It's been a really busy few weeks for me. I've been working with Paul Andrew on our PDC plans. For a quick look at the SharePoint sessions @ PDC, take a look here. In between PDC planning, I've also been meeting customers & partners at several events such as the Microsoft BI Conference, CIO Summit and a few smaller internal and partner conferences.

One consistent question that's come up from customers, partners and internal Microsoft communities is: "How do we find great SharePoint talent?" I think an equally appropriate question is "How do we keep SharePoint talent?".

So let's start with the first question - How to find great SharePoint talent. There is a lot of talent & interest out there, but it's important to find the right talent. Clearly this question depends on the type of talent you are looking for (eg. developer, IT Professional, architect, designer, analyst), when you need this person (eg. now, in 2 weeks, in 6 months), how long you're looking to engage this type of person (eg. contractor, full-time, 1-time engagement) and several other factors (eg. remote, on-site).

Here are some tips:

Plan ahead for talent. It's not always possible, but the more time you have to hire, the better job you'll do. It's too often that managers put developers or IT professionals with no experience with SharePoint on the job and say "go for it!". One of the most frequent situations I've seen is an ASP.NET developer who is tasked to and expected to develop a SharePoint solution - no. An ASP.NET background is absolutely an asset, but that does not equate to SharePoint experience. Without good planning and architecture for your SharePoint deployments, you could run into challenges later on. For eg., a piece of code that runs just fine right now, may run into performance issues as the content grows. The SharePoint Best Practices Series is really focused on helping our customers & partners to plan appropriately.

If you need to employ someone now, either hire someone who has SharePoint experience or push back your plan, grow and invest in your talent. It's better to wait than to go ahead and deploy/develop in haste.

SharePoint Expertise. SharePoint expertise is a function of training & real-world experience. And as I mentioned before, ASP.NET training/experience does not equal to SharePoint training/experience; SQL DB expertise does not equate to SharePoint IT Pro expertise. It's important to keep in mind that folks with a strong Microsoft background in development or deployment can grow into SharePoint experts - absolutely. I recommend hiring smart dynamic people and investing in them through SharePoint training and certification

If you are looking to hire someone to get started immediately, don't rush your hiring decision. You need to make sure you have found good SharePoint talent. There are a lot of professionals that have SharePoint on their resume - take a deeper look. There is a large pool of SharePoint experts that has steadily increased over the last couple years. Things to look for, by no means comprehensive or a guarantee, are: SharePoint certification, real-world examples/experiences, references & background. Do a serious interview loop. Ironically, this especially goes for short-term contractors and partners you are looking to engage for a short amount of time - you are hiring them for the experience they will bring. Long term employees, of course, you need to make sure they have the competencies you are looking for to be successful at your company and that they possess the ability to learn and become a SharePoint expert.

Remote/Onsite. A strong onsite SharePoint presence is something important to have. Whether it's a development lead or an architect, you need a "quarterback" that is accountable and can make sure the right things get done. This is true not just for SharePoint, but for any software project. If you're hiring a contractor who's a SharePoint rockstar developer/consultant/architect make sure that you either 1) have a quarterback onsite that can run the project and be accountable OR 2) the contractor works onsite. If you lack a strong onsite presence and hire a remote contractor, that doesn't do the job.

Keeping Talent. Investing in your people is a great thing - all managers should do that. It's important for your business, company & people. Many partners & customers have commented that they are having a tougher time retaining SharePoint talent. I can share with you my personal experiences on this front. I think I have one of the strongest teams. All managers should feel the same way about their team with the right hiring, training & growth opportunities. It's important for each manager to have regular career discussions with each employee and have a good understanding of where employees stand; have a management retention strategy and a good pulse on team health. What is the career aspiration for your top talent? What is their trajectory in the current role and in other roles in your company? If someone is talented & their career aspirations can be met by your company, work with them on making the necessary adjustments. If someone is talented & their career aspirations cannot be met by your company, work with them and help them find the right opportunity. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but planning, working with them, and parting with absolutely good intentions is a win/win. What you don't want happening is your top rockstar knocks on your door and says "good-bye". I've been lucky because everyone who has left the team, I've worked with them on that transition. So no surprises. Just like the first point about hiring good talent, plan ahead for keeping talent.