Last night, I was watching American football on my television. I had just finished eating dinner with my wife, who was still in the other room, and I was relaxing on the couch while being bombarded with advertisements. During this moment of zen, a particular ad caught my attention. After its 30 seconds had elapsed, I was left dumbfounded.
My wife immediately got the report when she reentered the room: “I just saw a commercial recruiting software engineers to join a Fortune 10 company. On television. During a Sunday Night Football telecast.”
My friends, what has the world come to?
If you haven’t seen them, the ads are being run by GE and titled “What’s the Matter with Owen?” You can watch them on YouTube. And they’re shining a new light on two trends that will increasingly dominate American business.
Software engineers are the weapons in a new business arms race
When a company like GE spends millions of dollars to advertise on network and cable television to recruit a specific class of professional into its ranks, you know that something big is happening. I, for one, have never seen such a naked plea for employees aired in such a costly public venue.
If your company needs software engineers, or if you think you’ll ever need them, you should be paying attention.
There’s a terrible shortage of good software engineers in the U.S. Check that – there’s a terrible shortage of even average software engineers. Companies are going all-out to attract and retain them, and this latest salvo from a massive company is more than just a reminder of that fact.
Rather, I believe that it represents an acceleration of the arms race between American businesses, where developers are the warheads and CEO’s are the nervous generals running simulations on their light-up tactical maps. GE is losing the talent war as it watches software-first firms like Google, Facebook, and a billion cool start-ups swallow the employable base. These ads are a sign of pure desperation on their part, and I think we’re going to see more stuff like this in the next couple of years.
Software engineers are mainstream
The choice of venue for the ads was also an interesting aspect that’s worth discussing.
It’s strange when the worlds of tech geeks and sports jocks collide in any setting. But having witnessed the most red-blooded American past-time (televised football) collide with a frequently chosen career arc of introverts everywhere (software engineering), I felt a strange disconnect from the reality that I thought I knew. If it wasn’t already, software development is now definitely mainstream.
The implications of this phenomenon are many, but an important one is the rejection of the idea that targeting engineers should be much different from targeting the rest of the population. Yes, engineers tend to have personality traits that send them towards the SyFy channel and Dungeons & Dragons, but a huge proportion of the group is also drawn to sports, business, politics, and other mainstream stuff. Not all of them are attracted to Mountain Dew in the break room and a video game lounge – many of them want a cappuccino, an in-depth discussion of film noir, or a sports-watching party.
If you’re hiring engineers, this is an important trend to watch. You should be catering to them on all of their dimensions, not just the stereotypes. Kudos to GE for figuring this out in their outreach strategy.