Technical Skills Vs. Domain Knowledge

It makes my blood boil, makes me groan in agony and disgust to read job requirements which go like this:

  1. Must be an expert in xyz technology (it could be anything from SQL Server, ASP.NET, C++, Java, Oracle, J2EE, PeopleSoft, SAP etc.)
  2. Must have at least x-years of <domain> industry experience, where domain could be financial, political, pharmaceutical, insurance etc.

Now let’s say an applicant meets 100% of the technology requirements but 0% of the domain requirements. For example he/she has worked extensively in the xyz technology but instead of working in the financial industry he/she has worked only in insurance industry. Should he/she even bother applying for this job?

If the above applicant goes ahead and submits his/her resume, what are the chances that it will actually reach the hiring manager’s desk. Would the human resource personnel simply toss it into garbage? Would it even reach the human resource person since there may even be an automated system doing keyword matching on the submitted resumes?

What is a better option for the organization? Should it have a firm rule that it would hire only from a pool of applicant which have the right domain knowledge or should it be flexible with respect to domain expertise?

In my opinion, job postings such as the one above, do a dis-service to both the job applicants and the organization they are trying to recruit for. If it were for a product management position, this wouldn’t be the case. For a product management position, giving higher weightage  to domain expertise makes total sense.

For an engineering position requiring specialized technical skills, one should give 80%+ weightage to technical skills and 20%- weightage to domain knowledge. It is lot easier to make a person with strong technical skills learn domain specific lingo and nuances than it is to make a person with strong domain expertise pick up the technical skills needed.

I believe a high emphasis on the domain expertise is simply an attempt to stay within a small network of people that the industry bigwigs like to hang with. In other words to keeping the old boys/girls network intact.

What do you think?

4 Comments

  1. siva

    I totally agree that domain knowledge is an essential qualification for all senior level positions, but organizations should define the structure that creates effective collaboration between few domain experts and a pool of generic resources.

  2. I agree with you Siva. In order for organizations to benefit from new resources from parallel domains it must provision and maintain a knowledge repository ideally in a form of a local wiki site, which provide instantaneous access to various internal and industry specific jargon and their technology related impact on system architecture, design, deployment and operations.

  3. You are right on every count, but organization’s want to reduce the training and transition time from domain to domain, as domain’s may have a special jargon and a diff. style of handling. But a smart guy can always understand and get into a domain better than people already there for decade.
    The Emphasis while hiring a person should be to find out how good he’s with the base technology, how well does he communicates, can he handle the pressure, and the recruiter shouldn’t forget that if a tech. guy can’t solve a problem that doesn’t mean he’s a dumbo, everyone of techie has his own style to take on a problem, some people just don’t work with timelines, they just work and meet the timelines.
    Maintaining a key resource is an art, Good organizations learn it, and maintain people for decades, and that’s how one can retain the domain experts – by not letting them think about moving.

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