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Technical Debt Happens

There’s all kinds debt. Like our bar tab. Don’t even get us started. Or technical debt, the kind that makes life difficult of developers everywhere, but especially the tech behind a lot of HR tech. That’s why we’ve invited Sean Luitjens, vice president of product management for Korn Ferry Intelligence Cloud to the podcast. After a walk down Memory Lane, highlighting Sean’s days at Monster in the ‘90s, we come back to the 21st Century and talk about issues creating headaches for tech teams today. Additionally, we discuss smart questions customers (that’s probably you) can ask vendors to make sure landmines aren’t stepped on in the future. We also explore if the technical debt can be a good thing, and what the hell is wrong with LinkedIn and its crazy high debt.


Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark, buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Joel: Oh, yeah, it's your favorite degenerates, AKA the Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheeseman, joined as always, the Bart to my Homer, Chad is in the house, and we welcome today...


Joel: Sean Luitjens, Vice President of Product Management for Korn Ferry Intelligence Cloud to the show. Sean, welcome.

Sean Luitjens: Hello.

Chad: This dude's a dinosaur, man. You can see. He's actually in Jurassic Park right now.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, yeah.

Joel: Yeah, there's a Brontosaurus behind him right now. Jesus.


Chad: Where the hell are you at, Sean? Before we get into the Twitter stuff, where the hell are you at?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, I'm in the Azores, hanging out in Portugal. I'm working my way across the ocean. Next year, I'll hit the Algarve, but this island made it partway this time.

Chad: Okay. No, that's a good stepping stone. Maybe Madeira, and then you're welcome in the Algarve any time. It's freaking gorgeous.

Joel: It's shown in the first interview we've had that he's outdoors, that he's literally parked his bike on the side of the road to talk to us.

Chad: I think so, at least with the ones that we've had video, that's what we know. Sean, give the audience a little bit about you. You're VP, as Joel said, of product management over at Korn Ferry, but give us a little Twitter bio about you, triathlete, that kind of stuff.

Sean Luitjens: Wow. Yeah, so I'm glad you didn't ask about work experience 'cause I'm so freaking old. It'll take a long time. But mostly...

Joel: Yeah, your eight-page resume. Let's go over that.

Sean Luitjens: No, no. So yeah, that piece is basically miscellaneous product stuff, talent acquisition and pay type of things, basically everywhere around the software space. Nothing as an HR practitioner 'cause that job, honestly, looks like it sucks 'cause you have to deal with all the employees while still trying to solve the problems. Other than that, yeah, I'm at Korn Ferry now, and married most of the kids off the payroll. So I'm working... Got one left out of three, which will be a big momentous day for me. And then I have... You're making fun of me working outside here. I have done a couple of podcasts from the trail or two. So I'm a big fan and a work remoter.

Chad: Nomad, baby. That's right, the nomad life. I love it. So Sean and I both come from around the same place, so does Joel, but Sean and I have an interesting relationship because I was with Online Career Center back in '99. Sean actually, you joined the Monster Board in '98, didn't you?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, I was there ahead of you. I was there in the good days.

Chad: Yes. Well, yeah, when we were printing fucking money.

S?: Alright, alright, alright.

Chad: But we've had so many listeners that we talk about technical debt all the time and we just know it because it's ingrained in our upbringing in tech, especially when it comes to recruitment tech. And most of our HR practitioners, there are many of our listeners that are out there that really don't understand technical debt. So I wanna bring in a product guy who's been around the block who knows this shit, not too much in-house stories. So that's why we are here today. So your first gig in this industry was what? Tell us a little bit about.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, so I'd come over from Fidelity actually to show how old... I'll just claim myself and not you guys. I helped kind of put together some of the 401K system at Fidelity and met Jeff Tailor along the way. We had put some online ads from some newspapers Fidelity had bought and came over to the Monster Board. So I was a product/tech person. And not long after that, you kinda had TMP Worldwide had kind of stealthily acquired the Monster Board and Online Career Center, which was kind of interesting back in the day when there were like six job boards, they decided to consolidate two right away.

Chad: Two, yeah.

