By Brianna Bailey
Copyright © 2015 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Local startup Tailwind is growing and hiring tech talent, but not just in Oklahoma City.
The Pinterest analytics company also has an office in New York City and recently hired its first person in Seattle.
“When it comes to building up the Tailwind team, the most important thing to us is finding the most talented team,” Tailwind founder Danny Maloney said. “People have been hired in Oklahoma, but having a foot in other markets gives us a broader talent pool.”
IT workers are in high demand in Oklahoma City, and the need is only growing.
Computer and mathematical science jobs in Oklahoma are projected to grow by 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Maloney has found that he is not only competing with other Oklahoma City-based companies to attract talent, but also Silicon Valley companies that allow people to work remotely. It’s actually cheaper for a company like Google or even many smaller startups to pay a developer in Oklahoma City than what a worker with the same skills in San Francisco commands, he said.
“It’s much more affordable for companies to hire another software developer here than in the Bay area,” Maloney said. “Just because they live here doesn’t mean they are working for a local company anymore.”
Getting kids interested in the tech scene early is critical for growing the future workforce, Maloney believes.
“If we don’t start teaching it now, it’s going to be really hard to correct that 10 or 15 years down the road,” he said. “We’ve got to be focused more on those subjects.”
Tailwind has helped sponsor OK Coders, Oklahoma’s first software development boot camp.
OK Coders is a 10-week Web development course designed for software developers of all experience levels. The program is a collaboration of Tailwind, the University of Oklahoma’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, and the Oklahoma City-based software development company Phase 2 Interactive.
The program held its first boot camp in Oklahoma City in spring 2014 and expanded to offer a course in Tulsa this year, with the help of a sponsorship from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Susan Moring, program manager for Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, which helps oversee OK Coders, said growing the local pool of tech talent will be crucial for Oklahoma’s tech scene to thrive.
“We saw that Oklahoma does have a pretty good tech startup scene,” Moring said. “It’s not Silicon Valley, but there are people who are doing a lot of things with tech and we saw that a lot of businesses couldn’t move fast enough or get the prototypes they need because of lack of developer talent.”
IT talent challenges
Oklahoma companies also have a difficult time filling IT jobs, workers with system administration specialties and support staff, said Dan Dungy, branch manager for the IT recruiting firm Robert Haft Technology in Oklahoma City.
“It’s very hard to find good candidates right now. The market is very tight for skill sets that are in demand,” Dungy said. “There’s been enough changes in IT that have really made it difficult for people to keep up and bring in the right skill set to fill the need.”
Local companies increasingly are having to offer signing bonuses, as well as competitive pay and benefits, to attract talent to IT jobs, Dungy said.
Scott Smith, manager of government and economic development partnerships for CareerTech, helps recruit new employers to the state. Smith said he knows of at least one instance where a company looking to hire people in Oklahoma chose another state because the IT talent pool in Oklahoma wasn’t as large at it would have liked.
“That state was able to show the company that they were able to provide a trained workforce and that is a question of the skills gap in Oklahoma, really,” Smith said.
In Oklahoma, network systems and data communications analysts posted the highest job growth rate in the state between 2004 and 2014. Network systems and data jobs grew by 52 percent during the past 10 years in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Bob Funk, CEO of the Oklahoma City-based staffing company Express Employment Professionals, said IT positions are becoming the hardest to fill.
“We simply aren’t producing enough workers who have those skills to do those jobs,” Funk said.