Hemang Dani is amazed that in the past six months, he has boosted his income to £2,500 a month by working for companies in the UK, US, Germany and Australia. Not bad, considering the low cost of living in his home city of Mumbai, India. Dani's projects range from coding "shopping carts" and enabling credit card processing on websites to managing portals as a webmaster.
When he was a 16-year-old student, Jeff Kiiza would never have imagined that 10 years later he would be writing code in Perl, PHP/MySQL and AJAX for companies in Spain, Australia, the US and Canada -- and that he would be doing it from his home in Cordoba, Argentina. "Back then, it would have been a dream or science fiction," he says. "But the availability of greater free-flowing bandwidth and companies turning to the internet have allowed it."
Dani and Kiiza have jumped with both feet into the global talent pool. Both worked for overseas organisations even before they joined Menlo Park, Desk Corporation's online marketplace, which links programmers with businesses that need their services. Kiiza coded for a university in Tanzania, and Dani picked up work through , which is owned by Swedish company Innovate IT.
And because there are more programmers like Dani and Kiiza every day in developing parts of the world, IT professionals in the UK are now competing in the global talent pool as well. While many companies recruit globally only when their need is short-term or where particular skills are scarce or too expensive in the domestic labour market, some are going global simply to find the best of the best, according to Kevin Wheeler, president of recruitment consultancy Global Learning Resources. "Cisco, Microsoft, Google -- these companies have clearly taken the position that they're going where the talent is," he says.
Companies such as MySQL do not care where employees live -- they recruit looking for raw talent. The open source software maker's 320 employees live in 25 countries, and 70% work from home, says Steve Curry, director of corporate communications at MySQL.
Even the more traditional companies, such as Henkel, a consumer products maker in Düsseldorf, Germany, are letting the work flow to the worker when the firm is in search of scarce talent. Henkel's need for IT professionals with experience in SAP's Advanced Planning and Optimiser module prompted the company to extend its talent search outside Western Europe and North America, even though these are the areas where the software is used the most, says Amy Bloebaum, chief information officer at Henkel’s US division. "When we're looking for a specialised skill that's in high demand, we're very flexible in terms of where the talent is located," she says.
With all this in mind, IT professionals in today's job market need to begin preparing now to join the global talent market. "If you're 45 and plan to work until you're 65, you're going to be forced to embrace this," Wheeler says.
Do keep up
To play in the global game, you do not have to be young, but you do have to exude what technology recruiter David Hayes calls "relevance". This means having at least a basic understanding of some of the so-called web 2.0 technologies that have emerged in the past few years, such as blogs, wikis, podcasting and RSS feeds.
"The world has changed, and you can either change with it or get swept up by it," says Hayes, president of recruitment firm HireMinds. On your CV, “if you don't talk about something you do that's connected to one of these new spaces, you won't even be considered”, he says. “So start running a cooking blog or say you enjoy podcasting your wife's rock band."
Another key area to at least understand and perhaps participate in is the open source community. "There's a belief system in there, and you have to be able to express that," Hayes says. "If you want to know what's going on in the world, participate in it."
This may not be easy for IT veterans, but it is a good way to rejuvenate their careers, Wheeler says. "I'll talk to an IT guy with 15 years of experience who knows three or four different programming languages and has really good system experience. Then I start talking about phishing or blogs or PHP, and they look at me like, 'Huh?'" he says. "I don't expect you to do that stuff, but at least you should have heard of it."
IT professionals seeking to work on-site in a corporate setting also need to hone their personal marketing messages, particularly about how they bring value to the business. "Most of our customers want someone in their physical office because it requires interaction with the business community and a holistic connection to the business," says Hayes.
Unfortunately, this is not what comes across in the bulk of the CVs Bloebaum sees. "It's very important for job candidates to convey how they made a difference in their last job," she says. "When you read as many [CVs] as I do, it becomes apparent very quickly which ones think of their technology experience in a business context [and which] think in a technology context."
Even IT professionals who pursue hot technology areas such as reusable software components, service-oriented architecture or wireless applications are practically unemployable if they cannot meld that knowledge with how it is used, says Diane Morello, an analyst at Gartner. If you market yourself as an expert in reusable software, you also have to convey your ability to synthesise information about business processes and translate that into software modules, she says. "You need to take a larger view than your own specific job -- whether it's a global view, an industry view or a process view," Morello says.
