Snowflakes are hard to replace

When you want to hire someone, you are looking for some particular skills. I call these the primary skills. Any person you hire, any person in your team, also comes with a set of secondary skills. Secondary skills are skills you weren’t specifically looking for but you got them anyway.

If you are looking for a Java developer, you are looking for someone with ‘Java development’ as a primary skill. The person you hire, might also have experience in C# development, project management or Linux system administration. Those are the secondary skills you got even though you didn’t ask for them.

In my experience, it’s dangerous to structurally use those secondary skills in your team. Sure, when an immediate fire has to be dosed, being able to call on these secondary skill might be a life safer, but if you start depending on them structurally, you are putting yourself at some serious risk.

What is the risk? We have those skills, it would be a shame not to use them!

Well, let’s assume you have been using those secondary skills on a structural basis: one of your Java developers is not only developing code but also has been doing some of the project management and is administrating the local build and version control Linux server.

One day, that Java developer comes to your office and says he is leaving for a new job. Or perhaps something less permanent: you get a call telling that your Java developer has an accident and won’t be able to come to work for 4 to 6 weeks.

That is when you start having an issue. You find yourself on the market to find a (temporary) replacement that can develop in Java, has project management skills and knows how to administer a build and version control Linux server. You are looking for a very specific snowflake. Good luck finding that!

That is the risk of structurally using the secondary skills. You are creating unique snowflakes in your team that are very hard to replace. The only way to avoid this risk, is not to use the secondary skills available in your team. That might sound counter intuitive to some people: not using skills that are present in your team while you need them. Yet, it is the safest way to avoid having to replace a snowflake 🙂