Bamboo Solutions: Prioritizing Flexibility
BackBy Ben Warden — April 2008
As a plant, bamboo has been around for millennia, used for everything from making and eating soup to building and reinforcing skyscrapers.
As a company, Bamboo Solutions Inc. has been around for 13 years, and while it can’t help you make and eat soup, it can help build and reinforce Web development.
Bamboo Solutions is a small but growing IT company offering organizations Microsoft SharePoint-based software and support. Founded in 1995 and based in Reston, Va., this company of about 100 employees is focused on IT engineering and providing software for IT people. With offices in Europe and Vietnam, Bamboo has a customer base of more than 3,000 people and sells its solutions in 38 countries.
The IT operations for Bamboo Solutions are both internal and external. IT professionals are needed to run help desk support for customers and employees, as well as to manage the server infrastructure at the Reston location and abroad. Therefore, when hiring IT professionals, Bamboo looks for flexible, well-rounded individuals who have the ability to adapt to multiple roles and look beyond just filling in specific positions.
“We’re growing fast, so it’s the kind of environment where somebody would come and expect to be doing many different things and not to fit into one single slot,” said Michael Tanner, CEO of Bamboo Solutions Inc. “We tend to look for people who are willing to solve problems, whether it’s part of their job or not. They have to work within the team structure to make it happen. We have a big offshore organization but we’re pretty lean and mean, so it’s a specific kind of individual that we look for: a self-starter, someone who is undoubtedly self-disciplined.”
While there’s no certification for being a self-starter or self-disciplined, as an employer, Tanner can deduce whether or not a candidate possesses those attributes from employment history. Since Bamboo Solutions is a small company with smaller resources, potential employees’ familiarity and experience with project management is a good starting point to gauge whether they can organize and manage people within defined scope, quality, time and costs. But according to Tanner, project management skills aren’t necessarily a determining factor.
“In general, understanding project management is important, but [whether or not a potential employee needs] to have formal project management skills really depends on the job function,” Tanner said. He offered a help desk IT job role as an example. Here, project management skills certainly wouldn’t be required, but if a candidate possesses them, it’s definitely looked at as a plus.
Since Bamboo Solutions works heavily with Microsoft software, certifications are a big part of the company’s hiring process. Depending on the job function, Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certs such as the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD), Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) and the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) may play a big part in determining whether or not Bamboo Solutions will hire a candidate. The MCTS is particularly relevant, as are subtopics of the configuration and application development of SharePoint. If hired, the new employee will go through a period of onboarding and training about specific aspects of the Bamboo Solutions system, but is expected to know the Microsoft building blocks those are based off of, certification or no. “[Candidates] need to hit the ground running with expertise on Microsoft,” Tanner said.
Beyond that, the company does some training as needed for various positions. “We do training to get them up to speed on our own software and the way we’ve implemented software on our storefront because we’re an Amazon-like operation [and] sell large volumes of stuff online,” Tanner said. “So to the extent that people are involved with supporting our infrastructure, that’s how quickly they need to come up to speed. They can’t come in knowing everything, but going forward, we tend to focus on deliberate skills training. If we’re moving in a certain direction and we’re putting in a new server infrastructure, then we have to immediately get that person up to speed on that.”
Most candidates applying for a job at Bamboo Solutions would have at least a few of the previously mentioned certs. However, Tanner made clear that holding those certs doesn’t always outweigh the experience and aptitude of a qualified person who doesn’t hold them. Because of the start-up nature of Bamboo, it’s more likely to look for a utility player, so to speak, to help the overall chemistry of the company rather than just look for a superstar in one particular area. There isn’t a set list of criteria written down somewhere, said Tanner. It’s based on his initial people-reading impressions and if the candidate presents evidence of a history of professional proficiency.
“Competency is the number one issue,” Tanner said. “Now that may be evidenced by certification, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we only hire people who are certified. The job tends to get filled based on history of success, references [and] impressions of the person.”
He added that the company looks at whether or not a candidate is a team player, fits in with its culture and has the right work ethic. He admitted some aspects of this process are “intangibles.” It just comes down to whether or not the person is the right fit or not.
One advantage of being flexible in terms of what qualities to look for when hiring IT professionals is the agility they will bring to the company. The upper management of Bamboo is then able to react to changes both internally and externally by moving them around as needed. This provides the company with flexible job tracks that can be governed by the individual employee while also serving the needs of the company at that particular time.
Tanner explained that since Bamboo is a growing company, increasingly complex support likely will be needed in the future, thus offering plenty of chances for employees to move up the job ladder. But Tanner said top-level IT professionals working for them also will have the opportunity to move beyond that realm.
“Basically, they’d be moving out of IT, but they could also choose to stay, do more and have more responsibility within our IT [department],” Tanner said. “They could also move into support, pre-sales support or engineering because our products are the software that fits into the IT infrastructure. Somebody that knows how to manage that infrastructure could also help manage that for our customers as well. We don’t have what I would call a formal career path because we’re a small company. But the people who manage our internal system are our experts, and basically, they can go a whole bunch of different ways.”
So Bamboo’s relatively small size is what allows its IT professionals to move into those different paths. The company’s size also allows for a lack of official IT protocols. Being a smaller company allows it to be much more lenient than a larger one.
An Apt Name
During the hiring process, Bamboo Solutions looks for candidates who are like bamboo itself — flexible and easily adapted to any purpose. Hiring individuals for rigidly set roles and functions wouldn’t be right for the company. Hiring people who know a little about a wide range of topics instead of specialists with multiple certifications in just one subject is a tradeoff that it’s more than willing to make. Having said that, Tanner also sees the importance of being able to make a snap judgment on an individual’s ability to be proficient at the job. Certification can facilitate this process.
“Certification is the way of coming to a conclusion about someone’s competency a lot faster,” Tanner said. “By and large, you don’t find that exact right person with glowing recommendations, but if they have certifications, that’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, this person gets it. They’ve done it,’ and it gives you, the employer, a certain level of confidence.”
But the confidence that certifications initially provide in the interview may be short-lived in the context of that person’s overall impact as an employee. Since Bamboo offers specific Web solutions via SharePoint, someone with administrative experience in that would be a premium over just a certification on the same subject without any experience. According to Tanner, recommendations from previous jobs carry more weight than anything. If someone has shown a history of problem solving within a certain system, that may be the most valuable trait of all.
– Ben Warden, email@example.com