Sean Luitjens: And so you really already had, to be honest, technology was changing even back then pretty quick. So you already had our tech stack, which was completely different than Online Career Center's tech stack coming together, and how do you deal with and take the best of those and throw them together? And for those of us that can remember that long ago, we merged and then bought a Super Bowl ad. And so nothing makes friends with the people on the other side when you're trying to consolidate things and a real hard deadline.

Joel: Can I give you an outsider's perspective on how that went and not knowing any of the inner workings of it?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah.

Joel: It looked like you basically took OCC and slapped Monster's logo on the website.

Chad: We'll get into that. We'll get into that.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah.

Joel: You guys are insiders. I was on the outside looking in. That's my perspective of how this thing happened.

Chad: So I'll dig into that here in a second, then we'll get Sean's side, too. But first and foremost, let's dig into what is technical debt? So originally coined by computer scientist, Ward Cunningham in 1992, technical debt is the idea that building short-term solutions to technical systems incurs a set of trade-offs, resulting in future obligations that must be repaid in the form of engineering work. So it's kind of like using bubble gum to close up a hole in the dam instead of actually taking the time and resources to shore up your actual structure. Anything you wanna add to that, Sean?

Sean Luitjens: Well, the concerning part is that term is not that much older than me being in the industry. It's probably not good when words come out.


Joel: It came in with you. Maybe you're responsible for it.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, I'm the creator of technical debt. Yeah, I think that's right. I think what's interesting is most decisions companies make, and I say most 'cause we can come up with stories of things where shit just went completely wrong out of the gate, but most of those decisions, if you put them in isolation, tend to be not bad decisions, right? Something's not going to break, and so you decide to go after the revenue instead of fixing your technical debt. And like credit card debt, it just sits there and piles on and then you have another year of interest, another year of interest. But most of those decisions aren't bad. I'll show my age. Windows 3.1 was one of the most solid platforms you could drop anything on. And so there was a period of time when I was at Mercer, it was so hard to go get investment to write a new system because people would ask, "What's your up time?" It's a 100%, but I'm gonna have to go to the old folks' home to get someone to write APL for DOS on Windows 3.1 pretty soon. And so when do you tackle that? But I'd argue most of those decisions taken on their own aren't bad. It's just that they sum up over time.

Chad: Let me give you my first experience with technical debt. So I was in sales over on the Online Career Center site, so on the OCC site, and we had our sister, the Monster Board, and we would use other job boards to find leads. It just makes sense. You'd use the newspaper job boards. But if somebody was already using a job board, you knew they already bought in, right? And at that point, we were educating people on what the Internet was, let alone what [chuckle] doing online ads were.

Chad: So anyway, I noticed that Monster Board was timing out every day around 2:00 PM, right? So that's when I started calling on the leads that I got from Monster on 2:00 PM every day. So I'd start calling them and I just would ask them, "Hey, where are you doing your ads?" and they would say, "On the Monster Board." I was like, "Is that still alive? I don't think it works anymore." But that was all because of technical debt. The infrastructure that the Monster Board built was very short term and it wasn't built like Online Career Center. So to kind of like answer Joel's question, yes, what happened on the flip-over in January of '99 was they took all the monsters and the colors and they put it on OCC and they redirected, pretty much redirected everything to OCC. Now, I knew this from a backend standpoint because I was a sales guy and I had to do demos every single day. Right? I had everybody calling me from Maynard, Massachusetts, all the salespeople, 'cause they didn't know what this new platform was. [laughter] So Monster Board, pretty much talk about the technical debt that you guys had to deal with on a daily basis.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, I mean when I got there, I mean that was the thing, they really... They were working in trailers, getting it out. And still today actually, the job board business is a marketing business. Basically, how do I get consumers to show up in B2C space? It's, how cool does it look? Right? And so it looked cool, and it was. One of the reasons we went to Online Career Center's tech stack was there wasn't a Home Depot in Maynard, Mass., and so I couldn't buy enough duct tape to keep things jammed up. And that's right. I think that was the case. And to be honest, in the back office, you really look at it and you say, "Here's the tech stack we're on. Here's the tech stack you guys are on. We've got four months to get this right." And it was just on a better tech stack. It was a little more recent and it was actually the difference between an Oracle or Microsoft stack and you looked at it and they had just done a better job of planning for the future side. And so we took the best of both worlds.

