Vancouver's Talent Are Like Raw Resources

We need to invest in our talent to keep them here with both competitive salaries and great career opportunities.

I had a brief clip air on Global TV BC this evening, commenting on the news that Facebook is opening a temporary office in Vancouver. Here’s a link to the written article. Thanks to Greg for tracking down the Global TV News Hour clip (starts at 15:20).

I do think that the difficulty in getting a US Visa is a contributing factor to make Canada / Vancouver an attractive place to put an office. It was back in July 2007 that the Microsoft opening an office news broke. Looking back, the Microsoft office out in Richmond was basically a non-impact on the local community. So, where Facebook puts its office and how much it interacts with the local community will be the determining factor on the potential impact of having them here.

I’d like to talk about local Vancouver talent. My general feeling is that the developer and designer talent that Vancouver does have are treated like raw resources. Like our logs and other natural resources, we do very little “secondary processing”, and the best are shipped off elsewhere.

Igor Faletski, CEO & Co-founder of Mobify, did a great write up right after the news broke: What the new Facebook office means for the Vancouver tech scene

I agree with his summary, that this is a good thing - Facebook will bring talent from around the world to Vancouver (and some will stay), and that another strong link between here and the Valley is a good thing for the community.

The main downside is the hiring pressure. Mobify is a growing company, and in his last blog post covering what startups should focus on, Igor said “Companies - and people - that don’t master hiring can’t scale, so spend at least a quarter of your time on it.”

My observation on “talent in Vancouver” has always been three fold:

  1. There are few companies for top / senior talent to work at in Vancouver. This is changing (HootSuite, Mobify – and as of recently, Salesforce and Amazon)
  2. People are underpaid here compared to the rest of Canada, and really underpaid compared to anywhere in the US. More local competition will raise the bar here.
  3. We have lots of great juniors who come from our local universities and other institutions. Many get better paying jobs elsewhere (#2), or leave once they’re intermediate since there is limited room for career growth (see #1).

Also, with generally smaller companies and/or “branch office” locations (and so nowhere for people in the following disciplines to gain experience), Vancouver is in dire need of soft skills in marketing, business development, sales, product management, recruiting, etc. etc. etc.

Since these are the critical factors in scaling a company past a couple of co-founders, this is likely an even bigger issue than “I can’t find a Ruby programmer to hire”.

Also related to being underpaid, this has had an interesting side effect - since salaries are low/career opportunities are few, doing a startup feels less risky. However, since we also have very limited angel capital, the best startup teams again head south where there is more angel capital at higher valuations.

Is there lots of “great” talent in Vancouver already? I’d say that there are many talented juniors, but in general it’s hard to find people who are more senior / have lots of relevant experience. However, because of the generally low pay, hiring people away from existing companies (that likely also have less interesting career paths available) is going to be easy for new entrants like Facebook, Salesforce, and Amazon.

Comments on Twitter (see full collected responses on Storify) underline this:

Dan Udey: “after I was hired, I watched the founders interview for six months without hiring”

Dan works at A Thinking Ape (aka ATA), which is a company that relocated to Vancouver from Silicon Valley. ATA has done a great job of running new grad focused job fairs across Canada. And that’s the point (again): hiring great people is hard, and we need to a) invest in getting good at it and b) great people are everywhere, and we have to go looking for them.

We need to invest in our talent to keep them here with both competitive salaries and great career opportunities. Or they will leave. Just like the raw logs that we export.