Why Is It So Tough to Hire Tech Talent in Austin?

By    July 2, 2013

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If you’re a software developer, you probably can write your own ticket at any number of employers in Austin, TX. Why? Because the demand greatly exceeds the supply.

Austin tech businesses—including SpareFoot—likely will need to fill 1,200 new jobs in software development between now and 2017, according to the Austin Technology Council. A recent report from Silicon Valley Bank found that 94 percent of tech startups in Austin and the rest of Texas had faced challenges in finding workers with the right skills—the highest percentage of any state.

“We simply aren’t graduating people at the rate fast enough to fill these roles,” said Julie Huls, president and CEO of the nonprofit Austin Technology Council.

Given that gap, Austin tech employers seeking to fill software development positions and other jobs are looking to the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and other regions to find talent. Among other things, Huls said it’ll take “aggressive out-of-market recruiting” to bridge the talent gap.

Here at SpareFoot, one of the talent needs we’re addressing all the time is front-end development, said our recruiter, Rachel Morse.

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“We are constantly looking outside Austin for tech talent. I hear from other recruiters constantly that it is a ‘candidates’ market’ here in Austin, and that is absolutely true,” Morse said. “You can’t just post a position and wait for qualified candidates to roll in. You have to go out and create partnerships and join groups in order to find those who are passively looking.”

(To learn more about tech positions and other career opportunities at SpareFoot, visit our jobs page at www.sparefoot.com/jobs.html.)

Growing Pains
The hunt for tech talent in Austin probably won’t get easier anytime soon. One of every five new tech jobs in Texas during 2012-17 is expected to be created in Austin, according to the technology council. In Austin, that means more than 10,000 new tech jobs in a five-year span.

One of the offshoots of this situation: Something you might call career cannibalism.

“Many of the companies in Austin end up poaching talent from each other, because there just aren’t enough people to meet the needs,” said Jaime Thomas, a recruiter at Austin tech startup Mass Relevance, which helps businesses boost their social media efforts.

Furthermore, Thomas said, some Austin companies “still have heartburn about relocating people.” To make matters worse, it’s hard to convince candidates to relocate from areas like San Francisco and New York City, she said.

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A $21 Billion Sector
Despite the obstacles, Austin’s tech sector is sustaining growth. As it stands now, that sector pumps $21 billion a year into the Austin economy, according to the technology council.

“That remarkable growth is a testament to the ingenuity of the companies that already call Austin home. They established a precedent that brings companies like Google, Apple and Facebook,” Huls said. “These tech CEOs also understand that there is an issue in the talent pipeline, and together are we are working to find practical solutions.”

Thomas supports practical solutions—just not ones that have been tried over and over and over again.

“There needs to be more marketing about the high-tech software and web-based industry in Austin,” Thomas said. “I think many outsiders still consider our high-tech community to be focused on hardware and semiconductors. Additionally, local educational institutions need to teach more classes on the latest technologies. The students coming out of school rarely have exposure to them unless they have done side projects or have gone out on their own to learn them.”

Huls said stronger, more flexible technical training programs for underemployed residents of the Austin area combined with beefed-up support for STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) will help meet immediate and future needs for tech talent.

“Tech must invest in aggressive recruiting and training methods,” said tech entrepreneur and investor Joel Trammell, chairman of the Austin Technology Council.

Bottom image courtesy of Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

  • David Hussell

    Tech employment in Austin give the better space for company’s employment to be developing in the better way. The New York Public Relations Agency make an connection with customers in taking help from us.

  • Austin

    We lost a generation of tech workers in Austin & elsewhere beginning back in 2001 or so, because the hue & cry back in those days was that computer science/programming jobs were all going overseas to India and similar locales. This sort of media frenzy scared off quite a few H.S. grads from considering computer science for their college degree.

    This “anti-C.S.”/overseas-outsourcing meme really didn’t start to die out in the U.S. until relatively recently, around 2007 or 2008. I can remember it well…and so does Google Trends:

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=computer%20science&cmpt=q

    Moreover, one man’s ‘tech talent shortage’ is another man’s ‘age discrimination.’ Witness the Statesman’s past article on this phenomenon in Austin:

    http://www.statesman.com/news/business/zehr-older-workers-without-jobs-face-uphill-climb/nWc67/?goback=%2Egde_1696057_member_219218451

    Yes, there are tech workers out there…and so is Ageism.

  • Austin
  • ericbaze

    With deepest respect, I have to calls bull!@#$ on this statement. There are plenty of available, reasonably qualified candidates in the Austin market. It’s the hiring standards and screening practices of local employers that needs to change.

