Found my vertical: HR

I ran into Pete Forde at
Andrew Burke‘s birthday party last night. He
explained to a number of Andrew’s friends in other industries that it
was really the technical strengths and reputations of tech evangelists
that made them much more effective than non-technical marketing or
sales people. After all, many developers can easily detect marketing
hype, and they don’t like it one bit.

IBM consultants are always talking about “verticals”, or industries on
which people focus. Banking, real estate, pharmaceuticals, education -
for salespeople to truly excel in any of these areas, they need to
invest time into learning the industry inside and out. They need to
know the vocabulary people use, the concerns people have, the
opportunities for growth, and even the competitive context around
their clients. Focusing on an industry allows people to develop deep
competence and strong relationships both within and outside the
industry.

On the walk to class the next morning, I thought about how that deep
knowledge of an area helps me make deeper connections. I love having
read most of the Toronto Public Library’s holdings on social
networking. I can quickly recommend appropriate books and tips. I’d
love to have that kind of knowledge on a business area. So I started
thinking about what I should focus on…

A friend once told me that he had no idea what he wanted to do at the
moment. I told him that if you know who you want to be, then you can
figure out what to do. I want my career to help me be the person I
want to be. I don’t want it to just pay the bills until I accumulate
enough money to “retire”. I want it to factor into my personal growth.

So the real question is: who do I want to be? What do I want to
learn?

At some point in my life, I’d like to know a lot about real estate. I
won’t be able to make the most of it right now, though. Microfinance?
Investing? Education? None of these really hit me as the right next
step given my passions, skills, and the needs of people around me.

Then I started thinking of it in terms of who I want to be and what
I’d love to do. I want to help people think, and I want to help people
connect.

The first explains my interest in personal productivity, notetaking
strategies, etc. The second underlies my passion for social computing.
One standard business area that covers both would be HR. Human
resources – seems to be a fantastic fit for what I’m doing right now
and where I’d like to head in the future.

At networking events, I perk up whenever people tell me they’re in
recruiting—not because I want a job for myself, but because
recruiters know how to manage lots of relationships and get a sense of
who fits into what positions. What excites me about my research at IBM
is the idea that I’ll be able to help people find and connect with
other people within the company.

I think the second part – helping people connect – is what I’m going
to focus on for a while. We’ll see if I need to further niche myself.
Large tech companies that need social knowledge management tools for
internal use, such as IBM’s offerings? HR consultant for lots and lots
and lots of small companies to help them grow professionally, source
people, etc.? We’ll see. Whatever space I choose, I want to learn
everything that I can learn about it, and I want to own that space. =)

So that’s my vertical, and my ideal job description for the next step
is getting clearer and clearer. I want a sales + evangelism job (both
aspects!) focusing on HR products and services that help people
connect. I should find people in the area and ask if they niched
themselves even deeper (HR for real estate companies? HR for campus
recruitment of technology companies?). Then, just as companies post
job ads describing their ideal candidate, I’ll get a better idea of
what an ad for my ideal company would look like… =)

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