SXSW: A Ripe Recruiting Opportunity

Susan Hall

Sometimes you read an article and the folks in it are just begging for a Gibbs head slap. It seems veteran software executive John Price had an epiphany two years ago while looking out his window in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest.


As the American-Statesman tells it, he realized the crowds meant more than a long commute home:

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The tens of thousands of creative, tech-savvy people coming to town could be mined for talented workers needed by Austin tech companies and for driven entrepreneurs who could bring their businesses here. And the region's technology community could also make better use of it as a marketing venture.


"I sat back and said my biggest problem is attracting talent to Vast.com (his company), and right under my nose and out my window are thousands of the best tech and creative people in the country," Price said.

Of course SXSW is the perfect place to recruit. Austin has a vibrant tech scene, with big names including Dell, Google, VMware and Facebook. Just Friday, Apple announced plans to more than double employment there with a new $304 million campus that will house its Americas Operations Center. It has pledged to add more than 3,600 jobs there over the next decade. Austin's also a hotbed for startups including HomeAway, Bazaarvoice, WhaleShark Media, Indeed.com, Vast.com and Socialware. But companies there face hiring many challenges, so much so that last September, 25 tech executives flew to California to recruit, offering free beer and pulled-pork tacos as they tried to woo job candidates.


A separate American-Statesman article looks back at the free-spending pre-dot-com-bust days of Austin's Trilogy Development Group. In the '90s, the business software company brought in hundreds of the brightest minds from the most prestigious schools, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, offering young workers not just a job grinding out code every day, but the opportunity to lead projects, dream up new products or even start their own companies. Those students have gone on to high-ranking positions in many of Austin's startups. One of those students, Tyler Moeller, remembers:

They said, If you come here, you can make this huge impact right out of school, and the things you do will matter.' When I heard that, I knew I had to move to Austin.

The opportunity to do work that matters is a huge selling point for the Millennial generation. And though few companies, especially startups, have the deep pockets that Trilogy did, briefly - it spent an estimated $75 million hiring and training recruits before imploding in the dot-com bust - companies can find low-cost ways to attract big talent. I've talked to young computer science students for whom the challenge is their No. 1 concern, more than money or anything else.


The two articles point out ways tech businesses in the area have snapped alert to the recruiting potential that SXSW offers. Among the events is a Tech Career Expo featuring 70 companies with more than 2,000 combined job openings. But Joe Liemandt, a Stanford University dropout, now 43, who led Trilogy back then, put it this way:

At Trilogy, we woke up and realized there wasn't enough talent here, and we went out and did something about it. You either have to invest a lot of money to import it, or you're going to wake up every day saying, I can't grow.' We took action in the '90s. Now it's time for the newer batch of companies to do the same thing.

At SXSW, the potential job candidates are there on their own dime (or their current company's); it's just a matter of selling them on the opportunities.

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