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April 03, 2014
By Vanessa Ulrich

There were plenty of headlines in the tech world this past month, but here’s a recap of the topics that had us buzzing in the office, and our thoughts on how they fit into the bigger picture for IT. From the resignation of Target's CIO to the new wave of anonymity apps, last month's news stories underscore how technology, business and society are irreversibly intertwined.

Target’s CIO jumps ship, or ‘When the security team isn’t big enough for their breeches’

Did you get the pun in the title? If not, please note that breeches are an antiquated way of saying “pants,” while breaches are what make CIOs like Target’s Beth Jacob resign.

Target’s massive security breach over Black Friday weekend will likely have repercussions for companies across the country. In a ZDnet article, Larry Dignan comments, “Does anyone really believe that Target was the only company that had lax practices?” CIOs will have to examine their security much more closely now, or be at risk for the same crisis and loss of consumer trust that Target is enduring.

A few weeks ago it came to light that Target ignored security alerts. Now all companies may have to revisit their IT spending and security practices, especially retailers, who only discover breaches on their own in 5 percent of cases, according to a three-year study cited in the above article. This is compared to an average of 31 percent for all industries.

David Kearns, an analyst writing for Dark Reading reviewed what happened and noted that, “Technology can help [protect the network], but only well trained, fully informed and security-aware employees can keep your organization safe.”

A TEKsystems survey last year found that 50 percent of IT leaders agreed that a lack of qualified security talent is approaching a state of critical mass where organizations are open to serious risk exposure.

Kearns stresses continuing education with hands-on instruction, mentoring and periodic testing to ensure that security professionals are prepared to assess and handle anything that’s thrown at them.

Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak come under fire

In early March, venture capitalist Marc Andreeson used Twitter to criticize the new wave of anonymity apps. A comprehensive article written by VC Austin Hill, describes it as a “contentious issue” that has “been around at least as long as the consumer internet itself.”

The debate is reigniting thanks to apps like Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak, which give users the power to say whatever they want—for better or worse—with near-zero accountability. Andreeson remonstrated their existence, stating, “Since voyeurism is fundamental property of human nature, such systems will always get users. But to what end, and at what cost?”

The apps can be used for anything from sharing an opinion, divulging a secret, (divulging someone else’s secret) to offering anonymous empathy and support to others. However, they are being criticized for their potential to facilitate cyber bullying, in addition to enabling slander and plain old toxic gossip.

But true anonymity is about as extinct as privacy, and the secrets shared through these apps might not be as anonymous as users expect them to be. All the same, both users and creators of such technology need to be aware of the unforeseen social consequences of their actions.

Hill affirms that, “The choices we make in our product development and technologies shape the world and create emotional reactions in our users … There are very important roles for anonymity systems if they are properly designed and implemented.”

How to hire for corporate culture the right way

The truth is, we spend more time at work than at home—so we spend more time around our coworkers than family or friends. It makes sense to want to work with people who are like us, who have the same values and with whom we “click.”

Corporate culture is a catch-all to describe, in essence, how an organization is wired. At its best it means employees have a shared passion for the company, a shared work ethic and vision. At its worst, it can reduce teams, departments or even entire companies into cliquey hives of group-think.

A Wired article on GitHub’s flat organizational structure warns that a lack of diversity can cause unprofessionalism to fester, becoming “disguised and defended as a casual culture.”

But gaining insight during the hiring process on culture fit is difficult. Only 41 percent of IT professionals say they receive significant insight into a company’s corporate culture during the average employer’s screening. This is in contrast to IT leaders, where 78 percent say they receive significant insight about the candidate’s corporate culture fit during the same process.

Micah Soloman wrote an interesting article on hiring for corporate culture fit for Forbes last month, where he stressed, “Whatever particular culture fit strategy you pursue, to succeed you need to make room for diverse backgrounds, interests, work and learning styles, and need for work/life balance rather than endless happy hours with the boss and the ’team.’”

“Nuanced implementation,” says Soloman, is key. He cites Southwest Airlines as an example. Their highly competitive hiring process is handled carefully and professionally to ensure that candidates have a chance to demonstrate how they will live by Southwest’s brand values—a more precise and unbiased concept than corporate culture.

Used correctly during the hiring process, corporate culture fit becomes a soft skill criterion that puts the cherry on top of a candidate’s experience and skill set.

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