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By Todd Albert

Todd Albert | Why Does Talent Leave South Florida?

Read Time 4 Minutes

Companies are moving to South Florida in droves. We all see it. We’ve all read about it. And a few months ago it reached a tipping point when national media began reporting on it.

According to our latest tech talent report, there are approximately 5.1 times as many new tech jobs annually as there are new candidates.

For local software engineers, this is awesome – the last time I applied for a job, I got 6 serious offers within 4 days – one to lead a division of a FAANG company in California that I didn’t even apply to or send my resume. I literally only applied to 4 local companies. (Hmm… maybe our devices really are listening to us?!)

But as a hiring manager, looking to hire local talent, this presents a significant challenge. There are sources of junior talent (0–1 years experience) coming out of colleges and bootcamps, but the level and skills of those individuals vary widely and the supply of mid-level talent (2–4 years experience) and senior-level talent (5+ years experience) is essentially non-existent.

(Yes, the years I put on here are for reference only – I’ve met developers with 20 years experience that were still clearly junior-level and developers with 2 years experience that could run circles on most mid-level developers…)

So why, with the incredible demand for talent here in South Florida, do many of our best-trained developers take jobs elsewhere?

There are likely many reasons for the brain drain we experience, but I can offer 5 key reasons with a simple fix for each.

  • Be Agile: Not all tech companies are created equal. I’ve spoken to several people that work in tech who claim the company they work for “thinks” they are a tech company, but they don’t “act” like a tech company. I had to unpack this a bit. At first, it sounded like spoiled developers that were missing the proverbial ping-pong table at work, but what it really turned out to be was that those companies weren’t following Agile Principles. And one of the Agile Principles is that development teams should be self-organized and any management of the team should be servant-style, not top-down. Well-trained developers know the best way to work and manage their projects and team, so no one outside the team should try to micromanage them. If you’re not truly Agile, you’ll lose top talent fast.
  • Pay more: Obviously places like New York and California are going to pay more than here in Florida due to the higher cost of living, but the small savings we get from not having state income tax does not make up for massive discrepancies in salaries. The cost of living in Florida is higher than in Virginia and the Carolinas, yet tech companies in those states are paying more, on average. Our salaries are on par with the national average, but our cost of living is higher. Be willing to pay a bit more for quality tech talent. It is usually well worth it.
  • Simplify job requirements: Tech jobs notoriously have the most ridiculous requirements. Let me let you in on a little secret – a good software engineer can learn a new technology quickly. We have to. The technologies we use are constantly changing and no one knows them all. Yet we regularly see job postings for junior developers requiring them to know dozens of esoteric languages, tools, libraries, and frameworks, and miraculously have eons of experience in each one. There are famous stories of people not getting a job because they didn’t have enough experience in a library that they, themselves, wrote. Or job postings requiring 7 years of experience in a framework that is only 4 years old. Get real. Stop hunting for some fantasy unicorn. When I post a job description it is “Seeking junior developer.” This aggravates my HR team, but opens us up to a wide range of talented individuals. Which is what I want: talent. I want someone that can quickly learn and excel at most anything I throw at them. And honestly, if someone has 7 years of experience in anything and is still looking for a junior-level position, you might NOT want to hire that person!
  • Set realistic expectations: Not only is the depth of experience often unrealistic or unwarranted, but the breadth of technologies is frequently a source of jokes and ridicule itself! Job requirements often list every technology anyone has ever mentioned in or around the building or on Slack. Yet 90% of the time, you’re just looking for a developer that knows React, Node, and CSS. And that’s it. What else do you need?
  • Hire mostly juniors, some mid-level, and very few seniors: Nearly every job posting I read is looking for senior developers. Clearly, these people have never worked with quality juniors and mid-level developers. Seniors are able to solve problems quickly, but we are, without fail, the least productive developers on a well-rounded team. Seniors spend most of their time thinking, analyzing, and planning, but relatively little time actually coding. We are better at architecting a solution, but can leave the coding to the work horses. Just as a good chef has many assistants, so should a good senior developer. Mid-level developers tend to be pretty fixed in their ways, keep their heads down, and just crank out work. Juniors, on the other hand, are eager to learn and experiment. They can’t work as fast as mid-level developers, but they are much more flexible and willing to try and learn new things. Juniors work best when they have a senior developer that can mentor them, whereas mid-level developers work best on their own. A good senior developer can mentor several juniors and manage several mid-level developers. This is the most cost-effective and Agile formula, especially since you can often hire 3 juniors (or 2 mid-levels) for the cost of a single senior. And if their mentor is good, it will take very little of his or her time to mentor these juniors — the time they spend is more than made up for in added productivity.