This, says Wheeler, is how IT professionals can show what he calls "charisma". "So many people who have IT skills are technicians -- competent executors of things like writing code," he says. "But when you talk to recruiters and hiring managers, they want an IT person who's skilled but has some edge -- some understanding beyond just being a technician."
Western European and US companies are not the only ones looking for these intangible traits. Indian firms such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies are recruiting workers overseas. At Infosys, for instance, the Global Talent Programme looks for graduates from top UK and US universities for software engineering positions.
A key characteristic that Infosys seeks is "learnability", says Bikramjit Maitra, vice president of human resource development at the company. "We take people for their ability to learn, not just for the specific knowledge they have," he says.
Matt Sorge is a 24-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from the US who was recruited to train in India. "In the interview, I spoke a lot about the fact that I worked at two to three jobs that were fast-changing and dynamic and that I had to learn on the spot to contribute to the common goal each day," he says. "They were looking for that type of individual because information technology is changing every day, and they don't need people who are stagnant."
It is a trait that Sorge notices not only among the software engineers he meets in India but also in many employees, from the instructors at Infosys to the maintenance people in the hotel where he stays. "Everybody here is extremely motivated and willing to be here until the job is done," he says.
Sorge's time in India will also help him as employers increasingly look for candidates with multicultural experience and the ability to work on global teams. "I'm not saying we won't hire people with experience in [just] one business, one function or one country," Bloebaum says, "but it's quite important for people who come from a variety of skills and backgrounds to make up the IT organisation."
The preferred candidate is willing to work within a global model, says John Dubiel, who was recently hired to be practice director at Tata Consultancy Services North America. "Employers want people who understand different work models, like offshore models, or where your team is in multiple geographic locations," he says.
It also includes having an open mind about your source of employment. "People in the UK and Europe are much more accustomed to working for multinationals [with overseas headquarters] than Americans are," Morello says. "It's a difference between parochial thinking and global thinking -- that global doesn't necessarily mean Western."
Dubiel says a company's location will matter even less over the next five years. The issue of whether someone works for a UK, US or Indian company will be irrelevant, he says. "All these companies that offer services are pretty much the same; only the headquarters will change."
When that happens, it will become more important than ever for IT professionals to grab hold of their careers and start steering them. "Many people sleepwalk through their careers," Morello says, "but even older programmers can expand themselves to look at other aspects of knowledge they possess and make it part of the living, breathing experience they offer to a company."
How to get found
The global talent pool is a larger place than most IT professionals are accustomed to operating in -- so large, in fact, that it is easy to get lost in the depths. It is also an increasingly virtual place. Recruiters, job seekers and the most talented people in the technology profession spend much of their time on the web.
In fact, being visible to potential employers means that you need to be "findable", and that means being in places where people are congregating today, says David Hayes, president of recruitment firm HireMinds. "And it's not at church on Sunday morning any more," he adds.
There are people who get jobs easily who have never even written a CV because they are not posting to CareerBuilder.com any more, Hayes says. "They just have a profile on a social network."
It is important to ask yourself what a recruiting manager would find if they searched for you on the web, says Kevin Wheeler, president of recruitment consultancy Global Learning Resources. Becoming active on blogs, podcasts or in open source communities or creating your own web page are all ways to become more easily findable.
"If you don't have a blog or a website and you never made a public speech or aren't part of a volunteer group or committee, there won't be anything out there, so you have to build a presence for yourself," Wheeler says.
Another tactic is to "search-optimise" your CV by including a keyword section on it where you can list relevant terms such as the industries you have worked in and the technologies you are able to apply, Hayes suggests. "You're spoon-feeding them the words they'll be searching for," he explains. "It makes you findable, and it also shows you're connected, since search engines are a giant part of the employment process."
How to get ahead: career tips from Gartner analyst Diane Morello
Swim or sink. If you are planning on following a pure technology track, set a goal to be the most excellent, the most adept and one of the fastest people out there for moving into new areas of technology, Morello says. "If you're not continually refining what you're doing, you do lose ground."
Pick the fast lane. Be ruthless about which industries provide the most forward-looking opportunities in your interest area, and be realistic about where the best job options lie. "If I go to the IT-specific job boards, 70% to 80% of the jobs are at service providers," Morello says.
Practice with winners. Do not discount how important it is to work with the most dynamic, top-notch people, whether through electronically mediated forums or in person. "By virtue of working with them, you're expanding and enriching yourself," Morello says.