John Sumser | HRExaminer Founder and Editor-in-Chief

John Sumser | HRExaminer Founder and Editor-in-Chief

John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in Human Resources and Human Capital.

John is the also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises Human Resources, Recruiting Departments and Talent Management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.

More about John

John understands the inner workings of employment and recruiting. He is able to see and articulate how and why people work.

This is partly because John has worked a lot of jobs—from selling doughnuts door-to door, digging ditches and building railroads to corporate executive, director, editor, and CEO. He knows that making the right hiring decision requires both breadth and precision, and that finding the right person for the right job is a process that must adapt to an ever-changing marketplace.

The foundation of John’s interest in recruiting was how to use developing technology to find candidates that were inaccessible before. John was on the cutting edge of how the internet and technology affect work and recruiting. He became interested in the internet in its embryonic stages when it was known as the Well. His conversations with folks in the San Francisco Bay Area developed into a position as Executive Director of the Point Foundation and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, where he met and worked with many of the founders of Silicon Valley.

In 1995, John started his own company, Interbiznet, where he wrote a daily column on using the internet and technology for employment recruiting as well as a survey of global employment news and trends. His ideas have been the catalyst for dozens of new companies and countless MBA student papers.

In 2007, John sold Interbiznet.

John regularly consults with recruiters and employers on how to find, hire and keep the best employees, how people work, how companies and systems affect employees and how changing economies and technology alter the nature of work itself. One of John’s current areas of interest is how the cultural differences between the generations are changing the workplace. He introduced this idea last year to the top 500 employers in Canada last year where Al Gore was the warm-up act (although Mr. Gore might call it the key-note speech).

John continues to explore the importance of culture and communications through new technologies and forums like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and blogging, all of which allow us to meet and connect with people we might not have found in another era, and perhaps say things we would never say in person.

John’s Tech Story

With my degree firmly in hand, I entered the workforce in 1979. The jobs available to a middling liberal arts graduate were few and far between, I tended bar and took seasonal work as a Santa Claus. I found the early keys to my future running small camera stores in Washington, DC.

To sell cameras in that era, the customer had to feel confident that they could master the operating instructions. Today’s photographers are comfortable with the fact that technology makes most of the operating decisions. Then, it was all manual. The trick was getting the customer to the point that they felt comfortable with moment to moment decision making.

It was life changing.

In short order, I fell in love with technology and joined the Defense Industry. Over the years, I learned to code software (with punch cards at the beginning), taught introductory computing courses as the PC entered the workplace, became a certified engineer (in lieu of a degree) and began to run Research and Development projects.

I got my first PC in late 1981, the 68th machine off the IBM assembly line. I got my first email account in 1982 and was working in online communities around the defense industry by 1983. In those days, PCs were for business and mainframes were for real technology.

In large scale technology, I was involved with the first interactive video disc project (a hyper-linked training program for aircraft maintenance in 1984), high density decision making display architecture, hardware-software integration and the design of logistics systems for frigates. I organized, wrote the spec and managed the team that built the first multi-facility supply chain management tool in the mid 1980s.

In the early 1990s, I left corporate life to move to California to run a struggling non-profit called the Point Foundation, home of the Whole Earth Catalog (the print precursor of the web). Point was involved with the push to make the Internet (a Defense Industry initiative) into a part of daily existence. It was home to the WeLL, a pioneering online community. Point was a mecca for futurists, science writers, culture expanders and explorers.

While at the Point Foundation, I saw the very first copy X-Mosaic, the first web browser. My reaction, embarrassingly, was to ask “Who would ever want a graphic interface to the internet?” A few months later, in an early conversation with the founders of Yahoo, I famously said, “You can’t possibly make money with a web index.”

In my first project after the Point Foundation, I started to document the emerging job board market. My company, interbiznet, produced the first reports offering market and technology analysis of any form of HR on the net. We expanded rapidly into Applicant Tracking Systems and the related data associated with the Talent Acquisition process.

Over the intervening years, I’ve worked the bleeding edge of technology and data in the HR environment. From demographics and compensation databases to a variety of Peoplesoft projects, I’ve been monitoring the full spectrum of HR Tech.

I chose to focus in HR for a number of reasons. While in the Defense Industry, I spent many evenings in a Master’s program in Organizational Development dropping out at the thesis phase. It turns out that the real cost of technology is never the technology itself. The learning curve and relative fit of the solution to the organization are the primary drivers of Technology cost.

That means that the companies who produce the solutions are at least as important as the solutions themselves. Any competent analysis of solutions has to include an assessment of the fit between customer and supplier. To say that this is missing from the game today is to engage in dramatic understatement.

I’ve decided to join forces with SharedXpertise as the host of the HRDemo conference. The goal of the project is to get at this problem. I’ll tell you more about it in the next installment.

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