Chad: In January of '99, when you flipped the switch, tell that story, number one, and then number two, the load that it took on Super Bowl day.

Sean Luitjens: Oh man, I don't even remember the stats, the load, but I'll tell you, you talk about everyone else was enjoying Super Bowl ads and how stoked they were that our ad was on there and there had to be a couple of the guys at Indy and myself, we were like ill, just sitting there with fire extinguishers ready next to the server farm 'cause that's when you hosted your own, you're like, "Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please." I mean, the traffic spiked back in those days 'cause obviously you go from a not big number, now the numbers are so huge, to hundreds of thousands to millions of users. It was insane to watch and you're like... And then by halftime, we were like, "Oh, I'm still employed and we've got huge numbers and we're off and running."

Joel: It didn't crash, did it?

Sean Luitjens: No, no.

Joel: I mean, I remember everyone at our company was like, "Monster's gonna die. They're just gonna die." And they didn't. So congrats to you. That was a thing in the '90s that happened, right?

[overlapping conversation]

Chad: OCC backbone, baby.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah.


Joel: OCC was the best.

Sean Luitjens: But the hard part of that tech debt stuff is, like Chad mentioned, is how it all starts is getting people to convert. So you do have Monster people who made good decisions at the time, got it going, it obviously had a huge brand, right? And you've gotta get them to agree to make a change. And that change management piece is huge to this because you gotta get somebody to admit, especially if you've got long-term employees, that what you did just isn't good anymore.

Chad: The biggest name on that is Jeff Taylor. I mean Jeff is the one who actually... He instigated this because I think he saw that they were coming to a bridge that wasn't built yet. And he wanted something bigger. He knew that they had the brand, but to be able to technically get to where he needed to, they were gonna have to rebuild the entire fucking system. So why not just merge the two?

Intro: But that's what good leaders sometimes know. They're good at what they're good at and they punt on crap they're not, right? And JT was like, "I'm not a tech guy, so a couple of us from Monster go away with the OCC people and you come back and tell me what's not gonna implode in January and you have to sign your name to it." Look, even if I was on the Monster side, think something like a Super Bowl, you're like, "I kinda wanna keep it 'cause it was ours, but I also wanna be employed in February. So I'm gonna pick the best available player to win."

Joel: Can we come into the 21st century now, guys? Is that...

Sean Luitjens: We can.


Joel: Okay. The consumer side '90s was great. So the perspective from the consumer business, the B2B stuff and with the ATS's and things happening, my perspective is that the debt that has been incurred is largely a part of salespeople and the buyers wanting customization, wanting sales to be made and those customizations happening because they want sales to happen. And ultimately down the road, when you get to 20, 25, 30 customers, the customization piece really breaks the machine. Am I right on that? And how did it get solved? At what point did we say, "Okay, stop it, we need to create standards in our tech and not customize everything"?

Sean Luitjens: Well, real quick, I wanna come up to today, but if we remember Recruit Soft, Recruit Soft was one of the very first applicant tracking systems that had a standardized rollout for every single one of their customers. So you couldn't come in and customize anything. I mean it was just... And again, we're talking early, early days. Now, they did that for a few reasons. First and foremost, from an onboarding standpoint, it made it much easier. From a sales standpoint, it made it much easier. Right? So from an ops standpoint, it was much easier. But from a technical debt standpoint, you could last a hell of a lot longer if you could standardize. Then a lot of money came and customization became a part of what they did. They changed their name to Taleo and we are where we are today.

S?: Go ahead, Sean.

Sean Luitjens: Well the opposite of that though is brass ring at the time, if you wanted a configured system, you could get anything you wanted, like anything, you can pay for it. But they got to somewhere around, I don't know exactly, 25, 30 clients, as you mentioned Chad, and then if they wanted to change a button from blue to red, they had to roll it out 25 times 'cause they had 25 different strings of code running out there.

Chad: It's buggy as shit.

