Ad Tech’s People Problem

Will Doherty is business development director of Netmining, a display ad-targeting provider.

Data is changing online marketing fast, but every company in the industry is faced with a shortage of the right people for this new era.

Ad tech needs more engineers, of course, but it also desperately needs people from more diverse backgrounds. As an industry interested in evolving its talent along with the products and services, we should find a way to be sexier and more accessible to the next generation. Spell out the creative opportunities. Pinpoint the diverse backgrounds that make up successful startup culture. Talk to prospective new hires about the potential for this to be more than just a job, but a successful career. Whether ad tech’s undeniable complexity is the problem or not, we should present an image of a career that’s less focused on technology and more focused on the company culture and opportunities can go a long way.

Creative job candidates interested in advertising often look toward the agency world as the gateway into the industry. It’s easy to see how their time and energy will be spent on creative pursuits in an agency setting. Yet to attract investment from major brands, ad tech companies will need these same inventive types to use their gifts and skills, whether it’s translating data or developing ways for the ad creative to translate to different screens.

We have one particularly talented data strategist who can analyze the numbers and turn them into a narrative. He transforms the raw data into actionable insights that make sense to both our team and our clients. However, he didn’t start his career as a trained data scientist – he came to us as a creative writing major from Tulane. But his creative background has contributed his success in storytelling.

The Harvard Business Review recently called data scientist “the sexiest job of the 21st century.” Still, it’s important to remember that ad tech benefits from a hodgepodge of people with a variety of backgrounds. Job candidates with degrees in computer science, engineering and statistics will always be in demand, but this industry is also looking for people of all stripes. Unfortunately, we may have built a digital advertising community that looks so complex from the outside that it turns off prospective hires.

We’re seeing plenty who would have previously become Wall Street quants enter the online media and technology businesses instead. But the talent gap doesn’t end with rocket scientists. Let’s not create the perception that this is all we value. Digital marketing hasn’t done a good job of marketing itself to new college graduates who might not be angling for a job in this industry but, in reality, would make great additions to the right digital marketing company provided they receive the right training and come with a strong work ethic.

The wider market should understand that it’s entirely possible to break into this industry by being a smart, thoughtful individual who responds well to training. After all, technology really doesn’t matter without a client-facing team, because technology can’t sell itself.

The talent is out there, but the employer and the potential hires are not getting matched up. Does all the talk about big data and advanced algorithms scare fresh talent away? Or is it the simple fact that we use the same buzzwords and jargon we throw at our clients when we try to recruit new employees? Either way, it’s up to all of us to make this industry more inviting to the best and brightest.

Jorg Hackemann /

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