    I’ve been in the Austin market for 13 months and have never been so discouraged by the standards and practices of hiring in a job market. Employers opine that they can’t find qualified candidates, and yet they regularly ignore or turn away applicants who aren’t an easily quantifiable “perfect fit”. I’ve seen jobs stay open for 6-9 months for this reason.

    You must be a specialist. Your previous experience should be 100% in line with the position in question. Transferable skills and related experience don’t matter. You must easily and without question fit *exactly* in to our existing process and structure.

    Oh, and you must be under 35.

    I’m exaggerating a bit, but I’ve never worked in a market so stringent about fit regarding laundry-list skills, company culture, and exact-fit previous experience….and God forbid you be older than one of the executives, or even the hiring manager.

    Additionally, the quirkiness of screening practices border on the outrageous here. In the last few months alone, i’ve been asked to take IQ tests, perform design exercises without offer of compensation or NDA, and participate in 3-month-long interview processes involving up to 12 people.

    Just yesterday I was informed that the position for which I was interviewing would have a 6-week screening process, and include both compulsory freelance work and a multi-day on-site working interview as a part of the process. This for a company of 15 people?

    Even today I received a “test” asking 22 questions about mobile app UI terminology….followed up with a “please design a _____”. All before even requesting a phone interview.

    There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but they should be realistic standards. Companies are passing on a lot of good, solid people because they waste time looking for “rock stars, ninjas, and gurus”.

    And a final note about front-end developer roles. I know very few degreed software engineers or computer scientists who have serious skills AND interest in HTML, CSS & Javascript. Put your eyes on web designers and developers with advanced experience, then give them the opportunity to ramp up on your chosen libraries. You’ll be much happier with the results.

  • John Egan

    We’re sorry to hear you’ve had some rough experiences out there in the very competitive employment landscape in Austin. By the way, ageism should never be a factor in hiring; it’s illegal. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  • ericbaze

    No need to apologize, thought i appreciate the sentiment. I just mean to indicate that the expectations and hiring practices here in Austin seem at odds with criticisms about the ability to locally source talent.

    I would encourage you to ask for an honest dialog with people doing the staffing (recruiters, etc), and with people here in the market looking for work.

    It’s really not about a competitive market — this is a “candidate’s market” right now.

  • Team Hireology

    Regardless of location, it’s imperative that hiring managers take the time to ask interview questions that are going to help them understand the candidate as a whole, not just their tech abilities. It seems like managers will narrow down their candidate pool to three or four applicants who look great on paper. However, they are less than thrilled after conducting interviews with these people.

    Rather than settling, or ignoring their future goals, likelihood for culture fit, etc, keep looking. It’s hard – yes. But setting for just anyone isn’t going to pay off.

    To help determine who the best all-around candidate is, my colleague, an I/O psychologist, built this list of 10 interview questions for customer-facing tech talent. Perhaps these questions could be a valuable addition to your hiring process.

  • Chris

    I’ve been looking in Austin for 6 months now. For every 20 application submissions, I get 2 responses and ultimately denied. I have 14 years experience in the IT field and am a native Texan (10 years here in Austin). Everyone is looking outside of Austin. I’m ready to move. I have realtors leaving pamphlets on my doorstep every few days asking us to sell our home because of a home shortage due to the massive influx of people.

    I’m sorry, but Austin has outgrown itself ten-fold. Not the same town I once fell in love with.

  • Sara Mitran

    I completely agree with you. Hiring practices in Austin today are outlandish (even crazier than before). Hiring managers don’t know what they need. Job descriptions are inaccurate. Age discrimination is rampant. Competent technical and non-technical professionals are available in Austin. Austin companies waste time and undervalue talent.
    If they can wait for 6-12+ months to fill a position with a specific skill set, they need to hire/train anybody.

    Facebook gave up the funky recruiting tests a long time ago. If Austin companies want to emulate Silicon Valley, they need to catch up.

  • Sara

    It isn’t the same town. Employers pass up on good talent everyday. They treat it as a finite resource. Between the resume screening software, bad interviewers, and silly screening tests, prospective employees don’t have a chance.

  • Mark

    The resume queues are still full of tech grads from the 2000-2005 era, who went into CS chasing the late 1990s tech bubble, only to graduate into a depression in the industry. The universities and colleges do not need to catch up, rather, industry needs to start picking up the phone and hiring. Instead of complaining that they can’t find the purple squirrels they’re looking for. IT unemployment is huge, even in Austin.

  • overfortyhiringATX

    Over 40 and facing what seems to be discriminatory hiring practices at Austin tech companies? We want to hear your experiences at https://www.facebook.com/over40hiringATX?ref=hl

  • Jack

    I am an entry level developer in Austin. I have had one job that ended earlier this year and now I’m stuck in a QA POSITION because I cannot write my own ticket. I have a BS in dev this article is really full of it.

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