Sean Luitjens: And I think we're in a better state now. If you jump up, 'cause I know Joel wants to get into the current decade, the Agile methodology, if people are on that, you can roll things out much better and it's just a prioritization issue. But to your... You still have the same fundamental problem of, "It's working. Do I kick it down another quarter, two quarters before I deal with technical debt because I've got this giant client who wants something?" Now, when you roll it out nowadays, you obviously roll it out for when you roll it out for all. Who pays for it? We can put that on the other side. So that technical debt from that, having multiple strings of code, that just doesn't generally happen. At least if you're decent in the product and dev side, that just shouldn't happen now. The tools are better. But you still create technical debt, though.

Chad: That's a hell of a caveat, by the way. [laughter]

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, yeah. There's still people hanging on to that stuff. Well, and you still have people that are on tools that are even 10 years old, right? So let's not even go that old. You and I chatted once before. You mentioned your LinkedIn just turned 20, which, God, did I feel old when somebody said that. They're gonna have tech debt. There's gonna be companies with tech debt out there that you wouldn't think have tech debt. And when do you solve those things under the covers?

Joel: And I guess rolling into that as well is, should customers care? I mean, it's not really my problem if your shit doesn't work. Should customers be asking questions to make sure that shit doesn't break down the road, to make sure that they're buying a tech that is standardized or is built for flexibility and growing?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, I mean, I think customers should 'cause obviously if you talk to, with Chad on, it's always fun to make fun of sales guys. Sales guys can be either your best friend as a product person...

Joel: Easy target.

Sean Luitjens: Or they can be your worst enemy, right? They come back and tell you what they just sold type of thing. Getting the product team in and just asking some simple questions around, "Do you have a roadmap?" you'd be surprised how many people are like, "Well, we don't have a roadmap." Well, if they don't have a roadmap, they're probably not thinking far enough ahead to deal with the tech debt. And you can ask them basic questions around, "Well, what percentage of your dev is for tech debt?"

Chad: Well, can we see the roadmap? I've heard so many people talk about said roadmap and it's just total... It's much vaporware is what they're selling in the first place. Now, I do have an angle from the sales standpoint. If the C-suite themselves understood what really drove business and they stop putting so much emphasis on sales and giving them so much power, this shit wouldn't happen as much.

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, but there's... Well, now it's a quarterly thing, right? So you look at it every quarter and you can look at your annual plan and put it together, and you basically are saying... They want new revenue, right? So the assumption from management and CEOs, especially public companies is everything that you had this year is gonna happen again next year. Well, you know this Chad, right? I mean, they don't wanna talk about renewal. Renewal should be 100%. And so you got clients on a platform. And that's going to work. And so now they wanna know, "How do I get the next dollars? What's the next new cool thing to help me? What are clients asking for? This client needs this to sign, et cetera." And if you don't clear that old, your churn goes up and then instead of having to get 10% new, you gotta go get 15% or 20% new just to get to the same line. And that's the tech debt discussion that's really, really hard 'cause companies are based on how much additional profit and revenue you had. That's just the way it is.

Chad: Well, talking about LinkedIn, we're talking about a company that's 20 years old, and we're always making fun of them because they're coming up with shit like Instagram features and things of that nature that, to me, it might drive engagement, but for the most part, it's not gonna drive sales. So they have old infrastructure. They are dealing with tech debt on a daily basis. What does a company like LinkedIn do?

Joel: And I'd love to know your thoughts on Microsoft owning them and how that plays into LinkedIn's problems.

Chad: Or does it?

Joel: Or not.

Sean Luitjens: I mean, look at it as there's an opportunity there to get a quality product in place, right? It's hard to fix tech debt, let's just be honest. It's like anyone's bill, your mortgage, hard to pay off in one chunk. So you've gotta get somebody with some rigor to step in and say, "What's the plan to get rid of the debt?" Just like you prioritize new features, how do you get rid of the old? Start to line that stuff up in the roadmap and have some dedicated resources. This is where HR practitioners can ask, "What percentage of your dev goes to tech debt?" If they say, "No, no, no, our shit's so cool and so great that we don't need to have it," then you gotta start asking yourself, "Well, how hard is it to switch?" Because that, to your point Joel, that becomes the question they need to ask, "Why is it my problem?" If it's an easy switching cost, who cares? It takes you a month to switch, it doesn't matter. If it's your ATS or your human capital management system or something like that, that thing goes bad, well, the best you can do is go find another job, make it someone else's problem. It's not good. And so that's why you gotta start asking those questions. How are you gonna deal with those?

