Recruiting and keeping talent is important. Really important. | webOS Nation

Recruiting and keeping talent is important. Really important.

by Derek Kessler Tue, 29 May 2012 6:32 pm EDT

Matt McNulty at Think Beyond

As I said in the last "editor's desk" post, HP seems to be suffering a serious problem with talent retention in the webOS department (though we wouldn't be surprised if that's the case across the board at HP). The latest departure of the core of the Enyo team, including lead Matt McNulty for Google underscores the troubles faced by the project. With McNulty out, practically every director-or-higher employee that with webOS just fifteen months ago when HP unveiled their grand relaunch for webOS at Think Beyond has left. Employee turnover is an expected and anticipated part of any business, but this rate of high-level churn is frightening.

Just look at the lead for Developer Relations. In February 2011 we were introduced to Richard Kerris as the new VP of Worldwide Developer Relations. It was a big deal, both to have Kerris on board and that HP had recognized the importance of developer relations and made it a VP-level appointment. By October, Kerris had left for Nokia. It took five months for HP to appoint long-time Palm veteran Fred Patton as the new head of Developer Relations (apparently no longer a VP position, given the downgraded importance of webOS). He lasted six weeks before getting poached to Nokia. Six weeks and he left for greener pastures, leaving another Palm veteran - Enda McGrath - to take over on at least an interim basis while HP searches for a permanent lead.

Permanent. That word has taken on a funny taste with webOS. The only thing that's been permanent over the past several months has been impermanence.

I'm not saying that Open webOS has been fatally imperiled by the constantly changing hands behind the scenes, but it's certainly not helping. HP can't afford to just meet the roadmap schedule each month - they have to exceed it. Putting out an open source version of the current webOS 3.0 won't be good enough, nor will a warmed-over slightly-improved version 4.0. Whatever HP produces to open source will be going up against juggernauts to-be iOS 6 and Android 5.0 (or whatever Google's going to call it). It's going to be a massive hill to overcome and webOS is going to need a big bag of tricks if there's any hope of gaining traction up the road towards the summit.

Building that bag of tricks requires permanent talent. It requires people to stay working on webOS. It requires people to want to and have real reason to stay with HP. It seems plenty obvious that HP is having massive difficulty meeting that criteria. Bringing on new talent to replace the ongoing brain drain is important, but that new talent will take time to get used to working at HP and to working on webOS and getting caught up on everything that's been happening behind the scenes. And by the time they've done that, who knows how many offers they'll have fielded from Google and Apple and Nokia and the like.

Working on webOS because that's what you want to do is fine for the open source developer. They do it because they want to, because it brings them joy. But they also do something else to make money to pay for the roof over their heads and the food on the table and the internet connection so vital to modern collaborative open source development. Working on Open webOS is a side project for them, something they do in their free time.

I have little doubt that the people working at HP on Open webOS also derive joy from their work. There are dozens of other firms in Silicon Valley that could be home to their talents, but they chose HP and webOS. But they do this to put a roof over their heads and food on the table and keep the bytes streaming through that internet connection. It's their job, and in this day and age, keeping that job is an important thing. HP is an organization in flux, with massive layoffs coming that'll cleave away nearly a tenth of the workforce. And while we've been told that HP's layoffs won't touch webOS, considering all of the layoffs that have hit webOS in the past, we wouldn’t blame anybody who works there for being skittish.

It's their livelihood, after all. They need to pay for food and shelter and an internet tube somehow, and the grocer and bank and ISP don't care where you get that money. If Google comes knocking with a better offer than HP and the promise of job security to boot, who wouldn't take that offer? Heck, I wouldn't blame anybody at HP for putting out feelers to other companies just in case things head any further south.
It's harsh to say, but given everything else going on at HP, it's clear that webOS is not a priority for the top brass. webOS has fallen out of the discussion even amongst the tech community, with those outside of the webOS Nation community starting to take to referring to webOS in the past tense. "webOS had a really innovative multitasking system." "I loved webOS notifications." "webOS could have used more apps."

It's not time for a post-mortem, at least not yet. But if HP can't keep the good people they have left and bring on new ones to replace those that have left, they're going to have a hell of a time making this thing work beyond a goodwill exercise. So how does that happen?

Money. Plain and simple, it's money. Call me materialistic or overtly capitalist or one of little faith in the goodness of humankind, but in the end it all boils down to money. Loyalty only goes so far when somebody is waiving a stack of bills in your face. We all have to pay somehow for the roof and the food, and if somebody's willing to give us more money, then we can afford a better roof and tastier food, or save some for later.

I'm not intimately familiar with HP's compensation structure, though I do know that some within the webOS organization have been handsomely compensated for their services. But was that enough? I don't need to answer that question now, do I? HP needs to shell out more to keep and recruit talent. They need healthier stock options and bonuses and just plain salaries. They need to let their employees know that they're appreciated and that HP really wants them to stay. That has to be more than a pat on the back and an " 'attaboy". Such measures only go so far, and no amount of goodwill can pay for groceries.
It's people's livelihoods we're talking about here. We can't blame them for taking offers that lead to greener pastures. But we can blame HP for not making their own pasture greener.