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Win the tech talent race, go back to high school

CIOs chasing top tech talent might want to look past age on a resume. Silicon Valley firms are turning to high schools to edge out the competition; plus millenials could automate their own demise and high-tech veggies in Searchlight.

Tech companies in Silicon Valley know better than anyone else how hard it is to elbow past the innovative hordes for a competitive edge -- the area is, after all, home to both the likes of startups such as Dropbox and the world's largest IT corporations.

In fact, the battle for top talent has gotten so competitive out in the Valley that many of these companies have resorted to hiring tweens. As (amusingly) chronicled by Bloomberg's Sarah Frier, Facebook et al aren't waiting for college graduates to fill their summer internships -- they're pursuing individuals as young as 16 years old, braces and all.

But is this really such a shocker? At SearchCIO, we've covered how technology users are getting younger and younger. What's different is that high-tech employers are now officially thumbing their nose at the traditional hiring credentials -- for example, a college degree. And we're not talking just about the Steve Jobses and Mark Zuckerbergs of a generation. 

searchlight, logo, searchcio

With the wide range of educational resources and events accessible to youths nowadays, including online tutorials, Internet communities and hackathons, a technology degree is no longer the most valuable thing on a resume. As a matter of fact, it's probably better for aspiring job candidates to list that they've developed their own mobile app. Put another way, execution is all; what matters less is how you've acquired the skills to get there. Take that, Harvard and MIT.

Case in point: Michael Sayman, the 17-year-old featured in Frier's piece who taught himself how to build mobile apps at age 13, drew Facebook's attention with 4Snaps, a mobile game he built using the social media giant's Parse developer tools; that app now has more than 500,000 users. Shortly thereafter, he was flown out to Menlo Park for a one-on-one with CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- and a place in the social network's summer internship program. He may indeed end up at Harvard or MIT, but he probably doesn't have to.

What other swanky perks are these companies using to lure these tech-enabled youngsters? Try free housing, transportation and concerts -- such as the one Microsoft put on last year for its interns, which featured Macklemore and Deadmau5, no biggie -- and did I mention the hefty salaries?

"As a 19- or 20-year-old, you can make more than the U.S. average income in a summer," 21-year-old Dropbox employee Daniel Tahara told Frier. He interned at two tech startups in the last two years. That is no joke: Job search site Glassdoor Inc. reports that the standard pay for these young interns is more than $6,000 per month -- almost $2,000 more than the average monthly income for U.S. households in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

CIOs, underneath the posh veneer is a message for you and the board room at your companies. "Talent is our No. 1 operating priority and our most important asset," LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shouted out to his 2014 batch of interns. And CIOs of today's digital age know that it's not just about technical know-how, but also the ability to adapt to change and the willingness to risk and fail -- traits that are more the natural province of young upstarts with little to lose than of your middle managers. So if offering talented high schoolers free food and on-site laundry -- or in the case of enterprise CIOs, looking past a candidate's years of experience in IT -- is what it takes to keep up with the talent race, then so be it. The times, they are a'changing.

CIO news roundup for week of July 7

  • An ironic twist to the hiring discussion: Perhaps the technology these talented youngsters are helping to advance will eventually mean their demise, particularly in today's age of smart machines.
  • Human, an iPhone app that tracks physical activity, is proving useful for more than just fitness. Its developers have compiled user data -- a total of 7.5 million miles traveled -- and converted it into arresting visualizations that provide insight into how users from 30 different cities get from point A to point B.
  • Troubled Japanese electronics firms, facing steep competition from their South Korean and Chinese counterparts, are turning to farming to survive. They're converting previously inactive factories into agricultural plants. High-tech head of lettuce, anyone?
  • Selling your used phone might be good for your wallet, but it sure doesn't bode well for your privacy, security software vendor Avast found: It bought 20 smartphones from eBay for testing purposes and was able to recover an overabundance of personal info -- and in one instance even access the previous owner's Facebook page.
  • Who says medical accessories can't be both functional and stylish? With developments in 3-D printing, it's becoming possible to create devices that are not only perfectly tailored to patients' bodies, but also pretty rad, to boot.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups: Tablets for work still the province of the C-suite and Chief marketing technologist emerges to align marketing and IT on SearchCIO.

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What traits do you look for when recruiting for talent?
It's likely a reflection of my own career journey, but I tend to focus more on mindset than on people knowing intimate details of operating systems or command-line parameters, even in technical interviews.  You can pick up the technical skills if you have the aptitude and the basics.  Your mindset is often a product of much more than just technical training or even years of experience.

I'm all for letting people start early and for being less picky about where they are in their overall educational journey, but people who have not yet been "burned" by any kind of failure are often less careful.  They may be innovators, but are they going to step in as hard-core trouble-shooters or people who can see complex projects that don't stem from their own ideas through to fruition?
good points, RouxTheDay. Tech skills aren't where it's all at, for sure; agreed that adaptability (and other soft/people skills) + hands-on experience are paramount nowadays. 
and interesting question on young innovators. maybe why many tech giants are buying out startups for the talent (vs sourcing from colleges/schools) -- the young'uns in those startups have already been "burned"?