Author: Sean McLaughlan

How to hire the best people for your technology firm.


Hiring the right people for your company is no small task. When recruiting for a large department within a larger organisation, business owners and senior management tend to hand off the responsibility to subordinates, only getting involved at potential second interview stage, if at all. When hiring for a smaller company, if you’re busy on other projects, you may have to place that trust in someone else you hope will make the right decision. What we all value, differs from person to person, but ultimately, what we all look for in others, tends to be very similar; trust, loyalty, integrity, honesty and determination, to name just a few. If you’re nodding your head right now, you have more than likely been a part of the hiring process at some time or another, and see some of yourself in this.

Working with recruiting agencies becomes a headache those hiring have to endure at some point or another. Those worth working with, will know your company well, and match on a variety of factors beyond a standard “concentration” game-type pairing of CV buzzwords to your specification of the tasks. They will hopefully analyse CVs to determine between those who just want to be employed, by anyone, compared to those who want the job you’re offering for personal development and job satisfaction. But what about beyond this? Several Directors I have come across place faith in a solid education. Those good with Science or Maths become better programmers, those with strong English and Business Management skills become better customer service agents, and so on. I’ve personally seen this to be true, regardless of previous experience, although individuals rarely fit a mould that is perfect. Maybe, what we should be looking for, and those recruiters as well, is someone with the potential to meet those needs and fulfil a role, rather than someone who can do everything already. Of course, we need to set some benchmarks to see how that person will deal with the job at hand. But, if we open our minds just a little, we may just find excellence in the sometimes murky waters of resumes, and maybe our best business assets, at a fraction of the price.

The truth is that if this person has a strong enough background to handle the role you are seeking to fill, then anyone should be able to see this really quickly from a CV. Some of us are quick to dismiss those who have worked in local Supermarkets or Fast-food chains, when ultimately, these types of candidates often deal with some of the most difficult, unreasonable and downright abusive people that any profession has to deal with. They face adversity head-on, face-to-face, with professionalism (most of the time), and yet can be dismissed as stupid, ignorant, or unfocussed to have a career in our corporate-leaning organisation. Sadly, some of our best workforce contributors in any economy, can be stuck in minimum wage jobs, with great academic backgrounds, screaming on the inside to get out of their rut. They just need you to take the chance on them. Some people in these types of positions, are very happy to be there, and are sensible enough to see the opportunity in front of them, and go for it, regardless of what they saw themselves doing or want long-term. There are those that are happy to plod along in the same role, doing the same thing, for the rest of their lives. The brilliant part is, all of these types of people can be a perfect fit for you too. The rest is personality, something that most people, cannot fake or change.

And, mistakes will be made. Maybe you have sat in an interview with a candidate whose customer service excellence shone as soon as they entered the room. Only for them, just six months later, to become locked in a room with no windows, no phones and a grunt in the general direction of anyone who even remotely resembles a “customer”. Locked inside that person, was a hard-working, focussed and dedicated programmer, trapped behind the façade of a customer-pleasing mogul. Regardless of who they were, or who you thought they were, this person remains as much an asset as any other. The one who came in answering your questions with short, precise answers, who is currently building bird-tables at the local garden centre, and who feels nervous in an interview scenario; they just might become the head of your Programming team, whose skills and exceptional work ethic were there, hidden behind their First-class Honours Maths degree, and a dead-end job.

Many in the tech industry complain about a lack of skilled applicants in the market for their roles. If only they had invested the time and money (yes, the two things we all hate wasting) in believing in someone who does not necessarily fit their cookie-cutter definition of a good tech employee. I would say to them, if you have the scope, and enough staff around you that you trust, you can all collectively invest small amounts of time to make that lowly applicant the very best they can be, in a short space of time, on a lower wage than those with the skillset right now. Their drive to learn and thrive will soon shine out in only a few weeks of their probation time, and if it doesn’t, there’s no shame in saying, “I was wrong. This person isn’t right”. True leaders of successful businesses in many industries know that looking after their employees means their customers are taken care of, by default. If they are wanted and needed, learning and growing, your employees will give you back ten-fold what you gave to them. All because, you took a leap of faith, and gave them an opportunity someone else failed to.

Of course, we all know that some will not see the brilliant opportunity that you place in front of them. Some will let us down so terribly, that we second-guess ourselves and our own abilities to judge the right candidate. However, in the end, taking a chance on a person comes down to a gut feeling. Recent scientific research has shown that your gut has more neurons than your spinal column, and a primal connection exists between our brain and our gut. That instinct is a part of ourselves that successful business people trust time and again. Those of us who do not, who question ourselves due to bad previous experiences, tend to have had bad managers, telling them that they should be “this”, or are more like “that”. Will you make a mistake? It’s possible. But then, no one did anything right by being perfect all the time, did they? Did you, at one time or another, wish that someone had seen in you what others failed to? Trust your instinct, and take a chance. You just might surprise yourself, and those around you.

