00:53):

Hey Tom, it’s gone really well. I got a chance to the last couple of weeks to get some travel in and returned to normal. So I’m feeling good. How about yourself?

Tom  McGrath (01:01):

I’m doing good. I’m excited because we’ve got two guests on the show today not just two guests but two distinguished writers and with them we’re going to be delving into some extremely interesting data from a fascinating new report, more on that in a moment but first of all, I’d like to welcome our first guest to the show. Mary K. Pratt is an award-winning freelance journalist and a hugely authoritative voice in the technology space where she contributes to publications such as CIO.com, TechCrunch and now also the brand new DEX Hub from Nexthink. Mary welcome to the show, we’re very excited to have you on today.

Mary K. Pratt (01:36):

Well, thanks for having me glad to be here.

Tom  McGrath (01:38):

Excellent and I’d like to begin before we touch on that report that I mentioned by setting the scene with you for this wider discussion as we begin to move into what we all hope is for the post pandemic era, it feels like the competition for skilled professionals has really never been more acute. You’re hearing this across all walks of life but it’s certainly true of technology. First of all, do you think this is the case and if so why?

Mary K. Pratt (02:03):

Absolutely because competition for talent of all sorts is ramping up. It was already underway, that ramp up was already underway pre pandemic. We saw some of it even continuing during the pandemic and we’re going to see it continue in the upcoming months and years because organizations must compete in the marketplace and the only way to do that is going to be with good talent not just good technology talent but good talent across all functions and they need this talent to be tech-savvy and not just the technology workers, all workers need to be tech-savvy. They need them to be efficient, productive, competitive, critical thinkers, just to be able to not just survive but to flourish in the upcoming years, companies are going to be competing in the market space for market share and they need to be able to rely on their workers to get that done.

Tom  McGrath (03:02):

That’s a great answer Mary and from the way you laid it out there, it almost sounds like there’d be two sets of implications for IT. One is the way that would impact IT’s responsibilities towards employees and the expectations of IT and the other is the competition for talent within IT itself so I wonder if you could comment on both of those?

Mary K. Pratt (03:23):

In terms of the main impact for IT and how this could affect their priorities, there’s a little bit of a dichotomy going on here. On one hand, IT needs to think about their fellow employees as customers and delivering what the customers need and want. So customers today and their fellow employees want technology that’s intuitive, that’s responsive, that always works, that’s easy to work. They don’t want to be dealing with slow systems and crashing systems because these workers need to get their jobs done, it goes back to what we were saying about the competition for talent companies need workers always on working focused on the task at hand not playing around with their technology or waiting for systems to do what they need to do just so the workers can get that task done. On the other hand, IT can’t just deliver what employees just blanket ask for.

Mary K. Pratt (04:24):

And that’s for a lot of reasons, it might not be secure, it might not exist, there’s the sense of we want it instantly and everything right now, it’s computers don’t read our minds. So IT needs to balance the sense of what customers want with what is possible and meld them together. So IT workers need to be very business focused. They need to understand their industry. They need to know their fellow customers and they need to work with them to gather maybe perhaps fast in an Agile or DevOps kind of fashion to develop the kind of systems tools technologies that will meet these internal customer needs so these workers can get their job done and do it in a way that works with what the IT priorities are which is security, reliability, and some of those fundamentals that we’ve always seen IT do really well at delivering.

Tim Flower (05:18):

Yeah Mary so let’s shift that view over to the IT practitioners. IT people, being an enterprise IT guy myself, work with a lot of folks who pride themselves on the skills and certifications that they gather through their career. Lots of technology platforms that they can become really good at. I’m curious if you’re seeing companies have a difficulty finding the right skill when we start talking about a focus on the employee? How do companies actually validate that the IT workers have the right skill set before they bring them on board?