Joel: How did the pandemic impact this issue? I know security, infrastructure, processes, all these things sort of came to the forefront. Was the pandemic a good thing to sort of get companies focused on scale and getting rid of debt?

Joel: I think it just depends on the company, in my honest opinion. If you were a company that had enough revenue coming in, so all of a sudden I'm selling toilet paper online, I probably have enough infrastructure dollars coming in to deal with tech debt. Companies that had to get lean to get through like, "I've gonna ride this out, I've gotta go completely lean," maybe if they don't have much stuff coming in, I think that's a tough question. And you have the philosophical issue, right? Does a company use COVID and that whole period to say, "I'm not gonna push out the same profit because of COVID and deal with tech debt"? That's the leadership, the CTO's suite to deal with that issue during that time.

Chad: When we're talking about applicant tracking systems, because these are I think the systems that are most wrought with tech debt, can you somewhat explain to HR practitioners that the more complex their process methodologies are that they try to feed into these systems, the more tech debt they're actually building into systems?

Sean Luitjens: I think it's that and I think the number of things you try to plug in. So you start adding the number of tools you wanna have in your toolbox to be cool. "I've gotta have this tool, that tool, every tool." So now you're...

Chad: So like the tech stack itself.

Sean Luitjens: The tech stack, right? So every one of those could exponentially go bad. So if it's a workflow and it's pretty linear and you're using different tools along that workflow, you start looking at a couple of those going bad. They don't integrate. They're on an old methodology, tech stack methodology. They're not gonna integrate with some point in time. 'Cause those big companies, the progressive companies, they'll say at some point, "You can't do this anymore. We're gonna sunset this methodology." And if the other companies got so much tech debt that they can't deal with that change, you're now stuck in the middle of cutting and pasting from one process to the other, whatever it is. So I think there's just a lot of complexity there. And yeah, ATS is, I think, as you start to add all these other things in there, "Oh, I'm gonna be the first one today, how cool." So even if you integrate something like ChatGPT or Bard in there, I get to be the first one to say that today, how is that gonna affect the other tools that are down through the system? They all talk to each other.

Chad: And that being said, today's dinosaurs who have tech debt, what kind of chance do they have against the ChatGPTs of the world, this more fluid technology that's actually making itself into our space? And we've had some of these in our space before, more domain-specific. So how do these dinosaurs have a chance against the more nimble platforms that are out there?

Sean Luitjens: So I look at ChatGPT a little bit different. So I think you have to stick to your business principles. "What am I trying to do for the customer?" That doesn't change. ChatGPT now might be the way to get rid of some tech debt if you haven't been able to do these things. "So here's the 10 things, whatever the number is, that's in my vision of what I take care of for clients with my tool." That's it. How do I get to those 10 things? And some of that was obviously slinging code to make these things happen and now ChatGPT comes along and it might be your chance to kind of drop some debt because it's just there. The weird thing from a product standpoint talking to people is, this is obviously a big leap in theory, is this sometimes perpetuates the problem, right? So some leaders are gonna be like, "Well, why should we fix the old? I'll just wait for the next ChatGPT thing to come along. I'll just make this last as long as I can."

Sean Luitjens: And if you don't get one of those in time, you've got a problem. But I think for some places, if they can use the tools to solve the problem they're trying to solve, I think there's gonna be some people trying to just use ChatGPT because, "I wanna say I use ChatGPT," and now they're gonna spend dev cycles on that. It doesn't change the value proposition to their end client. They might even try to charge more for the same shit that has all the same problem. And by the way, all those dev resources aren't tackling any of their actual internal problems.

Joel: Facebook popularized go fast and break things around 10 years ago. Are those days over, or are they still popular?

