When working with a tight budget, it’s easy to assume your dollars will stretch further with overseas talent. But more companies are realizing that U.S.-based freelancers can be an affordable option. In this article, we’ll continue the series exploring U.S. tech regions by taking a closer look at the tech scene in the Pacific Northwest.
Pacific Northwest basics
The Pacific Northwest generally encompasses the western areas of Washington and Oregon states. Some people say the area includes the Canadian province of British Columbia. For this article, we’ll stay within the U.S. The Pacific Northwest is a relatively narrow corridor flanked by the Pacific Ocean to its west and the Cascade Range to its east.
Traditionally, when people think of the region, old growth forests, salmon, and coffee may come to mind. And of course, rain—lots of rain. None of that’s changed, but today, software developers are just as prevalent.
Oregon: The Silicon Forest
Oregon’s high-tech industry began in the 1940s when pioneers like Tektronix and Electro Scientific Industries settled in Portland. Over the years, several other major tech companies moved in, including Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Xerox. By the ‘80s, these companies became some of the largest employers in the area, which inspired locals to call Portland metro the “Silicon Forest”—a play on California’s Silicon Valley. Although the Silicon Forest is still Oregon’s primary tech hub, you can find clean tech, high tech, and environmental sciences companies throughout the state.
Oregon’s tech outlook
In 2017, Portland rose to the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ annual list of the Best Places for Business and Careers. The Silicon Forest boasts low unemployment rates, a pervasiveness of tech jobs, and a large, highly-educated, millennial workforce. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs make up 7.2% of the employment, compared to the 5.8% national average. Portland’s tech hub isn’t as large as other hubs like the densely populated Silicon Valley, but Portland has just about every type of skilled professional the tech industry wants.
There are 36 public and private colleges within 150 miles of Portland. Statewide, colleges and universities including Oregon Institute of Technology and University of Oregon are graduating a steady flow of software developers, engineers, and mathematicians to fill the rising number of tech and STEM job openings.
Washington: Where techies are migrating
Tech rules in Washington state. The ethos began when Boeing established itself in Seattle over 100 years ago. Later, Bill Gates kept tech entrenched in the region’s economy by starting Microsoft in nearby Redmond. Today, over a quarter of a million Washingtonians work in tech-related jobs, and the number continues to grow. Compared to 2016, Seattle saw a near 11% increase in tech job openings—more than any other major tech hub in the U.S. Four of the top five employers are tech companies, which include Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
Washington’s tech outlook
Schools can’t churn out computer science graduates fast enough to meet demand. In 2017, there were 4,000 tech-related job openings and only 500 certified local candidates. This forces companies to look outside of the Seattle area for workers, but they don’t have to look for long. There’s a steady stream of developers, engineers, and data scientists moving to the Emerald City—predominantly from Silicon Valley. Compared to the Bay Area, Seattle salaries go a lot further as the city has a lower cost of living and there’s no state income tax.
Josh Warborg, a Seattle-based district president at Robert Half predicts demand will continue growing. “It is an all-out war for talent,” says Warborg. “We have some pretty good-size companies in Seattle that are consistently adding people and don’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.”
As in other industries, not all tech talent chooses traditional employment. Many people are quietly working as freelancers—whether full-time or on the side. As in one full-time chiropractor who is also a full-stack developer. Although his main profession is in medicine, he earned his software certification in case he found a tech project where his work could make a difference. The bottom line is: When looking for talent in the Pac Northwest, be sure to look at freelancers too.
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Author: Brenda Do