a cautionary tale – Job Board Doctor

Did you know the Doctor lives in Iowa? Well…he does. And a few weeks back, he participated in the famous Iowa Caucuses (perhaps for the last time? We shall see). You may have heard there were a few problems. But how, exactly, does the caucuses’ problems have anything to do with job boards? Let’s see.

For those who don’t follow U.S. or Iowa politics, a brief overview. Every four years, presidential candidates flock to Iowa. Why? Because it holds the ‘first in the nation’ assessment of presidential candidates. We don’t vote per se in Iowa – we caucus. Citizens gather into small groups, advocate for their favorite candidates, and (eventually) are tallied up to determine which candidate had the most people, second most, and so on. Then these numbers are translated into state delegates. It’s kind of complicated but Iowans have been doing this for decades and are used to it. Kind of like living through the Polar Vortex.

This year, the national Democratic Party told Iowa to make changes to the process. Most of these changes revolved around reporting, but some involved broadening participation. At the local level, those of us who were involved had been working on training for the caucus for months.

The night of the caucus, all around the state, the word coming back from the local precincts was good: everything was running smoothly. Folks liked the changes. Folks understood how it worked. Except

At the end of the caucuses, each precinct chair had to report their results to the state party…and the tool they had been given – an app – wasn’t working. So they called the hotline – just like they did before the app came along.

And the hotline was jammed up with calls from Trump supporters, news organizations, and other precincts. Chaos ensued. Chaos which, in fact, did not end for days.

This series of events made me think of certain job board ‘roll outs’ I’ve participated in or observed. Why? Well…

  • Changes have to be thought through – to the end: so you’re changing your candidate matching process? Remember that it isn’t just a few algorithm changes. It also changes how the end user (the employer) will behave. It may very well have an uneven effect – working great for some employers, and horribly for others. If you have 50 employer categories, you need to test for each.
  • You have to test – multiple times: Get this – the Iowa Democratic party never tested the reporting app. NEVER. Now, surely you have NEVER rolled out a feature or service without testing it, right? Right? Please tell me you haven’t!
  • Your backups need backups: It was entirely predictable that mischief in the form of fake phone calls might ensue – yet there was no preparation. The same goes for job board roll outs. What if your new text-based job alerts are wildly successful? Can you handle a tripling of load? Can you handle the influx of hackers lured by the potential of hundreds of thousands of cell phone numbers?

Finally, remember that every action is linked to other actions – in multiple directions. You can’t coast on past success. You can’t take short cuts. You have to assume that whatever can fail, will fail. If you do that, I promise that your job board will end up with a better reputation than the Iowa Caucuses – which would be a good thing.

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