Hiring in the technology sector is gaining momentum.
Among U.S. technology companies with a market value of more than $100 million, almost 50 increased employment by more than half in the most recently reported two-year period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Some small and mid-size businesses boosted payrolls by almost fivefold, underscoring the resilient demand for Internet services, software and electronics. Rohit Dhingra is one face behind the statistics. He went to Columbia Business School in New York so he could land a consulting job. Instead, he got hired by a company making computer gear in Silicon Valley.
“A few years back, it just would have been a slam dunk that you want to do investment banking,” Dhingra said. “The future of financial services does not seem as bright.”
Dhingra is joining thousands of workers who have switched to technology careers during the economic slump, lured by an industry that kept hiring while other businesses cut jobs or forced current employees to take heavier burdens.
While the broader unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent in December, reaching a three-year low, few companies outside of technology have as voracious an appetite for workers. In the software and services industry, 74 companies with more than $100 million in market value expanded their workforce by at least 10 percent. That was more than any other industry group measured by Bloomberg.
Apple Inc. (AAPL), Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) were among the companies that increased their workforce by at least 50 percent in the past two years, Bloomberg’s data showed. The growth has prompted Silicon Valley companies to consider more people from nontechnical backgrounds and ramp up recruitment everywhere from Wall Street to Seattle. Workers who would have shied away from the volatility of 1990s-era startups are seeing the technology industry as a haven of stability.
Web.com Group Inc. (WWWW), a Jacksonville, Florida-based provider of website services to small businesses, grew the most on the list in percentage terms. It has 1,148 employees, according to its most recent annual report, a 380 percent gain from two years earlier.
Silicon Graphics International Inc. ranked second, increasing its employment 372 percent to 1,500, followed by Kit Digital Inc. at 319 percent and Riverbed Technology Inc. (RVBD) at 208 percent. Apple, which started with a larger employee base, grew 76 percent. That amounted to 26,100 new jobs.
At Riverbed, an in-house recruiting team of 20 people scours the country for new hires.
“We operate it like a search firm,” said Mike Guerchon, senior vice president of employee services at the San Francisco- based network-equipment company. “It’s a tough battlefield for talent all the time.”
The appetite for employees isn’t showing signs of waning. Amazon and Facebook Inc. each plan to add thousands of jobs in 2012, many in new satellite offices. EBay Inc. (EBAY) and Tibco Software Inc. also are stepping up their recruiting.
“We are hiring quite rapidly now, all in sales and service,” Tibco Chief Executive Officer Vivek Ranadive said last week at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s a good time to hire.”
Some employers are concerned that the hiring spree resembles the go-go days of the dot-com bubble. When technology stocks crashed in 2000, thousands of jobs vanished. Silicon Valley lost more than 85,000 positions between 2001 and 2008, and the other technology hotbeds suffered similar losses.
“After some real dark days, there’s a lot of excitement and innovation happening again, but as a guy who has been through Bubble 1.0, I can’t help but see a lot of similarities,” said Stuart MacDonald, chief marketing and revenue officer at Freshbooks.com, a maker of online business software in Toronto. “I can’t help but think I’ve seen this movie before.”
For many graduates, technology still seems less risky than Wall Street. East Coast MBAs, who might have opted for financial jobs in the past, are more willing to go to the West Coast. Google (GOOG) and Amazon are two of the top employers for graduates of Columbia, according to Associate Dean Regina Resnick.
In 2011, more than 9 percent of the school’s graduates went to work for technology and media companies, up from 6 percent in 2009, according to university employment reports.
“You’re always reading good news about tech, despite what’s happening in the economy,” Dhingra said.
Job candidates who have engineering and technology-related skills are in higher demand than before, said Jesse Harriott, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Monster Worldwide Inc., the world’s largest online recruiter.
Silicon Valley companies also are bolstering offices outside the San Francisco Bay area. Facebook is opening an engineering office in New York and plans to hire thousands of workers in total this year.
EBay, which runs the largest Internet marketplace, is expanding its operation in Redmond, Washington, the home of Microsoft Corp. It plans to about double the number of employees there to 150 by the end of 2012, according to Johnna Hoff, a spokeswoman for EBay. The San Jose, California-based company also is staffing up at its New York office.
Intel Corp. (INTC), the world’s largest chipmaker, increased its employment by almost 18,000 people in 2011, driven by acquisitions and hiring in research and manufacturing. Amazon, meanwhile, plans to open fulfillment centers throughout Tennessee and Virginia in 2012, creating more than 4,500 jobs.
Matthew Kambic spent three years handling investments at Nationwide Insurance. Now he’s getting an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management to ease his move into technology.
“There’s a fusion of young talent in the tech space,” said the 26-year-old resident of Evanston, Illinois. “There’s not a whole lot of innovation in insurance.”