Software developers, more specifically talented software develoeprs, are unicorns according to a recent venture beat article. (0)
I am fond of quoting the "Software is eating the world" article. Salaries, benefits, environments, and creative signing bonuses are constantly in flux as the startup communities of Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, and Seattle compete with each other and with more established companies for software development talent. Scopely went so far as to offer $11,000 wrapped in bacon as part of an over the top signing bonus/publicity stunt as they sought out the Most Interesting Engineers in the World.
I think, indeed, it would be hard to overstate the need for skilled software engineers these days. Given this urgent need it's surprising that a huge, energetic, hard-working and incredibly skilled pool of software developers is being ignored by these talent-hungry organizations. I am speaking of course about all the software developers who do not live in one of these recognized technology meccas. To be sure, startups along with established technology giants like Amazon or Microsoft are always willing to interview qualified developers from a flyover state. It is nearly always a requirement, however, that one relocate to one of the coasts. No matter what developers, housing, or Bacon costs in Seattle, you can not work remote.
It's the Collaboration, Silly!
The inability to work remotely for the most talent-starved companies has long perplexed me. I asked a friend who works at a very successful Silicon Valley startup if she could provide more perspective on this topic. She look at me, and, apparently unaware she was stating something so obvious it bordered on cosmic absurdity, she stated "Well, it's just so much easier to work together when people are co-located."
Of course it's easier. The Currents of Information that flow around the office, the impromptu water cooler conversations that lead to a breakthrough, the ability to pull the right few people into a room to whiteboard a difficult problem: these can all be marvels of productivity and problem solving. Not only is this an obvious boon to driving business value, but software developers like it! Gone are the days of the software geek in a dark room littered with pizza boxes and empty cases of Mountain Dew, we like interaction with other skilled developers and (gasp!) business stakeholders too. Yes, it's clearly better to be under the same roof, but we're talking about escalating salaries(1), offices that look like entertainment complexes, and bacon-wrapped cash.
How many trips from Kasas City to Seattle could $11,000 plus the cost of bacon(2) finance for a talented software developer? What is the conversion ratio between attractive relocation packages versus plane tickets, hotels, and food? Given ever improving technology and bandwidth, can US companies figure out how to collaborate across the country? The world? There are certainly precedents. Skype, for example, allows its engineers to live whereever they want and often features customer success stories on its blog. Vertigo has remote people in several states. My friend Steven Murawski lives in Wisconsin and just started work for Stack Exchange. These high profile companies are the exception that makes the rule look extremely odd.
While I can't precisely put my finger on it, there are also some Vibes of Bias I've sensed when talking to people in other areas of the country.
According to my friends in California, there appears to be no sane reason why you'd want to live in a fly over state. You must clearly value fishing and binge-drinking over technology to live in a cultural wasteland like Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, or Montana. You must appreciate less than optimal weather to opt for tolerating a cold Minnesota winter every year instead of the superior climated of Sacramento. If you took technology seriously, or if it was more to you than just a way to fund your deer hunting habit, you'd move.
The fact is, there are literally millions of people living in the fly over states, many of them brilliant software developers. Some of these people may have gotten married to people with less yearning for a fast-paced lifestyle on the coast. Some of these people may have close family ties to the area, kids in school, or are anchored to a bad real estate situation. I even know people who have commited the ultimate act of apostasy: left the West Coast to return to the Midwest.
For whatever unfortunate and misguided reasons an enormous percentage of the American population cannot, or choose not, to relocate to a hot technology area on the East or West coast. Yet both attention and Venture Capital flow so much easier to these areas than to a fly-over state. Is there a shortage of Talented Software Developers, or is there a a shortage of Talented Software Developers who had the foresight to establish no roots in a flyover state?
There is a huge opportunity here for the businesses who make this work.
(0) I'm a fan of Pluralsight and not picking on them. That writeup did inspire me to write this article though.
(1) Salaries really only seem to be escalating in certain areas of the country, which I will address in a future article.
(2) Obviously over time the travel costs could start to outweigh a signing bonus. Regional salary differentials due to lower cost of living in non-coastal states likely provide enough room to negotiate a better salary for the employee and cover regular travel costs.