Mary K. Pratt (06:01):

Probably like they’ve always done. They’ve looked at their experience, they look at their applications not their job applications so much but the kind of apps they’ve actually delivered prior employers or even in their own hobbies. A lot of IT people still like to tinker with side projects of their own. So employers want to look at the body of work that any technologist has delivered but they also, and I think that’s those credentials that you talked about or those certifications and hard skills, those are not going away. Those are still incredibly important, I think now the word is kind of table stakes. Good technologists always come with these hardcore tech skills, the tech inquisitiveness that we’ve always seen, I’ve talked to tons of CIOs who early in their day talked about playing around with the Radio Shack Commodore. The Commodore 64, employers still want to see technologists who love technology but they want technologist who don’t just say that’s enough.

Mary K. Pratt (07:01):

Just loving technology is all I’m about, they want technologists who understand the business, who understand the other coworkers and what their frustrations are and what their needs are and what their jobs require. They want technologists who can talk to these people and respect what they need to get done and can communicate what the technology is capable of doing, what the security requirements are and then putting this all together which brings in those critical thinking skills and a technologist needs to be able to come and demonstrate all this to potential employers. Now that’s a tall order that’s incredibly hard for companies to find because it’s a lot there for the tech people who have that, they can write their own job map, they can go anywhere which makes competition for talent really tough today and probably going to get tougher and tougher.

Tim Flower (07:53):

Great point and that’s kind of why I went down that path with you. It’s a rare combination to find someone who can go deep technically and be customer focused and have great communication skills and understand the business. So it’s a rare breed of technology professional and that’s kind of where the skill set conversation comes in, what do folks need to focus on to build that skill set? So we’re right on the same page.

Tom  McGrath (08:17):

Brilliant. If we feel can hold all the first thoughts somehow and we’ll come back to them in a moment but first I’d like to introduce our second guest and with it the report I mentioned at the top of the discussion, Sean Malvey is a writer, editor and content strategist, as well as the driving force behind this report which is called the Digital Employee Experience Career Capital Report 2021 from Vanson Bourne and Nexthink. We’re going to be exploring that today but first of all not only welcome to the show Sean but welcome back to the show. You’re actually our first return guest.

Sean Malvey (08:51):

Yes. Thank you. Thanks for having me back on. I was surprised I got the invite back but I’m glad to find out that it was in earnest.

Tom  McGrath (08:58):

You left a good impression sir. So I’m a big big fan of the new report. Obviously it focuses on what it terms a new breed of IT professionals. So tell us about that first of all, who are these IT pros specifically and what were you looking to find out about them?

Sean Malvey (09:16):

Yeah, so we teamed up with Vanson Bourne out of the UK, independent market research firm and the objective of the report that we put together is essentially to try to put together a narrative around the type of IT professionals that you folks typically invite on the show. These are essentially people who whether they’re a CIO, CTO, head of network security, head of end-user computing, all of these people kind of raised their hand to say that they, did you hear that?

Sean Malvey (09:49):

All of these people have raised their hand to say that they identify with and they understand the Digital Employee Experience at their companies. So what do I mean by that? I know that’s the name of the show. We talked about it a lot. We drop the acronym DEX all the time. These essentially are people that look at a common IT problems but in a holistic manner. So they focus on how does this particular issue, whether it’s happening with your business applications or your networks, how does it truly affect the employee and the employee’s workday? So these are kind of big picture people and we wanted to capture data around their careers and essentially put a narrative around this new group within IT that you don’t typically hear about. So I think this is kind of the first report that we’ve done and I have some exciting findings.

Tim Flower (10:40):

Yeah. So kind of sticking with that skillset conversation or that topic Sean, how did you define the audience here? The DEX practitioners, end-user compute engineers and professionals, there’s a broad and diverse set of experiences and skills, so how did you define that scope for the folks who are reading and responding to the report?

Sean Malvey (11:11):

So we actually pulled a thousand IT professionals from the US, UK, France and Germany and one of the main qualifying questions was that they had to respond either by taking full responsibility or at least some partial responsibility or awareness of their company’s Digital Employee Experience. So that was the main qualifier. They had to raise their hands and say, essentially I speak the same language as you, I understand these problems and then we collected information based on their industry, different job titles like I mentioned, we have people all the way up from a CTO all the way down to kind of mid-level. So let me break that down, it was essentially two principle categories, we had mid-level management and then very senior level managers and leaders like in the C-suite and those are the people that we qualified.

