How to choose an IT person
April 11, 2012 11:40 AM   Subscribe

The best IT person for the job. How to choose one from a small pool to handle IT stuff for a very small NH town.

Usually in my little town, someone says, "Hey, I made a pile of money writing software in the 90's! I'll take care of all your computer needs!" And sometimes that works but it doesn't seem like the best way to choose an IT person. What should we look for? Are there basic qualifications? What should we ask?
I need to step away for a bit but will return soon if there are questions for me.
posted by Hobgoblin to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IT stuff is do generic. What do you need done? Systems admin? Development? Desktop support?
posted by SNACKeR at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2012

do == too
posted by SNACKeR at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2012

Why under 35? Seems a little ageist to me. then again maybe I'm just reacting to being almost 40...

And if we're tossing generalizations out there, I've found 90% of the software developers I know are useless when it comes to what would fall under general "IT" related tasks.

What you should actually be looking for is someone who has exposure to a variety of different skills, has the ability to multitask and problem solve, and most importantly has experience doing IT work at previous organizations.
posted by barc0001 at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2012

Pick the one with people skills.
posted by Area Control at 11:59 AM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

It totally depends on the type of work you need done, of course. Some of the above answers seem to be making assumptions about what you need that I'm not seeing in the question.

I'm a web dev who lives in a small town; I don't do work locally (I'm out of their price range) but occasionally consult informally with people here who need work done, so have some sort-of-second-hand experience in hiring from a small available pool....

1: does it need to be local? Ongoing sysadmin work or the like probably does, but if you're looking at a one-time coding job you might do better to widen your search outside your local area.

2: watch out for big fish in small ponds. If the entirety of their experience is local, you're probably dealing with someone whose... how shall I put this... whose impression of the quality of their own skills may not match up with the reality.

3: watch out for has-beens or burnouts. If the entirety of their experience was decades ago, that's not an instant disqualification -- but you'll need to test to see that they've kept their skills up to date. (You may also run into the same ego problems here as in #2)

4: don't settle for almost competent. I know at least a dozen skilled techies of various flavors who live in rural or small-town areas for one reason or another. The person you need is probably out there, if not in your own small town then maybe in the next one over -- it may be tricky to find them, however, as there's a bit of a catch-22: they won't necessarily be looking for work locally because they assume it's such a small town there won't be any, and vice-versa.
posted by ook at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2012

Someone with people skills, good ones, and someone who doesn't look at your pile of gear and start complaining that it sucks and you should have used [some other manufacturer.] Presumably you want someone who will work with what you have, not what they want you to have.
posted by davejay at 12:39 PM on April 11, 2012

When I used to work in an office and ran an IT department, the way I winnowed the wheat from the chaff when trying to find an assistant was to set up an extra workstation, and I intentionally hobbled it in common ways. I unplugged some of the plugs, like the network connection. I turned the brightness down to zero. I can't remember all the things I ended up doing, but there were about 10 small fixes that needed to be made, and they didn't necessarily all involve just the PC, since the IT staff was expected to fix problems with the phones and general issues with the whole workstation. I gave the prospective applicants as much time as they needed, and said that I didn't expect them to fix everything, but that they got more "points" the more they found. The whole point, I felt, was to test not only their knowledge, but their abilities to be creative problem solvers.

Of the ten applicants, two left within ten minutes, without saying goodbye.
posted by crunchland at 1:06 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers to a too-general query. I've turned all the answers over to the Selectmen, who do the hiring. Much appreciated.
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:36 AM on April 12, 2012

One-man-bands leave you exposed when that guy isn't available, so go for a small company. (But too big and they'll bleed you just to cover their payroll.)

Get referrals and call them. Don't be embarrassed: a prospective IT vendor should be excited to put you in touch with people who will praise him/her.

Consider paying a monthly fee for a set amount of work, plus a setled fee for any hours on top of that.

Did I mention getting referrals? Call businesses in town that are similar in size to yours and just ask who they use.

A few years ago I got chummy with the guy who roasts my coffee. I am an IT nerd and so once upon a time I answered a few questions for him as a sanity check when they needed a PC fixed. Out of pity I told him he was getting scammed, and then I gave him a former coworker's number who I knew was honest and broadly experienced. They have been working together on-and-off since then, which was great for everyone. (My kickback was a box of coffee, which I thought was eminently satisfactory!)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2012

One follow-up thought: does your fire or police department have anyone they use, or the state police? Perhaps you can get a qualified referral that way.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2012

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