What is Your Purple Squirrel?
In the engineering world, and perhaps other walks of life, there is many a reference to the elusive “purple squirrel.” What is that you may ask, as you have every right to. It’s a free country. Well, to me, it’s that one thing, person, factor that you know you want but is absurdly difficult to find. To some, it may be the optimal design for a part, someone else, the perfect employee for a role or for others with distinct issues, an actual purple squirrel (yikes).
My purple squirrel is any high-tech engineer falling in the two- to seven-year experience window with a positive attitude and enthusiasm to change the world. Pretty simple right? There must be thousands out there all ready to go. Well, my dear friends, that’s not the case.
The job market is so good for the high-tech sector that most of these purps already have great gigs going for them. The glamour trees on the West Coast like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have rolled out the red carpet and captured the purplest (is that even a word?) of them all and served them with so many acorns of benefits that they are untouchable to companies like mine, a small bush in the Midwest suburbs.
How do I find my purple squirrels? One way is look at innovative ways to attract them my way. The culture is changing and so is the needs of the employee, especially in the high-tech sector. For some, it’s not the size of the acorn, but the variety of nuts. As a services organization, variety is the core of our business. You can design the control algorithm for autonomous cars for three months and code up the dispensing algorithm for an ATM for the next three. How do you like them nuts now? If we do manage to somehow attract some interest, the danger here is now that they have been gorging on West Coast acorns; we may not be able to afford them and still turn a profit.
The other more palatable option would be to go find some bushy tailed and bright-eyed “green” squirrels out there and invest some time and effort in “colorizing” them to the perfect shade of mauve. An internship program or even an approach to hire on campus with the ability to maintain a “bench’ of talent which is being trained up in the right skillsets could be looked upon as a good approach.
Many companies do it and it’s not really rocket science but in the current environment, this strategy would make a lot of sense. Even this approach comes with its issues. Once the greens turn purple, how do we keep them from bolting to the western frontier? Do we offer bigger acorns or better variety of nuts? What about the dreaded “Millennial-need-for-purpose” that everyone is talking about? We don’t have a cornhole game in our lobby and we don’t have free soy-free mocha carmelatto flat-whites in the breakroom. (Aargh! — breathe, breathe.)
So, do you have a purple squirrel? What is your plan for finding it? While you ponder that conundrum, I’m going to head to the park for a walk, then a seat on the bench to watch the kids play, hear the birds sing and follow the squirrels as they scurry around. Because who knows, if I’m lucky, one of them may even be purple.
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