There is amazing talent and opportunity in the South Florida Tech community. We are thrilled to be a part of this community and to help train and foster new talent within it.

So what can you do to help keep this talent and hire locally? Simply put: hire more juniors and mid-level developers, be realistic about job requirements and expectations, pay more, and be Agile!

Written by Todd H. Albert, Ph.D., Founder and Lead Instructor at Boca Code

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Boca Code & Todd Albert

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: A coding academy offering short courses in web and mobile development,  game development, data analytics and UX/UI.  In the plans for early 2021: a 10-week career course.

Address: 7035 Beracasa Way, 207, Boca Raton

Team: Todd Albert, founder and lead instructor; Emily Cleary, lead UX instructor; Mariela Pascual, developer and instructor; Ashley Taylor, creative director; Pearse Brolly, business development, Maddie Galvelis, social marketing.

Website:  Bocacode.com

 

Todd Albert learned to code when he was 7 and built his first arcade game as a teen. For some reason he did not pursue a career in tech, but instead he became a scientist as a NASA research fellow and then taught at in universities for 15 years, as well as at the middle school level. “And through my research and in my teaching, I was always coding.”

When Albert decided to leave teaching after moving back to South Florida in 2012, he followed his heart into tech and started a tech agency. At one point the agency had 17 developers, and Albert said finding local developers was always difficult. Most of the resumes were coming from code schools in Miami or from out of state.

That’s when Albert began noodling with the idea of starting a local code school. Then, after he has seen some schools come into Palm Beach County or northern Broward and then fail – and the mistakes they made — he took the plunge, founding Boca Code in February of this year.

“I love to code and I love to mentor young developers. And I realized — and people around me realized too — that having a code school was really not just my dream but it almost felt like that was what I was destined for. My background in teaching, in coding, in mentoring, it was all me leading towards this.”

 

MAKING AN IMPACT

With a code school, you’re helping people enter a good career with great earning potential, he said. Graduates can earn $60-$65k in their first job, and in just a few years it could be six figures.

But just as important: “The community is desperately needing the talent.”

Boca Code’s home – a 2,900-square-foot bright and modern space at the intersection of Palmetto and Powerline in Boca Raton — is nearly built out, but Boca Code started offering virtual intensive short courses classes this spring and summer and has offerings such as Data Analytics & Python and AR, VR and Game Development through the fall.  It is in the process of obtaining its state of Florida license to teach its signature career course – a 10-week full-time bootcamp – and Boca Code expects to begin offering that in January. Boca Code also offers a number of free workshops and offers a scholarship to women.

While other code schools have tried and failed, Boca Code has a few differentiators that will make it successful, Albert believes. First, Albert is not only the owner but the lead instructor, so he doesn’t have to worry about the lead instructor quitting mid- class, as happened at other schools. He also has built a very talented team who are also instructors as well as experts in sales and marketing. He and his team are also well-connected within the community. “Being a part of the larger South Florida tech community I think is really important for the success of the school but for placing the students in jobs afterwards.”

 

DEDICATION TO COMMUNITY

Another key differentiator is that Boca Code students are going to be doing real projects for real companies. “So for small businesses that are just getting started, we can help develop their app or their website. The students are getting real experience and the companies are getting affordable development work. And I don’t know anyone else who is doing that.”

In addition to the 10-week bootcamp, Boca Code plans to always offer the 15-hour short courses, such as Intro to Web Dev for people who just want to dip their toe into an introductory coding course or who want to upskill in the latest technologies, like React, or learn more about UX/UI. The courses are often offered at nights and weekends to accommodate full-time employment.

“We are all dedicated to helping not just the students but the community as a whole,” Albert said. “We want to become a central hub in the community for training and for talent, and we are starting to make good progress.”

This is Albert’s third time living in South Florida, and he likes what he sees: a unique and cohesive tech community.

“Rather than competing and vying for talent, we’re all getting together and supporting each other as a community, which is owed in large part to South Florida Tech. Joe [Russo] has provided us a central hub,” Albert said. “And when you have such a giving community it makes you want to be a part of it and it makes you want to help others. It’s contagious.”

Todd Albert | Why Does Talent Leave South Florida?
Member Spotlight | Boca Code & Todd Albert