Open Source Beyond Code: #HROS with Ambrosia Vertesi - 1 of 2

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Ambrosia Vertesi

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Part 1 of 2 - Getting beyond the talent war. I was thrilled to have the chance to sit down and have a conversation with Ambrosia Vertesti, Global VP Human Resources at Hootsuite. It's part of my exploration of how open source thinking and practices are spreading beyond the world of code to influence and improve the businesses and cultures around them; in this case, to HR practice and what has become #HROS.

"I am fiercely competitive, but I am collaborative before I am competitive." - Ambrosia Vertesi

Over the past five years running HR for Hootsuite--and growing it from 20 to 1000+ employees!--Ambrosia has had to figure out how to keep up with Hootsuite's enormous growth. Dealing with the challenging realities that many of us face at startups, like limited resources, budgets, and (perceived) talent shortages, forced her to get creative. Along the way, she and a group of her peers noticed that software professionals had institutionalized the way they benefitted from swapping favors, and connections to get things done: Open Source HR (#HROS) was born!

Apart from being fascinated to learn more about Ambrosia's world, I was exploring, peeling back the layers and trying to understand her terminology and perspective--and what drew her to open source. When I get there, I see how and why she and her peers are so keen to apply open source thought and practices to their work. It is for all the same reasons we do it in code and technology: taking advantage of commodity functionality and specializing in what differentiates you saves time, effort, and money. Giving your best back to a community of the like-minded--and admitting what you don't know--will reward you with receiving the best back from your community in return.

Interview video - 21 min.

The Talent War

I heard the term "The Talent War" watching Ambrosia and Lars Schmidt co-present the keynote address at LinkedIn's 2015 Talent Connect conference.

I asked Ambrosia about it. "For a long time, the conversation around recruitment was about this 'war' for talent," she explained, "People started thinking about it as a very combative, carnivorous environment. You had to step on each other to survive. I think this idea was very destructive to HR. People are not resources, they are human beings. A rising tide floats all boats and we should be building ecosystems and we should be collaborating on what's happening in the workforce. I am fiercely competitive, but I am collaborative before I am competitive." Ambrosia points out the importance of creating more talent rather than simply trying to buy everyone on the market. "This idea of the 'War for Talent' ... talent won a long time ago. They decide what they want their education to be; they decide what companies they want to work for and what problems they want to solve. I should be supporting and enabling them in that. And supporting and enabling other practitioners about how we get better about being employers that people want to work for."

No more rock stars, ninjas, and gurus

I brought up Drupal's decade-long challenging hiring situation. Ambrosia suggests that if HR professionals thought "about how you see yourselves ... 'There's a lot of work, we want to build all these amazing things and there's not enough of us!' If we thought the same way, we'd look to partnerships with universities, resourcing the next generation of talent, you'd look at mentorship programs (and reverse mentorship programs!). Why are we not telling the story about the core competencies that are needed? Why are we not showing the data about what's being educated and what's being hired?"

"I think people are doing that now, I think there is a narrative there. But for a long time it was more like, 'There's not enough of you!' You're so precious!' And these words 'rock stars', and 'ninjas' and 'gurus' and all these horrible things. I think it is in mentorship, education and awareness," where you find the real, sustainable solutions to this problem. "I think you have to get to people really early--elementary school, even--to get people interested. As a business, creating an environment that's not a brogrammer culture, that's not based around ping pong tables, and focusing on things like diversity. I want to focus on building those environments so that it becomes more approachable for people who are interested in getting involved."

Based on my experience, I point out that the more different people--from different backgrounds, genders, geographies, and so on--you have helping to solve a problem, the better the solution will be. One thing that truly surprises me in the tech world is how little focus has been placed on diversity, especially since every other conceivable aspect of efficiency, improvement, and practice has been explored and refined to produce the best possible results. Ambrosia agrees, "We all know that. Especially if you are trying to solve a universal problem. Good luck building a technology if you're all just people in Silicon Valley, solving your own problems and drinking your own Kool Aid. You need to have everybody represented."

Fix it with data, mentorship, education, and awareness

"I think technology gets that, but it will be solved through education, accessibility, and exposure. I think a lot of people like the idea of innovation and the democratization that is happening, but if you make it not inclusive, but you make it about the cool kids, or the early adopters, or only Silicon Valley ... the decentralization of the Silicon Valley is a good thing because then people feel like it is something they could do. I hope that this is where the continued investment goes in order for people to feel like this is something as normal as becoming a nurse or a doctor."

Technology is actually approachable and learnable. Not everyone wants to be a ninja or a rock star and you don't need to be one to be in tech. "What I see, having worked in technology for ten years, the people who are creating [technologies] have to have a humility and egolessness--especially if they are working in an open source environment--because people are punching their ideas apart and they want to be collaborative. And those things are required. You see them a lot in technology teams, but as businesses evolve, you don't see the same level of vulnerability and the same level of humility. I hope in my practice, if we can go, 'Hey, we're all trying to solve these problems. No one's perfect. Stop talking about rock stars and how amazing you all are.' And lead with a little bit of, 'Here's the problem we're trying to solve ... This is what we know. This is what we don't know. Can you help us?' ... And build more partnerships, that it'll become a workplace that has a lot more talent at top of funnel."

More from Ambrosia Vertesti and #HROS on the web

  1. #HROS: Open-Source Comes To HR Ambrosia Vertesi & Lars Schmidt, Talent Connect Anaheim Keynote
  2. Open Source HR - #HROS - hros.co
  3. When Open Source And HR Collide - Glassdoor
  4. Insight on Culture, Brand, and Ego from Hootsuite's Ambrosia Vertesi - Techvibes.com

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