Coronavirus Diary: the impact on senior tech recruitment

Paul Wright, head of the technology practice, Odgers Interim, explores the impact of coronavirus on senior level recruitment in the technology industry


In a matter of days, the socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus created an entirely new playing field for the technology sector, and for senior tech recruitment in this space. The first, and most dramatic shift, was in the unified communications market. What many anticipated to be a seven-year journey for an industry geared around remote working, was accelerated within as many weeks.


Following unified comms, came digital platform businesses and marketplaces as online food delivery and doctors-on-demand saw an unprecedented spike in the need for their services. Not every company that has an app-based offering did well, however. Those in transport, travel, hospitality and events saw steep declines in activity and are having to pivot their models in line with government restrictions.


The fallout on senior tech recruitment within the technology sector has been just as dramatic as the initial operational impact on companies. What we experienced immediately was the volatility of the market. There was a lot of stop-starting on projects – particularly large transformations. One minute we had clients who wanted transformation directors and consultants, the next they didn’t. This was particularly true of start-ups and the big tech players. Our clients are telling us that ‘virus volatility’ makes it nearly impossible to forecast financially, and we’ve noticed scale-ups being incredibly careful about the decisions they make.


Many of our larger B2B and B2C tech clients have frozen all hiring. In the main, this is down to their size and the ability to reallocate resources quickly to areas of demand without the immediate need for new hires. This has had a knock-on effect on their transformation programmes with many postponing or even cancelling as they reallocate transformation teams to the new ‘front-line’. This of course, also has an impact on the transformation people they hire.


It’s in the middle-market that we’re seeing the activity. Within the first week of the lockdown we received exploratory calls from PE firms looking for turnaround specialists; either chief financial/restructuring officers or CEOs with restructuring experience who could deploy on demand if their portfolio companies became financially stressed. More than one has since put in place a restructuring expert.


Sales also saw increasing attention — specifically from software firms backed by private equity; although this was arguably a trend pre-virus. Some have booming sales, especially in remote working or cyber. We know that one firm which has products in both unified communications and information security is so busy, that they’ve reallocated all marketing and head office staff to just taking incoming orders and is asking us for sales leaders who can start immediately as they try to manage a level of demand they could never have anticipated. On the other hand, a financial software firm looked to us for a chief sales officer for immediate start to implement a completely new strategic direction for a 220+ person sales team where revenue has flat lined. It’s an odd world right now.


As you’d expect, HR is busier than ever. We’ve seen a number of chief people officer roles push ahead and almost every tech business that needs a HR leader needs help realigning pay structures, implementing furlough schemes and, in some cases, hiring and onboarding new staff remotely. Whilst some of this might sound negative, it’s not. A lot of tech businesses are making the smart move and securing leaders who can plan workforces for every eventuality, including future growth and restructuring, or phases of both.


Like HR, we had a number of CTO or VP (software) engineering roles in play that pressed ahead in spite of coronavirus. The resilience and scalability of both B2B and consumer platforms are being tested heavily right now, and the tech firms who own them want to ensure they can handle the pressure, and in some circumstances, scale-up in a condensed timeframe. This responsibility falls at the feet of the CTO. These are incredibly busy people right now.

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