Tom  McGrath (12:04):

No need Sean. So one of the phrases that stuck in my head from the report and it’s connected to the finding of course, is the idea that DEX is now starting to influence everything IT teams do. I mean, can you tell us something about the related results to that phrase first of all and if in your view, the data you found indicates that EUC as a space is in some kind of way being transformed into the DEX space itself?

Sean Malvey (12:31):

So let me answer the first part of your question first. So most respondents replied and said that on average, they’re spending about 44% of their work week focusing exclusively on DEX-related tasks. So what does that mean? You might have a particular network issue but you’re not approaching it just trying to figure out what’s going on with the network you’re also trying to corroborate that data with what the employees are experiencing at the time. Perhaps you have survey data, perhaps you have to reach out to your business application managers, again kind of big picture problem solving that’s going on and roughly half of their week, Monday to Tuesday is focused exclusively on that. We also found that around one in five of respondents spend 70% of their week so that’s Monday to Wednesday, Monday to Thursday, just exclusively focused on these types of tasks.

Sean Malvey (13:23):

These people are essentially approaching their work week trying to identify major trends that are happening. Of course, they want to focus on the nitty-gritty the very technical issue that’s there in front of their face but they want to be able to connect the pieces to other teams within their department and for me that’s taking it a step wider, expanding the scope from just end-user computing. When we start to look at other issues that are happening within the IT department, other issues that employees are experiencing, whether in the office or remotely. Now we’re talking about a concept that’s a little bit bigger picture and it’s not just strictly end-user computing it’s more about the entire experience and how we’re all witnessing that each day.

Tim Flower (14:06):

Sean I’m curious if the report explores again on the skillset side, does the report explore how the IT professionals that have been traditional end-user compute people, how they’re going about actually changing their mindset, how are they obtaining new skills? Are they skilling up? Like we talked about with Mary, these aren’t just the technical skills, it’s analytical thinking, soft skills, communication, collaboration, leadership, art. Do you feel or did you see that folks are actively pursuing those skills or to Tom’s point, are we evolving and the people who just naturally have these skills are rising to the top?

Sean Malvey (14:47):

Short answer to the question, we didn’t actually look at the skills that had, we kind of focused just on salary data and career progression however [crosstalk 00:14:56] think what’s indicative was the fact that a lot of these people are getting the majority of their work focused on this subject. The salaries are quite competitive, I can share that soon. Their career progression is quite easy. I think all of that points to the fact that, these types of people kind of like what Mary was saying earlier, they’re creative thinkers, typically not always but typically you’ll find that they’re going to be a little bit more personable than the standard IT worker from what we think of in the past.

Sean Malvey (15:28):

They have kind of a proactive mindset as well so that means not just focusing on the here and now and ticket data and when things go wrong and trying to figure it out but it’s also, how do you eliminate a lot of those manual tasks? How do you eliminate those problems so you don’t have to keep coming back and trying to solve the same issues over and over? Those are some of the things that I think would qualify the skills that you find within this group but I think it’s a good question and hopefully a next go around we can really start to explore the skills that these people have possibly for the next survey we do.

Tom  McGrath (16:01):

Sounds good. I mean, let’s take a moment to think about IT leaders in this sort of landscape. Mary, I know CIOs were already facing major challenges around skill assessment leading into the pandemic, something you’ve written about before yourself. How do you characterize these first of all?

Mary K. Pratt (16:21):

Well, I think CIOs are looking at needed skills the way they’re looking at their technology, their technology stack. They’re looking at a roadmap of where their companies are going to go, where the markets are going, where technology is evolving and developing a strategy and a roadmap for what kind of skills they’re going to need to pull all of this together and as Sean was saying these skills are increasingly going to be focused in part, at least on how to deliver a great experience for these employees who are going to drive the economic growth and competitiveness of these companies.