Expensive Enterprise Software Is Not Always Better


The implementation of a new software on a large scale, across multiple divisions, departments, or continents, can generally seem a daunting task for the uninitiated. Even for those with some experience in this area, will know that there will be a significant portion of time, money and effort taken up by this kind of project. They remember the headaches, and the sleepless nights, making sure everything came together in a timely fashion. Depending on the type of software being purchased, there will often be providers willing to take over the realisation of a new tool, and send in a team of “Consultants” to implement the tool across your business in a structured, considered manner. For this service, many companies sometimes spend seven-figure sums, without really looking closely at the software and its features. They rarely ask the question, “Does it really do what we need it to?”, and in turn, “Do the people we’re paying to implement this, understand what we need?”.


There is a significant portion of decision makers who have large monetary budgets, and must be seen to be spending it. Well, at least, there used to be. This group is slowly reducing, as we are all asked to do much more, with much less as the new century progresses. Financial plans are being heavily scrutinised, as shareholders ask for more return for their investment, or the money will soon be moved to another interest. High-ranking employees are being removed from their roles in constant cycles; seen to making the bold changes needed to remain competitive, “spending money to make money”, and yet failing to produce what is actually needed. They may be relying on those below them to research their big-brand choices thoroughly, before making a call on which one to use, and how to move forward. It is easy for them all to think that if you are paying more, you must be getting more. Right? Wrong!


It has been the unfortunate experience of this blogger that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many solutions out there in the market, with marketing campaign figures that look like telephone numbers, promise something that is usually over-charged, and often underperforms when in place. I come into contact with corporate folk regularly, all with either personal experiences of being burned by software houses, or peers who have a horror story or two to tell. Without fail, someone at some point had become mesmerised with the pretty marketing. They wanted this well-known product on their CV, knowing what this level of solution implementation would do for their career. They have looked at brands who have previously established a reputation for being the best in class, the ones they thought had their head and shoulders above the rest. The type of business everyone aspired to be. However, they mostly recall abandoned projects, or ones that came very close to the edge of the abyss. They will tell you what I am telling you now. Bigger and more expensive is not necessarily better.


I’ll tell you a quick little story, not exactly a fairy-tale. Once upon a time, there was a large UK company, thousands of employees, with a large budget to implement a leading software throughout their business. They weren’t hunting through Google for something that fit their needs, but instead went for a name that rang bells whenever it was mentioned. People at the end of the phone call were impressed, business lunches spoke of nothing else, and it caused a huge buzz amongst those who previously thought their employer had lost touch with the real world. But, not now surely? They were spending the money, so they must mean business? Sadly, this tale did not end happily ever after. Over a year later, the millions of Sterling they had spent on the product was being written off by a Finance team who hadn’t been previously consulted on what they needed. The product was abandoned entirely, and a whole list of clever, skilled and good people were now scouring the job lists with the rest of the unemployed. As the cool kids would say, “Sad face”.


The moral of my story is that big mistakes are easily avoidable, if the time is taken to find a product that meets your requirements, regardless of the price tag. It has also been my experience that large software rollouts can be a huge success story for your business, and your career. It can be the making, and not the breaking of you. It can be the step up you need, and I can assure you now, there’s no quick way of getting there. Just put the effort in, and truly understand what different areas of your organisation really need to get their tasks done, to utilise their time more efficiently, and reinvigorate morale. Software can either create a happier, easier life, or it can add to the misery of a workforce praying for that lottery win. Be the Heroine or Hero of your story, and know what you are getting from your software choice.


If it’s not present, make sure you discuss with your provider some room for development work. Sometimes well-established smaller brands will give you everything you need, and will work tirelessly to deliver. They will take the burden from you, but you need to tell them everything you need, in a detailed manner. Just because they have less employees, doesn’t mean they produce a product any less suitable for yours with more. There are software companies that will go the extra mile to give you a product that works well for you. They will add generic changes that benefit all of their users, whilst fitting a specific role or task that is causing you a headache. They want your success story to be their success. Bigger brands may be much more concerned with the numbers than you losing your job. They will, without exception, offer a trial period, which you will need to evaluate what they offer at no cost at all. This is your opportunity to put their promises to the test, and yet, it is so often undervalued. The stance that the product with a large price tag will do everything you could ever want, is an assumption often adopted, so regularly it beggars belief. And, as the saying goes, we all know what assumptions are.


Before implementing your next software solution, make sure you know exactly what it does do, and more importantly, what it doesn’t do. Build in a reasonable period for testing, by those who will be using the software on a daily basis. “Test to break” should be your new manta. It is a skill to see beyond the grim faces around you, ignore those who hate change, and identify what is truly needed; the items that are critical, and those that are simply nice to have. Watch how quickly their “essential” item becomes completely irrelevant when you tell them how much it will cost to do this, or has the potential to put them out of a job. Work with a development house who are interested in getting to know you and your requirements list. If they say, “Yes!” to all of your feature questions, get them to show you. Then go away and put some real-life scenarios into the software, and speak with those “on the ground” for unusual situations, or incidents that consumed a lot of time, money and resource. Usually, simple things can be done to reduce the impact to operations, or in some cases, eradicate it completely. Whether they charge you large amounts or small, if they don’t care, you will never be truly happy with your choice.


