In red-hot job market, tech workers are naming their price, and more – BetaBoston

“When I have children,” said Jaclyn Calovine, director of talent operations at Boston fitness-tech startup Whoop, “they’re all going to be software engineers.”

And, importantly for Boston’s startup community, young companies are finding they can compete with the giants of technology like never before, thanks to tremendous infusions of cash. Tech salaries in the Boston area now average $147,000, slightly higher than last year, but up as much as 30 to 40 percent over the past half-decade, according to local recruiters and surveys. And the number of job openings has soared: In September, there were 8,754 tech-related positions advertised in metro Boston, according to a report by CompTia, a 43 percent increase from the same time last year.

But the bounty in tech threatens to exacerbate age-old inequities in the region, where many working-class families struggle to afford housing. While engineers can make six figures straight out of college, blue-collar tech employees, such as those moving boxes at Amazon warehouses for roughly $15 an hour, are looking for more.

“It’s simply unacceptable,” Sean O’Brien, the president of the Teamsters Local 25, said of the pay disparity. “The pandemic has shown the vital importance of blue-collar workers in our everyday lives.”

‘I was willing to walk away’

Burned out by the pandemic, 28-year-old Maiya Brown earlier this year decided to give up working in health care, where she was a researcher in New York City, and put her skills in website design to the test in the tech sector. She quickly found she was in high demand.

Facebook and Google showed interest. LinkedIn messages from hiring managers were coming in. During a trip to her brother’s high school graduation in New Jersey, she was fielding back-to-back calls from recruiters, much to her mother’s chagrin.

Maiya Brown, age 28, is seen in her home in Manhattan, N.Y.
Maiya Brown, age 28, is seen in her home in Manhattan, N.Y.Jennifer S. Altman

Midway through her job search, Boston-based Wayfair swooped in, offering good pay and flexibility in defining job responsibilities. But with many other good options circulating, Brown felt comfortable playing tough and asked for more.

Her mother told Brown to “just take” the package, she recalled. But Brown explained to her that the tech hiring market was in her favor, and that she could, and should as a woman of color, hold firm, she said. Ultimately, Wayfair agreed and made an offer that she accepted.

“I was willing to walk away from anything that didn’t fit my box,” said Brown, who will work for Wayfair remotely from Manhattan until she moves to Boston next year. “They agreed to give me everything I wanted.”

‘It’s almost like dating’

Hiring managers and recruiters outlined a few reasons for Boston’s increased competition for tech talent.

Pandemic-fueled resignations and early retirements have increased turnover at many companies. Conversely, the pandemic has meant boom times for large tech companies such as Amazon, prompting many to expand. At the same time, the most promising startups in Boston, so-called unicorns with multibillion dollar valuations — such as Whoop, Snyk, and Devoted Health — have raised record amounts of funding and are in need of workers.

Joshua Drew, a regional vice president for recruiting firm Robert Half, said those factors have made his clients unusually sought-after, especially software developers with skills in programming languages such as Python and Ruby.

The Facebook Inc. logo sits on screens ahead of the global launch event of "Workplace" at the London offices in 2016.
The Facebook Inc. logo sits on screens ahead of the global launch event of “Workplace” at the London offices in 2016. Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Another important change: It’s no longer the case that Facebook, Google, or Amazon get first dibs on the best talent. Many area startups are now able to match the giants in compensation, and in many cases offer an attractive proposition: higher equity stakes at a company that is growing, and increasing in value, fast.

Candidates are also prioritizing culture fit more than before. Since tech workers are fielding multiple interviews with similar pay packages, Drew said, they are also asking about an employer’s mission and values, for example, or work-life balance, and who they’d be working with.

“It’s almost like dating,” Drew said. “When the cards are on the table, early on, candidates feel like they can be open and honest. … You just kind of cut through the fat a little quicker.”

‘You have to move fast’

Adriana Bokel Herde, the chief people officer at Snyk, a Boston cybersecurity firm valued at roughly $8.5 billion in its latest funding round, said one of the biggest challenges is the pace and competition in hiring.

“You have to move fast,” she said of interviewing candidates. “In the past, [employers] sometimes have done seven or eight interviews. Nobody has that [time] anymore.”

At Whoop, the fitness-tech firm based in Kenmore Square most recently valued at $3.6 billion, pay and perks are not an issue. Compensation is competitive: around $105,000 in base pay, plus $30,000 in equity, for software engineers right out of college. And the perks are plenty: in-office lactation rooms, commuter shuttles, and bonuses for getting a good night’s rest — as tracked by the company’s own wearable technology..

Will Ahmed, founder and CEO of WHOOP, sat in the WHOOP Brand room, overlooking Fenway Park.
Will Ahmed, founder and CEO of WHOOP, sat in the WHOOP Brand room, overlooking Fenway Park.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file

However, finding candidates committed to working in person is becoming a challenge. Whoop, for example, looks for candidates comfortable with being in the office, because its management values innovation and feels that the spark of in-person meetings is hard to replicate long-term over Zoom.

Executives recognize that might cost them desirable candidates in the short term, but think it’s worth it.

“Bumping into somebody, having a conversation about what they’re working on — [that] will enable us to out-compete in the long run as relates to our peers who are going fully remote,” said Rob Case, Whoop senior vice president of talent.

‘As long as I’m happy’

For many tech workers, as in other industries, the pandemic sparked some deep thinking about what they wanted most out of work.

Pooja Narasimhan, 27, a software developer who recently switched from Amazon Robotics to Cambridge-based CarGurus, said getting married changed her priorities. Before her wedding in March, she would routinely work 18-hour days, finishing projects late into the night. But now, she wanted to spend more time with her husband.

In job interviews, her top priority was finding an employer that valued a work-life balance. When interviewing with CarGurus, she made sure to ask other employees how many hours they worked. When she learned CarGurus offered days off for mental health breaks, she was thrilled.

“I wanted to make some serious … changes to my life,” she said, adding that she wanted “career growth, as well as a good personal life.”

CarGurus logo.
CarGurus logo.Handout

Sam Sims, 26, a data scientist for Workhuman in Framingham, said working remotely, indefinitely, was his biggest priority. Not fond of mornings or commuting, Sims said the pandemic made him realize working from home fit him best. And as a single man looking to get a dog in the future, working remotely would make pet care easier, he said.

Sims, who lives outside Hartford, looked for jobs with Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Permanent remote work was not possible at some of those places. Others said employees could work from home, but required them to live near their offices. When Workhuman offered $135,000 salary and the ability to work from home permanently, Sims accepted, caring little about the allure of working for a tech titan.

“I’m not super big on the actual brand,” Sims said. “As long as I’m happy doing the work, that’s really what I’m looking for at the end of the day.”


Pranshu Verma can be reached at pranshu.verma@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @pranshuverma_.

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