Dogs at work? Better parental leave? In these boom times of Seattle technology, one of the biggest challenges has been filling jobs as the demand for workers exceeds the supply of candidates. “It’s definitely a candidate’s market,” says a recruiter.
Scott Porad badly wanted to hire Mike Hansen to work at Rover, a Seattle dog-sitting startup.
Porad, Rover’s chief technology officer, knew just how to get Hansen, a software developer, to exit the interview process at Google, where he was being considered for a job that would probably pay much more. He would tell Hansen about Rover’s thoroughly dog-friendly benefits.
“Mike is the owner of two dogs that he loves,” Porad said. “He felt like the purpose of what we were doing was more meaningful for him and appreciated the fact that he could bring his dogs to work here.”
Today, Hansen works at Rover’s office, which is crawling with dogs. It’s an homage to the company’s daily work of connecting pet owners with sitters, but also an attractive recruiting feature at the growing startup.
Hansen is one of about 90,000 software engineers in Washington state, many of whom have similar experiences when looking for a new job. Software engineers are in such high demand that many are constantly being approached by recruiters and often wind up negotiating several job offers simultaneously.
Number of software developers in the state in 2013
At any one time, there are more than 25,000 open jobs in Washington that go unfilled, and 90 percent are in health care and science, technology and engineering fields, according to the Washington Roundtable.
The Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) estimates that every year there is a 3,000-person shortage in filling such core technology jobs as software developers and engineers.
Estimated annual shortage of workers vs. number in demand for core tech roles
In January alone, state data show there were more than 6,000 open positions for software-application developers.
“It’s definitely a candidate’s market,” said Ana Recio, senior vice president of global recruiting at San Francisco-based Salesforce, which has a large Seattle office. “There’s no doubt about it.”
While the number of available jobs grows, the Seattle area boasts the technical talent to fill them. That’s one reason the region’s tech startups and businesses are facing growing competition from a huge influx of Silicon Valley companies establishing offices in Seattle and the Eastside.
Nest, the high-profile smart-home company Google acquired, was just one of the latest when it set up shop inside Google’s Kirkland office last month. It plans to hire 40 developers immediately, growing to 100 by the end of 2016.
Nest opened the engineering offices here for the same reason Uber, Best Buy, Salesforce and several others did: the availability of talent.
But the local pool alone is not enough to fill the demand, explaining why many engineers flocking to tech companies in the region are not Washington natives.
The University of Washington, a top school for computer-science education, is working to increase the number of graduates every year, but ramping up to its ideal number will take several years.
According to the WTIA, the state is the largest importer of technical talent in the nation, with candidates drawn by outdoor activities and the lower cost of living compared with San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Data from Hired, an online recruiting company, show that 20 percent of all candidates the firm places move to take the new job. In Seattle, 41 percent of Hired’s placements are transplants.
For tech companies, getting those engineers and developers into their workforce can be a huge challenge. Even with big companies, their advantage of name recognition doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a flood of candidates.
“You have to have everything,” Recio said. “You have to come through on the compensation, you have to come through on the benefits, you have to be leading the market.”
That increasingly has come to mean companies need to be more creative in job packages.
Last fall, Netflix raised the bar for benefits when it announced some employees would get up to a year off for parental leave.
Median salary for essential tech roles in the state
Not wanting to be outdone, Microsoft, Amazon.com and several other companies quickly followed suit and boosted their parental leave.
Seattle online real-estate company Zillow increased its paternity leave to 16 weeks, a move to make the company a good place to stay for its 2,300 employees, said Chief Operating Officer Amy Bohutinsky. But it was also a way to ensure the company could stay competitive in the recruiting war.
“It is a competitive hiring environment,” Bohutinsky said. “And we sink or swim on our ability to hire and retain the best people.”
Number of tech companies in the state in 2013
The big players — Microsoft, Amazon.com and Google — generally pay 20 to 30 percent more on average than many smaller companies. But with companies offering similar benefits and salaries that are at least competitive for their respective sizes, recruiters say the thing that sets one business apart from another is that indefinable quality: culture.
