Courting the Unemployed

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"Undergrads have their pick of jobs, and companies are desperate to hire."

NPR, "Want A Job? You Ought To Be A Tech Geek" (Mar. 4, 2011)

The MIT motto, "Mens et Manus" {"Mind and Hand"}, embellished with the pronouncement "Nerd Pride" was all over campus when I was a postdoctoral there in the late eighties. In the dark days of this recession with unemployment rates remaining at about 9%, a ray of hope has emerged in the technology sector. Nurture the nerd within, and you could have multiple job offers.

According to NRP, it could be "opposite day" - a time when companies are courting applicants, not applicants courting employers.

The job listings tell part of the story:

Help Wanted: Web, Mobile App Developers

The number of job listings containing these tech-related keywords has skyrocketed

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Below is NPR's report; my favorite example of courting the unemployed is the "unending stream of shrimp cocktail."

The job market is struggling to recover from the Great Recession. But in the technology sector right now, it's opposite day. Undergrads have their pick of jobs, and companies are desperate to hire.

Dice.com, one of the leading employment sites in the tech sector, has 30 percent more job openings listed than last year, its vice president, Tom Silver, says. Unemployment for tech workers is 5.9 percent -- significantly below January's overall 9 percent national rate.
Naturally, San Francisco is ground zero for this hiring increase. Jeff Winter, a recruiter there for high-end tech companies, just hired three people last week -- to help him deal with the mounting requests from tech companies.

"I have right now on my desk 12 clients," he says, "with anywhere between six to 12 jobs apiece, it seems." His work is Sisyphean, really -- so many more jobs are piling up for him to fill without a labor force to match, that it reminds him of 1999.

Then, the dot-com bubble created a labor shortage where companies couldn't find enough Web developers. Right now, companies can't find enough app developers.
If you can develop software applications for mobile devices, you're sitting pretty. Because this skill is relatively new -- and changing all the time -- it can be hard for companies to find people with the hot new talent that is suddenly indispensable.

Because of the labor shortage, companies do some pretty incredible acrobatics to attract good talent. That means it's a good time to be a graduating senior with a degree in computer science.

University of Maryland student Ederlyn Lacson interned at Microsoft last summer. At the end of the summer, she says, the tech giant had a private showing of Cirque du Solei -- for the interns.

The company served "light snacks. And by light snacks, it was shrimp cocktail -- the unending stream of shrimp cocktail," she recalls. Needless to say, Lacson took a job with Microsoft.

Her classmates got the same treatment. Ray Douglas will be working at the University of Maryland's research lab next year. The school offered him a salary in the $50,000 range. He just happened to mention to his boss the offers he had gotten from other firms -- which were starting in the 70s and 80s.

"And he said, OK, we'll beat that," Douglas said, peeking out from under his shaggy hair. "I was just asking him! I didn't think he was going to do it!"

Universities have already observed an "uptick" in the number of students choosing computer science as a major, after the significant decline in the late 1990's. Whether it is students or educators being proactive about the increasing need for tech-savvy innovators, there is a ray of hope for those willing to learn new technologies - even if it means reinventing yourself.

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Summed up "If you were already one of the least likely people to be seriously hurt by this recession, it is party time!" In this era when it is so hard for low income and even middle class families to afford college at all, much less private college, and when the largest group of unemployed are men with high school education or less, this doesn't seem like such a bright spot.

Sharon