Sean Luitjens: Go fast and break things. I guess I'm a fan of aim, fire, aim, fire. So build an infrastructure that I can make a guesstimate based on client, theoretically a smart guesstimate on what I'm doing, get it out the door. I'm not a believer in zero bugs. I also don't want a million bugs. And then basically look at the client feedback and make those changes. And that's where I think those discussions at HR practitioners need to have with product teams, say, how nimble are you guys, and do a little bit of research. Are you an Agile methodology? You don't have to get down into the weeds about the tools and all that crap. But if they say they're Agile and they do a release once or twice a year, that's not okay. If they're doing a release every two or four weeks, you can look at that and put that together. But I think just a little bit of research to do that and are people gonna lie to you or do whatever, but at least you did your diligence.

Joel: So an article in Info World said, "A growing school of thought among progressive engineering organizations says that technical debt should be a core part of the job of all software developers and that proactively managing technical debt, those teams may not only avoid sinking, but can actually outpace the competition." So the question is, is the attitude around technical debt changing and can it actually be a good thing?

Sean Luitjens: Well, can tech debt be a good thing? I think... So we look at it and we try to tackle it in a percentage of time, dev time goes to tech debt. And so I think if you start to tackle that, you're just always looking at what's older and what's longer and actually take a really pragmatic look at that. Is it a technology that's gonna be around for another 10 years and it's working? Fine, I can kick the can down the road, 'cause obviously can't do it all. Do I have stuff that isn't gonna run anymore in the next little bit? It's not going to... I'm not gonna be able to get dev going? Then those are the issues I need to tackle. But I think most companies are now having some percentage of their time looking at tech debt. And hey, it's a great quarter if you've got no tech debt and you can do some new dev, but it should be at least part of the fundamental product process to look at it and say, "Are we creating tech debt?" And if you have engineers that are looking to dev folks that have to deal with tech debt on a regular basis, like any of us, they're like, "I don't wanna make that mess 'cause I'm gonna have to go clean it up because I can't just bury it in the closet, or the other guy is gonna give me crap if I write code or build something that's gonna result in tech debt another two years." And so it becomes part of the practice to try to eliminate as much as you can.

Chad: Yeah, I think that magazine was more about realizing that you do have tech debt, everybody does, and managing it and who manages it best. 'Cause it's gonna happen. It's all around the strategy of managing that debt. And again, much like financial debt, being able to manage the debt to be able to get yourself out of the hole, but you're not gonna be able to from the standpoint of just putting Band-Aids on it, there's gotta be a change in infrastructure. And again, that goes back to kind of like what we talk about with LinkedIn. It has more of my information and I think any other platform that's out there that's kind of like a job board-like platform or a social media platform, and yet they return the worst results, their tech still is slow and sloppy, and I attribute that mainly to, they haven't changed in 20 years. What are your thoughts?

Sean Luitjens: The good news is with tech debt, I mean, think about it, the good news is to have tech debt, you've been in business a while, so take the W that you've got that going, right?


Chad: It's a good way to look at it, yeah.

Sean Luitjens: If you... A lot of businesses go out in a hurry. I mean, I'd be curious, I don't know the number, how many go out of business because they just can't keep up at some point, the new tools and new tech. So they've got 50 clients on, and to keep those 50 clients, they can't actually produce anything new. But I think with LinkedIn, the Microsoft piece, can they get them on some type of fundamental product path to prioritize those things to get out in front of clients? Obviously, you might have an opinion, Chad, have you list those out. Is it the functionality? Is it speed? Is it search results? What is that issue? And then as you look at those client issues, you go back and say, "Well, what's the root cause of the speed? And now... Is it the way I'm structured? Okay, I gotta tackle that. I gotta tackle that 'cause I was not gonna get better... " The speed thing will never get better with time. Retro is not cool with everything. So...

Joel: Only my wardrobe.


Sean Luitjens: Yeah.

