A reader of the blog had a interesting question that made me think about the value of experience, or the value of "having been around for a while", vs the value of pure passion and excitement and moldability.
I get lots of wonderful email every day with delightful questions, this one made me think harder.
Here is the actual excerpted question…..
….with a quandary: Is it better to hire and train a really bright, freshly minted college grad, or does the extra value returned by someone who's been a web business analyst for several year merit the extra expense?
The answer is of course: It depends.
In many industries experience trumps everything. "You have operated a lathe / the Space Shuttle / a school bus for 15 years? Congratulations Ian you have the job – Jack could you show new graduate Avinash from Ohio State the door please, do let him know we appreciate his passion."
The web in some ways is unique, at the moment.
It is young, it is vibrant, it is evolving at a rapid pace, everything new is old quickly (and yes sometimes it seem the old is "new" again).
This complex organism demands a stunning amount of flexibility from people whose job it is to analyze it. It requires a atypical ability to let go of the past experiences and learned behaviors quickly so as to understand the new in a new way rather than taking the old known square pegs and try fit them in new round holes.
On the web, specifically for analysis of this interesting medium, experience counts for something. But in the grand scheme not as much as it used to.
On the web here is what counts:
1) You actually "get" the web. I mean in your blood you are a web being, you marvel at its beauty, you use it, you love it, you "get" it (very critical if you are ever to be able to "get" your website visitors and make sense of all the clicks you have – no "get" web, no "get" insights).
2) You are a inherently flexible being and you are open to new things, in fact you have experience proving that at every new job you ditched the old junk and moved your employer to the latest optimal mindset, not technology but mindset (very critical for someone to see evolution of the web and understand newest measurement opportunities – clickstream or otherwise). Entrenched mindsets will not win the war when it comes to Web Analytics.
3) Change will not kill you. If you think for a moment this is different from #2. This is critical because human beings love the known, most fear change, and a few can't see future opportunity because they can't or don't want to change. Yet for the foreseeable future the only constant in the web measurement space is change – as you build out a team / skills you want to be ready for that.
4) Critical thinking. From Wikipedia: "Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analyzing and evaluating. It includes all possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense."
You want a Analyst right? Not a Report Writer? You can find critical thinking in a guy flipping burgers at McDonalds or doing advanced statistical analysis. Look for it.
Obviously I am only addressing attitudinal areas above, yet when I look to hire a employee those are the things that I look for. New or Experienced. Young or old. Web newbie or old hand.
I can teach anyone where to press buttons in Omniture or WebTrends. I can teach anyone the definition of bounce rate in HBX or Visual Sciences. It take a couple weeks but I can teach you how to create labels in ClickTracks or filter data in Google Analytics.
I can't "teach" you any of the above four requirements.
I have been a Practitioner / Manager / Director on the "do side" of things (vs sitting outside) for ten years, the last few on the web, and I have found people are "hard wired" for the above four. This could purely because I am not good at teaching, I am not taking that off the table. You tell me what your experience is.
The making of your own expert: A webbie who is flexible, who is not afraid to change and is a critical thinker.
So what was my advice to the blog reader? Is it better to pay more for a experienced person or hire a freshly minted grad (and I am assuming cheaper)?
"It depends on one important criteria. Do you have a strong web analytics program in your company or a person who can provide mentoring / thought leadership?
If the answer is yes then get the smart graduate and teach them the new mindset around analytics and how they should approach looking at numbers on the web. They are impressionable, teach them web analytics is not just clickstream but includes qualitative analysis and experimentation and testing and soon BT. Oh and you have Omniture, they'll learn in a week where the buttons are.
If you don't have someone in your company who can provide true / current thought leadership on web analytics then you are better off paying more and getting someone with the latest thinking and experience. This person can get a grip on what you have and start executing and pointing your company in the right direction. When they have established credibility they can hire perhaps young folks.
If you don't have someone who can point the ship and provide guidance then any passionate fresh grads you hire will wither."
Ok your turn.
What do you think? Would you have given different advice? What has your own experience been (especially if you have like me tried to build out a team of stars who can execute without you)?
Please share your tips, tricks, war stories, critique, brickbats via comments.