How do you find engineers with a rare or specialized skillset?
What does a tech startup do when the technology skill they need is obscure?
A healthtech startup contacted us late last year with an interesting challenge: they needed to find a developer with very niche experience, which would likely require poaching a developer from a competitor or large health system. In addition, they had compiled a list of developers that could not work for them, whether for competitive reasons, as a result of past interviews, or otherwise. The only option that they saw was to try to poach the necessary talent - but they found it difficult to compete for developers against larger organizations. Did we have any way out of this box?
The specific skill in question? Knowledge of Intersystems Cache was required, and in particular knowledge of Cache as used in an Epic Systems environment. Cache is based on Mumps, an "ancient" language that actually predates C, and was developed in the 1960s at Mass General Hospital in Boston. Intersystems is a Boston-based company that was created to take on the language and continue its development. They generalized it into a NoSQL style (object) database architecture, with the Cache language atop it.
Intersystems now offers quite a few integrations with modern programming languages, and most developers now use these packages to interact with Cache databases. Epic, the largest electronic medical records company in the world, bases all of its systems on Cache. They too provide higher level interfaces - but not to all of the data inside Epic. Our healthtech client needed direct access in order to help their clients access all Epic data, and as a result they needed developers who could build custom low-level integrations in the Epic / Cache universe.
Most developers who have such knowledge either work for Epic or work at a large health system (hospital system). To add to the challenge, our healthtech client provided us with a list of a dozen developers that they knew had the skills, but who we could not contact for non-compete or other reasons.
Most developers with the relevant knowledge work at one of two places: Epic Systems or a major healthcare system. New developers are not being taught these languages and systems except in these specific environments. In this scenario, the fractional approach is not only a perfect fit, it's also optimal!
Fraction was able to canvas all developers working in the United States with Intersystems Cache experience. Since we weren't asking the developers to quit their day job, our response rates were two orders of magnitude higher than for typical recruitment practices (You read that right, 50% vs 0.5%)! This enabled us to quickly build a pool to screen for other disqualifying factors like non-compete issues, lack of subject matter expertise, etc.
Fraction found a developer working at a non-profit health system with Cache and Epic experience, and we were able to get them started on the opportunity within a week. The client initially challenged us, saying "you won't be able to find anyone, but we'll let you try." Our ability to find a great developer with a highly specialized skillset so quickly speaks to the power of the fractional model!