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Hiring in the High-Tech Sector Surging Locally

It’s not quite the heyday of the dot-com boom era when engineers were offered BMWs as bonuses and employers shelled out thousands of stock options, but the high-tech job market in San Diego appears to be approaching levels it hasn’t seen in five years.

Though hard data on high-tech employment is a bit sketchy, since many small firms fly under the radar of government data collectors, anecdotal evidence abounds that the information technology job market is heating up.

“I haven’t seen a new resume cross my desk in about two months, and I’m getting about two job (openings) announcements a week. If my informal network is any indication, things are looking pretty healthy,” said Tyler Orion, the president of the RTA@Connect, a local high-tech industry organization.

Science Applications International Corp., the research and engineering firm that is one of the region’s largest employers, reported it had 233 openings in the county and 360 openings statewide. Last week, it had to cut staff at one business unit because of reduced sales of a particular product, but many of those workers would have a chance to transfer to alternate jobs within the company, SAIC officials said.

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“Despite the reductions in this business unit, SAIC continues to experience strong financial growth throughout the company and in California,” according to a company statement on the job cut affecting 100 positions.

SAIC employs nearly 43,000 worldwide, including 4,896 in San Diego County, where it maintains its headquarters.

The story is much the same at many technology firms, both large and small, which are finding it more difficult to get qualified people to fill openings.

The local climate for hiring professionals in the technology industry isn’t quite what it was during the dot-com boom era of the late 1990s, but has slowly heated up as the overall economy has shown clear signs of gaining traction, industry observers said.

“Over the last six months, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in IT (information technology) hiring in San Diego,” said Fernando Madruga, vice president of TalentFuse, a San Diego-based employment staffing company that specializes in the technology industry.


Industrywide Increases

Technology jobs are being created across a variety of industries, but are most evident among software development positions requiring specialized knowledge of network architecture and software languages, Madruga said.

As of May 26, TalentFuse, based in Kearny Mesa, was looking to fill 101 job openings , primarily software developers. Annual salaries for the vacant positions range from a low of about $50,000 to a high of more than $150,000, he said.

The firm counts 78 employees who are working for local tech firms on a contractual basis, which is up from 45 a year ago, Madruga said.

The staffing firm was once part of a larger Canadian company, TalentLab, but when the San Diego office grew by more than 10 times the rate of the parent firm, the top manager, Brian Margarita, decided to buy the business, Madruga said.

TalentFuse now has about 150 contracts in the region and has provided employees to some of the local industry behemoths such as Qualcomm Inc., Sony Corp. and Intuit Inc., he said.

Hard data on job growth is difficult to acquire because the state’s Employment Development Department doesn’t classify technology jobs in a separate category.

According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Research Bureau, total technology employment in the county at the end of 2004 was 132,933, with the biggest sector being aerospace and defense with 31,518 workers. The figure was up by 7,053, or 5.6 percent from the total employment in 2003.

Virtually all of the gains were generated from the software sector, which showed a net increase of 7,862 jobs, according to the chamber’s report. Four of the eight sectors showed net losses, with electronics manufacturing declining the most, by 820 jobs in the prior year.

The gains in the software sector were coming from larger and smaller employers.

At Intuit’s Sorrento Mesa office, more than 1,000 employees held jobs, up from approximately 700 about a year ago, said spokesman Scott Gulbransen. The company, with headquarters in Mountain View, makes financial management software, including TurboTax, the popular tax preparation programs.

At Websense Inc., a locally based maker of Internet filtering software aimed at preventing employees from visiting certain Web sites while on the job, total employment at the end of April was 523, up from 414 employees for the same month in 2004, said spokeswoman Jennifer Culter.

Websense, which made both Fortune and Forbes magazines’ list of the fastest-growing tech companies this year, has seen additions in a wide variety of jobs, Culter said.

“It’s really in every single category. It’s in engineering, finance, human resources, product marketing, sales, and research security,” she said.


Increasing The Payroll

At Akonix Systems Inc., a San Diego-based maker of security software for instant messaging communications that launched in 2000, employment grew by about 50 percent during the past year to 75 people, said Chief Executive Officer Peter Shaw.

“In general, the outlook for enterprise software is up and one of the hottest areas has to do with network security,” he said.

Qualcomm, the region’s largest technology employer, increased its local payroll by 1,190 workers to bring its San Diego staff to 6,458 as of Jan. 1, a gain of 22.5 percent from the same time in 2004, said spokeswoman Bertha Agia.

Qualcomm’s Web site has a list of 515 job openings in California, with the great majority based in San Diego. The company that makes wireless chips and develops wireless technology has a worldwide employment of more than 8,000 full- and part-time workers.

Orion of RTA@Connect said it’s tough to track where all of the gains are being created, since many of the new jobs are generated from small firms that fall below the radar of government data collectors.

Among some of the hottest growth areas are Internet security and firms formed to combat spyware and viruses from infiltrating computer networks, and companies providing Web-based services, she said.

“I think the pendulum has come back to normal,” Orion said. “There seems to be more of balance between a supply of workers looking for jobs, and the number of new jobs.”

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