Portland's tech renaissance is great for software developers, not so for those looking to hire [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 14--When Cozy went looking for software developers to help launch its business, the San Francisco-based startup combed through nearly 100 Silicon Valley resumes referred by one of its financial backers, Google Ventures.
Dozens of them looked appealing, recalls Chief Executive Gino Zahnd, so his company reached out to 37 of them -- and got exactly one reply.
Frustrated, Cozy decided to look north, to Portland. Through connections, the company found 18 solid prospects, and within two weeks Zahnd heard back from all but four, each with skills "at least as good as the folks we're finding here."
Cozy, which provides an online service to link landlords with tenants and prospective tenants, will keep its headquarters in California. But half its 10-person staff will work in Portland, out of a new office that opened this month.
Oregon has long been an outpost for Silicon Valley companies, from Intel to Hewlett-Packard. Another tide is rising, led by eBay, Salesforce, New Relic and others drinking from a previously overlooked pool of Oregon software talent.
While Portland's software industry is small in comparison to the Bay Area or Seattle, hiring a developer here remains considerably less expensive than in those hypercompetitive markets. And employers say Portland developers are less likely to job hop in search of a bigger paycheck or better opportunity.
The nascent hiring spree is great for Portland developers, who haven't been in this much demand since the dot-com bubble.
It's less terrific for Portland startups and other software businesses, leaving some of them unable to find the people they need.
"I deal with a lot of employers, and they're saying we're having a hard time finding people," said Warren Harrison, chairman of the computer science department at PSU.
It's only getting harder, he said, as new employers arrive: "I know several people that were working for local companies here who now work for Salesforce."
Portland startup OpenSesame, which offers a network of professional training courses online, has been working for two years to fill a pair of software developer jobs.
"We look for months and months and months, on and off aggressively," said OpenSesame Vice President Joshua Blank.
The company's technology is gaining popularity, he said, but growth would be a lot quicker -- and a lot easier -- if OpenSesame had a bigger staff.
"There's no doubt we'd be further along," Blank said. "Our existing developers would be happier."
Stumped in its search for local staffers, OpenSesame hired developers in Cozumel, Mexico, and Kingston, Jamaica, to work remotely. The developers are highly skilled, Blank said, but aren't a lot cheaper than hiring locally despite living in less affluent countries.
The company set up large video monitors in the office so the remote developers could interact with the headquarters staff, as though they were in Portland.
"Our preference, of course, is to have people all together in the office," Blank said. "But we're learning to cope."
Three of the biggest names in Portland technology -- Janrain, Puppet Labs and Urban Airship -- have announced $88 million in new investment backing this year, and they plan to use that money to hire more staff.
"We're going to be fighting it out for talent," said Eric Winquist, CEO of Jama Software, which employs 70 people in the Pearl District making and marketing project management software.
If the fast-rising demand for software professionals is too much of a good thing, it may still be a good thing.
Portland's maturing tech ecosystem makes the city more attractive to both companies and professionals, Winquist said. Prospective employees are more inclined to move to Portland now, knowing that there are enough employers in the city that they have a second and third option if their first choice doesn't work out.
"We have a better shot at bringing senior folks in than we did even a couple years ago," Winquist said.
Still, homegrown software developers can be hard to find.
The Oregon University System awarded just 278 bachelor's degrees in computer science last year -- just two more than it did 10 years earlier, despite the demand for software workers.
In that same period, the overall number of undergraduate degrees from the university system climbed by more than 50 percent.
With its undergraduate computer science program constrained to funding limits, Oregon State University responded last year by adding a one-year online computer science course designed for students who had recently completed their degrees.
Already, it has 200 people enrolled. Math and science programs are hard and frequently off-putting to undergrads, said Terri Fiez, head of OSU's electrical engineering and computer science program.
But once they graduate and survey the job market, Fiez said, young people are much more open to pursuing computer science degrees. Even so, she said, some uncertainty remains as people leap into new careers.
"The question is, is this just a fad Certainly some of the startups are not going to make it," Fiez said.
"But if you get enough of a critical mass, if you get enough of the people with the skills we need, something will come out of that," she said. "And that's what we've been missing in Oregon."
-- Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; phone: 503-294-7699
(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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