In San Diego, IT Begins Its Climb Back From a Deep Dip

California
still has close to 1 million high-tech employees, and that number has held
steady through the worst of the recession, but prospects for all those workers have
been limited over the past few years. Looking for positive spin, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in April,
"News that California
is the nation’s leader in high-tech jobs and wages comes as no surprise because
our state’s tech-friendly policies and world class workforce create an environment
ripe for high-tech success."

San DiegoThe story in San
Diego mirrors that of the rest of the state. The
latest unemployment figures from California’s
Employment Development Department
show that local unemployment is at 10.5 percent, actually lower than the state
average but higher than the current national average. The two largest tech
sectors in San Diego
remain R&D and testing labs and telecommunications services. According to
the newest Dice salary survey, the average San Diego IT job is paying $81,819,
basically holding steady from 2008 through 2009. It lags the average for the
entire Pacific region (Silicon Valley salaries are higher), but beats the
national average by $3,000, a good thing given California’s relatively high cost of living.

The current tech hiring outlook is mixed at best. IT
staffing consultancy Robert Half
Technology
, whose third-quarter IT Hiring Index was just released, finds
that for the Pacific region, 9 percent of companies plan to hire, equal to the
national average though it isn’t particularly encouraging.

Other signs are better. As of mid-July, Dice had 1,026
listings available, down from June but up a whopping 40 percent from a year ago
- perhaps the single most encouraging stat indicating some kind of local tech
rebound.

Kanani Masterson,
vice president of business development and director of the technology division
of San Diego-based recruiting firm TriStaff
Group
, is generally optimistic about the state of San Diego hiring, especially in contrast to
2009. "It’s been picking up and is quite active now," Masterson says.
"2009 was slow, but this year has been busy, especially for our
Web-related and new-media clients."

San Diego Job PostingsWhile firms are doing some recruiting for contract
positions, the majority of hiring activity is for full-time slots, according to
Masterson. "The focus is on permanent positions. Firms want to find people
who are going to stick around if they spend the recruiting money to find them
in the first place."

The skills most in demand? "Web development of all
kinds," says Masterson. "Everything from Java to PHP and LAMP."
Another hot area: wireless in all its many shapes and forms.

Masterson advises job hunters to consider not only San
Diego’s largest tech firms, such as local tech leader Qualcomm, but also the smaller and dynamic Net-centric or start-up
firms that are beginning to prosper again as venture capital activity perks up.
VC money isn’t flowing at anything like it was in the good old days of 2007,
but according to stats from the MoneyTree
Report
prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers
and the National Venture Capital
Association
, VCs invested $222 million in the first quarter, up an
encouraging 242 percent from Q1 2009.

Given that the City
of San Diego
itself is hatching a plan to
outsource its own IT, it’s hard to be completely optimistic about San Diego’s fortunes in
the near future. But if the studies that identify San Diego as one of the top 10 cities in the
country for employment growth through 2025 are correct, perhaps it’s the right
place to be to lay career plans for tomorrow.

– Don Willmott

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