Joel: Curious about marketplaces. And marketplaces seem to be a great way to standardize things. Like if you're gonna build on the platform, this is how it is and this is our documentation around that. Curious, Fountain, we talked about them in last week's show, they just built a conversational AI chat bot, it looks like a homemade solution, whereas my thought was, why not build a marketplace, spend that time and energy to let other people build on top of that? Just curious, your thoughts on marketplace versus building it yourselves. Isn't Fountain just begging for more technical debt when they build it themselves?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah, without... I mean, not to pick on or talk about them specifically, but I think you start to look at it and say, "What are things that are core to my business that can give me a differentiator in the market? What makes me different?" And if there's other stuff that doesn't make me different, then I'm gonna go try to grab that marketplace, or I guess I'd use the term, unified API platform, that there's tools out there now where you basically... Their whole job is to be the, almost like the old job distribution engines actually, but basically it'll be a platform by which you can integrate with them and they integrate with everything else and you basically say, "That's an... Everybody has it. No one's gonna buy my crap because I have this versus something else." Where I would argue with Fountain is if they think they've got something that's so much better than everyone else. It's a differentiator. It's why you buy. That's what you build. You build the stuff that banks you money. The other stuff you're like, "What's the most efficient way, cost-effective way for me to get that either content or tech?"

Chad: A difference between a market differentiator in a me too, right?

Sean Luitjens: Yeah.

Chad: So last last for me, if you're talking to two groups, HR practitioners and vendors, what advice would you give them surrounding due diligence? Because I don't think that we do a good enough job in prepping on the vendor side and also even understanding. People are asking for, "Hey, can I have your latest RFP?" They have no fricking clue what to ask. What should vendors do and what should the HR practitioner do?

Sean Luitjens: Vendors, I think is just, you mentioned, is managing tech debt. I don't know how to answer that question so much from the standpoint of what they should do to deal with those. It's a, how do you deal with tech debt? Like you said, I think everyone's gonna have it at some level. But do I have a small mortgage or a big mortgage? Am I about to file Chapter 11 on my tech stack? The goal for me would be never having to shut down. I think we joked and we chatted once, Chad, about the FAA. Everyone says we need to update the system, but I'm like, "Look, I don't wanna be the dude flying the first week they put the new system out. I don't know about you, guys. That's not for me. Are they gonna shut down for a month to beta test it? That's probably not happening either." So that's so much tech debt that they've reached a point at which, what are they gonna do?

Chad: How many years has that tech been out there, I can't remember, that software?

Sean Luitjens: Like '60s, '70s. It's actually pretty...

Chad: Yeah, yeah.

Sean Luitjens: You think about the amount of crap they're managing on seven... I can't imagine... Think of an HR company from the late '90s or mid-'90s that you would wanna use their stuff, and then think how smart those guys probably were putting together the FAA stuff because it's still jamming along. On the company side, I'd probably say leverage one of your vendors' product teams. I literally would just make a network of... Obviously, if it's someone you might be purchasing or whatever, they're gonna be maybe biased. But I would go out to one of your current vendors that you really like the way they're doing business and say, "Hey, can I have 15, 30 minutes with your product team?" So what would you ask? What would someone ask me that I would say, "Here's how I'm going to show you, 'cause I think we're in a good place where we are right now"?

Sean Luitjens: Obviously, I'm slightly biased. We are moving some legacy tech debt. One of the reasons I came here was there is some legacy tech debt around a couple of the products, but we're tackling that. So there's a plan in place and that was kind of coming over versus get here and how much duct tape can you bring over when you come to Korn Ferry? That's not the plan. But if someone was to sit down and say, "Can you spend 15 or 30 minutes with me?" virtually walk through the five or 10 questions you'd ask and what you'd expect for reasonable answers, I think that gives you a really good starting point to see... And if they won't put the product person on the phone or someone on that side, that's not okay.


Joel: That's Sean Luitjens, everybody, VP of Product Management for Korn Ferry. Sean, for our listeners who want to connect with you or learn more, where would you send them?

Sean Luitjens: I'd send them to LinkedIn. The good news about being Luitjens is three is three of us online. So I wanted to take my wife's maiden name when we got married 'cause I got... It sucks spelling Luitjens, but there are some times it works out.

Joel: I feel the same being a Cheesman. Chad, that's another one in the can. We out.

Chad: We out.

Outro: Wow, look at you. You made it through an entire episode of the Chad and Cheese Podcast, or maybe you cheated and fast-forwarded to the end. Either way, there is no doubt you wish you had that time back, viable time you could have used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell, enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey, or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on TikTok. No, you hung out with these two chuckleheads instead. Now go take a shower and wash off all the guilt, but save some soap because you'll be back like an awful train wreck, you can't look away. And like Chad's favorite western, you can quit them either. We out.


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