The Bay Area’s Problem: Attracting and Retaining Tech Talent

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The Bay Area’s Problem: Attracting and Retaining Tech Talent

In what is essentially a sellers market, software engineers can pick and choose their jobs from a wide range of options. Working for FAANG seem too bureaucratic? There are tons of startups for you. Startups too unpredictable for your taste? Take advantage of a plethora of established companies like WalMart. These options are available despite the large numbers of engineers located in the Bay Area – with more moving in, applying for remote work, or coming up through nearby universities.

These engineers often have different backgrounds, but they are still driven by many of the same motivations, such as a fascination with technology (especially new stuff), and inspiration to grow in their careers, and find new and creative uses for technology.  Companies that want to attract and retain talent must learn how to leverage those motivations. Here are some ways Bay Area organizations are doing just that.

Engineers do what they do because they like technology. They like it because it allows them to do things that are otherwise impossible, like working to improve the accuracy of GPS tracking, coordinate the mass-capture of digital monsters, or organize the world’s knowledge into a free encyclopedia. This same drive often prompts engineers to find freelance or pro bono work to help scratch that creative itch.It’s why they spend their free time helping to roll out the next Linux patch, or tinkering to do wonders with a Raspberry Pi.

Many companies in the Bay Area tap into this desire by providing their engineers with extensive resources, which may be as simple as a lending library of reference books, or as large scale as subscriptions to training resources and on-site classes. The exact approach depends on the company’s culture and resources, but these resources help give engineers have the technical support they need to find new ways to use technology. As a bonus, it also gives them extensive exposure to new ideas, which can have a direct impact on their work.

Being able to play with use the latest technology is another way companies tap into their engineer’s drive. It connects with their natural affection for tech, and helps exposure them to new ideas. Learning the newest programming language may feel like a waste of time – especially if there’s no intention to use it at your company –  but, learning new methodologies or code can help to kick start new ideas. That’s why it’s important to give engineers the space to play with a variety of toys tools during slow moments to keep them engaged. Consider, Python was born over a Christmas holiday.

In addition to providing the technical resources like books, guides and training that engineers crave, Bay Area companies are also starting to provide inspirational resources. Guest speakers, whether they’re internal employees who want to practice presentation skills or world-renowned experts, also help spark inspiration. This cross pollination of ideas helps to kick start creativity, and the availability of these experiences gives engineers even more reasons to stick around. As word gets around, these speakers also help attract future talent.

Many companies send engineers to talks or conferences, but some, like AirBnB, go a step further and send employees to business-related events as well. These experiences help engineers disconnect from work stress, promote work/life balance, and help drive their inspirational motivations when they get back to the job. This motivation can be infectious, spreading from the individual conference attendees  to others on their team who want to know more.

Developing a culture that fosters an engineer’s creativity, and giving engineers space to explore new code and technology gives a company a lot of staying power for technical talent. One engineer I spoke with told me “…I prefer to work at a company where if I fail, I still have the confidence that I can come back and try again.” Nurturing this natural tendency, and giving engineers a safe place to explore, will help spread a company’s image as one where engineers can thrive.

Building that image both encourages existing employees to stick around, and attracts new talent. This resilience is incredibly important, as organizations stand to spend up to three quarters of an employee’s salary should they need to find a replacement. In addition to the monetary loss there is also a hit to reputation as others wonder why someone would leave after joining the company. In locations like the Bay Area where competition is fierce, this is amplified even further.

At the end of the day, engineers just want to find creative solutions to problems. To attract and retain the best talent, organizations need to recognize this driving motivation, and build programs and policies that help support those natural tendencies. What this looks like will differ based on several things, such as your culture, but in the end it comes down to the same stuff: inspire their creativity, and feed it with whatever you have available.