Mary K. Pratt (17:01):

So they’re identifying the full range of skills they’re going to need on their teams and what combinations they’re going to need in what levels and what places, there will still be good opportunities for these hardcore tech people probably in architecture, in places like that but increasingly CIOs are drawing roadmaps for some of these other business acumen skills and the interpersonal skills, I think you see it already with Agile and DevOp development, so digital experience and the worker experience focus is just an extension of what we’ve seen in terms of skill requirements already built in within the IT organization. They’re just going to become more valuable for those employees who have them and more expensive for those CIOs hiring for them.

Tim Flower (17:49):

So on that same topic, Mary I’m curious over the years or even decades, we see the trend, in-source everything outsource everything, hybrid model where you turn to specialists, I’m curious, a lot of the CIOs that I talk to, especially in the context of changing behaviors and changing how they think and reorgs and needing new skills, sometimes we get the feedback that says, “I don’t have the right skillset to take this on right now,” or “I may have the skillset but I don’t have the right capacity with those skills.” I’m curious what you’re seeing in terms of trends, are CIOs looking to up-skill their existing teams, acquire skills externally or even turn to service providers. What are you seeing for the current trend as we go through this transformation?

Mary K. Pratt (18:35):

I think it’s always fluid. I think that these topics as you said, they’ve always kind of been in play. I don’t think that’s going to change. I also think it depends on the organization, it depends on the investment they’re getting from their fellow C-suite executives, what they value in the marketplace. I think there are some CIOs who in conjunction with their colleagues in that executive rank, these executive ranks are going to see this is such a competitive advantage that they’re going to want to keep this in-house they’re going to want to hire for it when they have to and they’re going to upskill their workers because those workers who are in the organization bring value too, they know each other which is important in those interpersonal areas, if you already know your colleagues, that’s a valuable thing. So those workers are still very valuable to companies.

Mary K. Pratt (19:28):

So different things that they’re lacking whether it’s using the monitoring technologies or other development techniques or what have you, so we’re going to see a real mix and it’s going to be really reflective of what the CIO and by extension the organization really sees as a competitive advantage and that may change. There are some times where a CIOs go through a tremendous amount and their IT organizations go through tremendous digital initiatives, lots of transformations and then they kind of hit that steady state where everyone just kind of adjusts and then maybe it is getting talent leaves, they might outsource it, they might not hire for it right away and then they ramp up again. I think these, if anything I think the big change is that these issues will become increasingly fluid and more strategic as CIOs decide what we need when and what combination we need and workers move around based on that, we’re just going to see more of that transient and fluid nature around these workplace dynamics I think.

Sean Malvey (20:29):

Do you mind if I jump in for a second, Mary had me thinking about also from the report as she was talking, you have colleagues that are kind of there to help with this build development and that’s one thing that we found from the report that the majority of the people are moving to their next position within DEX are usually promoted internally. So it’s based on merit. They don’t need to formally apply for that position. They don’t need to go outside and then try to go up the corporate ladder. So that’s one thing that kind of caught my attention, I’m not entirely sure if that’s a similar trend you’d find elsewhere in IT but it’s definitely much a career path where you kind of have to prove yourself and if you do well enough, you’re going to get a bump in salary and more responsibility.

Tim Flower (21:15):

Yeah so a great segue, Sean I’m curious as we think about that individual who’s making the career progression and I’ve seen that’s the same thing in my career, if you prove yourself, if you show you’ve got the skill, it’s an evolution of your job responsibility. It’s not in some cases, it’s an-

Tom  McGrath (21:37):

Brilliant [crosstalk 00:21:37]

Tim Flower (21:37):

Evolution of your position at the company too. Outside of money motivators and money is a big motivator in terms of salary and what your value is to accompany but outside of the money motivator, what are you seeing that would motivate an IT pro to make this shift into DEX, right? I love my systems management platform, I love my help desk tool, I love whatever it is that I’m working on but why would I want to as an IT professional make a shift into this new world?