Without wanting to sound like a life-inspiration quote from your Instagram feed, the right software choice really will enhance your life, but please don’t ever assume that money buys you everything, and buys you happiness. I promise you, it rarely ever does.

The Dangers of Open Source Software In Critical Business Functions


The move to open source programs has become a mainstream choice, where even large enterprise companies use open source software as part of their critical business processes, such as IT help desks. Many of the leading software competitors in all fields will offer a form or edition of their software that is a lite version, stripped down to bare basics, and some use open source programming . Some would argue that open-source software can be a brilliant lead-in to some of the larger products in any given software niche. To ensure maximum exposure, offering lite or open versions of your app can certainly increase your user adoption. For the Supplier of the software, there are only positives. For the consumer, however, the negative aspects of starting off on these free versions, can easily outweigh the positives.

As a free option, many go for this first, and put time and effort, both expensive commodities for any business, without investigating the full product; the one they would (eventually) have to pay for. Free and open source software popularity continues to grow despite its many dangers and pitfalls. So, what are these dangers?

Let’s take help desk software as an example. For an IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) or IT department supporting internal users, free open-source software seems, at first, a great idea. After all, you have good, sound tech know-how at your fingertips. One of the team knows some HTML, another knows some Microsoft SQL Server, another some basic database skills. You download the free open-source software, spend 10 business hours putting all your end users in, some statuses, and a few categories to report on, and you’re up and running. Simple, right?

OK. Now, go 6 months down the line. Your customer base has grown, you have more staff to train, more customers to support, and the demands on your team grows. Everyone’s earning money, so everyone is happy. That is, until someone realises that the software you implemented was so cheap, the open source code is a nightmare to determine, as different people have different coding methods within the same language. Some will be tidy, others messy. One will think one way, and their counterpart, completely differently. Your customers want reporting. Your bosses are imposing Service Level Agreements, with priority and timings for you and your colleagues to meet. You need to have some calendar appointment function, so you know where you all are in the week. Everyone is too busy on other, time sensitive, financially impacting projects to help you tweak that open source code.  Those 10 business hours now appear to have been a complete waste of time. The costs to your business now are immeasurable, and the task ahead of you, twice as hard.

So, if this is you, or about to be you, what should you be mindful of?


Some fear this word, but it really shouldn’t be a heavy task. Look at your requirements. No matter the size of your business, sitting with your colleagues over a period of time, discussing their needs and wants, will always lead to a good, basic platform from which to launch your new software acquisition. Otherwise, focussing on something for a while that could only be needed the person who sits next to you, could be a considerable waste to your time.

Associate Time with Cost

So many think that their time is free of charge. They get paid the same regardless, so who cares if the project takes a few months? It’s mostly guaranteed that your boss will, or if you are the boss, you know how precious your time can be, when tasks pull you away from growing your department or business. Nothing like this in life comes for free, and requires effort on your part. In the next 5 years, how much is your new software project going to absorb your time, and take you away from other things? Smart cost association now will mean economic choices long term.

Add Priorities

What are the critical modules essential to providing your service to your customer base? Are there key things your functions will need in the next 12 months, but won’t stop you for the moment. Is the thing you want most, more a “nice to have“, than a critical function? The way to assimilate this, as before, is just to add a monetary value to your requirement. If you’re not a programmer, and believe me, I’m not, simply look at a new drop down menu with a few choices as taking an hour to program. If that menu affects 3 or 4 different areas, and has knock on effects, think of it as a day. Paying someone £100 an hour, or £1,000 a day, the costs speak for themselves, and your priorities fast adjust on that basis.

Think Long Term

More than ever, we are being asked to do much more, with less time and money. Demands increase on all of us, and this is unlikely to change. So rather than the things needed for the next few months, look longer in time, to a year or two. Once you are stable, what’s next. Many software companies tend to charge by the module, although there are some that don’t. What will your budget look like then, and how much are these long term goals going to cost you? Always think long term.


Don’t run screaming from this word. Instead embrace it. It’s inevitable, so think about why you wanted to look at open source in the first place. Do you have a specific requirement that is unlike other companies, that is quite specific to yours? Are you struggling to find exactly what you are looking for? Look for a software company who is happy to make changes to their software to meet your needs, without being thoroughly bespoke. There are companies that will make these type of changes for you for free, as you will be helping them sell their software to companies just like yours. Demand more, expect more, get more.


Subject Matter Experts are always useful when looking at these. See if you have experience in your team at looking at this type of project. People join your teams sometimes with a wealth of knowledge from previous roles. Tap into their experiences, and see if you have a few SMEs to utilise. Then nominate at least 2 for the future, even if one of them is yourself. This way, your company is investing in the long term, and there is a plan in place for holidays, sickness, and so on.

No Open Source. Ever.

The best advice I could ever give to a customer is to ensure they don’t go with open source software for major business processes, such as help desks or service desks. It’s fine for smaller, in house tasks, but for larger business processes, steer clear! You will think back and remember this blog, and be glad that you took the advice!