Recruiters for companies of all sizes are drawing candidates by talking up that culture, emphasizing the uniqueness of a company’s technology and offering the ability to make a palpable impact on the company’s product.
Number of people working in tech in the state
That contrasts with recruiting wars of previous boom times in which companies doled out lavish, over-the-top perks, a practice that appears to have died down.
Seattle data-storage startup Qumulo, which has been booming since becoming an investor favorite last year, has grown from a 30-person staff to more than 150 in just two years. Recruiting manager Emily Rosok attributes that to two things.
“Oh my god, we don’t sleep,” she said. “But really, we are very culture-centric.”
At Qumulo, where employees can ride scooters through the company’s downtown office, the team likes to spend time together. Developers work in two-week sprints to always keep projects fresh.
Employees in computer occupations in 2013
The challenge for Rosok is trying to show candidates these attributes.
Qumulo has an aggressive college-recruiting program, and its favorite school for picking up systems developers is University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which focuses on the technology.
Employees in computer occupations forecasted in 2018
Rather than risk something getting lost in translation over the phone, Qumulo just flies in huge batches of candidates and gives them a daylong interview that’s more like a VIP event.
Candidates are treated to catered breakfast and lunch, as well as product demos. When interviews are over, they get a tour of the city. The night is capped off by pub trivia or bocce ball at Capitol Hill’s Rhein Haus.
Qumulo, like many startups, makes it clear from the start: It cannot match the pay at tech giants. If that’s what a candidate is looking for, he or she should probably look elsewhere.
Part of the family
Rover, the dog-sitting startup, essentially treats employees’ furry friends as more members of its immediate family. Workers receive paid bereavement time if a pet dies, free dog sitting when on vacation, and even extra paid vacation days if the employee also works as a Rover sitter.
“Those benefits are tied to wanting people that work here to use the service we build, to eat our own dog food — pun fully intended,” said Porad, the chief technology officer.
The wooing, however, goes only so far, Porad said. If a candidate, no matter how great, doesn’t really want to work at the company, then who wants that person?
Some companies won’t go to the end of the Earth to recruit a candidate.
If you aren’t into the company’s idea, you’ll be happier somewhere else, says Bryan Skene, vice president of engineering at Tempered Networks, a Seattle network-security startup.
“I don’t want people to be here because I convinced them,” he said.
Tempered offers basic benefits and certainly can’t pay as much as the tech giants. But what it does give, Skene said, is the possibility of creating something great.
Tempered’s high-tech hardware for network security is geeky, and Skene knows that well. But it’s also something “so cool, to a tiny subset of the population.” And that’s the population he has to find.
Nearly all Tempered’s new hires come from employee referrals, as is the case with other tech companies, both large and small.
That makes it possible to get people through the door, but the way Skene tries to hook them is with Tempered’s potential.
In a small building on Seattle’s waterfront, Tempered’s office isn’t decked out with beanbag chairs and fancy stocked kitchens. It has a single pingpong table in a corner.
The company isn’t into frills. It’s into finding ways to better encrypt the transfer of information.
At Tempered, Skene promises, security-geek candidates will get to work on the most interesting projects they ever have.
“People come here because the potential of the company is massive,” Skene said.
When hiring works out for startups, the payoff can often be bigger than in Silicon Valley. The average tenure of a developer in Silicon Valley is nine months at a single company. In Seattle, that length is closer to two years.
Tech-industry veterans attribute that to the community in Seattle. Recruiting managers tend to be less cutthroat, and companies work hard to get people to stay happy once they’re in.
“People here tend to job-hop less than in the Bay Area,” said Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the UW. “That is, once you hire someone, the chances are greater that she will stick around for a few years, rather than jumping to the next great opportunity.”
Many new arrivals say the same thing — it may be hard, but recruiting tech talent in Seattle is easier than almost anywhere else in the country.
“When I think about the market outside Silicon Valley, the Seattle area is the next largest tech center in the world,” said Matt Rogers, Nest founder and vice president.