Sean Malvey (22:08):

Well aside from salary, which I think is an important factor, I do think maybe to take a step back and I’ll try to answer it without the salary report, I do think it actually comes down to fundamental personality that you’re dealing with. I think a lot of these people again are big picture people. They approach problems differently just anecdotally, I was speaking to a thought leader the other day that we’re working with here at Nexthink and he talked about establishing this group of individuals that he wanted to create loyalty with them and that they’re not only very technically focused but again, they like to try to figure out how do we tackle a really big issue that happens in the company and what can I do to add my little grain of salt to figure this out.

Sean Malvey (22:58):

Another kind of simple analogy you can think of is some of the best professors I’ve had in my life for economics, economists are able to get very technical in one moment and then connect seemingly disparate pieces of information and form a cohesive narrative and I think that’s the type of person it comes from within, they have that type of belief maybe years later after hitting the grindstone and working in IT for 10 or 20 years, facing the same issues you come to that realization that can certainly happen as well but I do think a lot of people this is a drive that kind of comes from within.

Tom  McGrath (23:33):

I think you did a great job answering that question without going into the salary data Sean but now you’re going to opportunity to answer it by delving into that nitty gritty, tell us what you found in terms of how these professionals are being remunerated.

Sean Malvey (23:49):

Sure. So we found that on average, out of the 1000 respondents we had, they average about $116,000 and that’s across four countries that we surveyed which is if you go into the specific countries significantly higher than the industry average, that you’d find in IT. I think I mentioned earlier that we split the respondents by top senior positions and middle management level. If you look at just that top tier, the top senior position within the United States, they earn a significantly higher than the IT industry average, 83% higher. They average a salary of, excuse me, they average salary of $148,000 which is 83% higher than the industry average in the United States. The other thing that we learned about that though, so it’s not only just pay in what you’re getting on paper, they also feel like they’re remunerated correctly, right?

Sean Malvey (24:48):

They feel like they’re earning the salary that they’re given and we found a few trends that when you have not only a high salary on paper but most of those same people have support from their leadership within IT and outside of it so they have support from the business leaders, a majority of them have support, they feel like their jobs are taking more effect and having more impact so when you have that combination of support within your leaders and then a high salary, it tends to make for a more positive work environment and a few other things, if you want me to just rattle off some other things that I thought was interesting from this group is that 70% of them see themselves moving in to the C-suite or in senior leadership positions in the next five years.

Sean Malvey (25:38):

So this is a very ambitious driven group. You probably have that in other aspects of IT but I do think it’s indicative of what we’ve experienced since the pandemic. These people are becoming more relevant since the pandemic came into effect and they realize that in a couple of years, if they really put their heads down they can move into those roles.

Tom  McGrath (26:00):

Brilliant answer. A lot of reasons for me to find a new career in the DEX space, I think as a practitioner rather than a content person. Mary you’ve just written a wonderful new article for our brand new DEX Hub called Why Do Employee-First IT Pros Make More Money? I’m sure some of the terrain Sean just covered, you cover there as well. Anything to add to that overview however?

Mary K. Pratt (26:24):

I think it comes down to almost basic economics. Companies invest in areas that deliver great returns. These DEX employees, these DEX IT pros make workers happier and more productive. If they’re happier they stay longer, if they’re productive, they deliver for the company so companies will invest in these IT pros that deliver on this because they in turn deliver the kind of returns that companies value. I think it is really just basic economics in that regard.

Tom  McGrath (27:01):

That’s the end of this week’s episode. Huge thanks to Sean and Mary and Tim of course and a reminder to make sure you check out the new DEX Hub by Nexthink at dex.nexthink.com. It’s where IT change-makers connect until next time change-makers.

Speaker 2 (27:23):

To make sure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player and if you’re listening on Apple Podcast, make sure to leave a rating of the show, just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. If you’d like to learn more about how Nexthink can help you improve your digital employee experience, head over to nexthink.com. Thank you so much for listening until next time.