Tech jobs outside Silicon Valley: Wilmington, Delaware
Wilmington, Delaware. Image: Paul Brady Photography

Looking beyond the Valley: Tech jobs in surprising places

29 Aug 2017

There is an assumption, sometimes, that to succeed in tech, one must move to one of the global tech hubs. Barclaycard’s CIO, Shelton Shugar, explains why that’s no longer the case.

The class of 2017 enters the tech jobs market at a time when there is a lot of nervousness about the future of work in America. Headlines about the rise of robots and automation have raised real concern about what the job market in America will look like in 20 years’ time. For many of these green young jobseekers, this is just another reason to pursue a career in tech. They are future-proofing themselves against robotic automation.

The tech industry is growing and seeping into all corners of the world, and the journey to success is no longer as clear cut as it once was. Former tech-career staples – such as moving to Silicon Valley, working in cramped office spaces and facing impossible living expenses – are becoming unnecessary and more avoidable as this industry permeates areas like retail, finance and medicine, all while claiming uncharted territory miles away from the Bay Area.

The opportunities available to a new graduating class have never been better for those willing to embrace the expanding tech market. New hubs filled with passionate talent are emerging to rival the behemoths of Silicon Valley.

Consequently, the present state of working in Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily as attractive. For a fresh-out-of-college grad, a job at Facebook or Google may be a dream come true, but the reality of living in the Bay Area is less dreamy. The average rent of a one-bedroom in San Francisco tops $3,300 a month, and the Silicon Valley ‘megacommute’ comes in at about 90 minutes or longer. And that’s just one way!

The truth is that the Bay Area is a victim of its own success. Tech trailblazers invented completely new industries and ways of doing business, leading to an unprecedented influx of money and talent. It’s only natural that this influx would limit opportunity for those who aren’t as experienced, when the cream of the world’s technology crop is also competing for a share of the market. Similarly, across the country on the opposite coast, the once-accessible neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn are now pricing out young talent, or at least making it very difficult to find affordable housing – bad news for a fresh grad.

Luckily, for grads in love with tech, there are now other options besides the high-pressure environments of the Bay Area and New York. To put it simply, where Silicon Valley blazed a trail, the rest of corporate America is now following. And this is the new reality of tech-led enterprises.

‘For grads seeking a place in this market, it’s about more than the skill set you can develop … It’s about positioning yourself where your skills can have the biggest impact’

Companies from L’Oréal to Nike are embracing technology-led processes, and proudly rebranding themselves as tech companies. They may not make microchips or write code, but their customers are pushing for the kind of service and experience that they expect from tech companies: rapid innovation, iteration on new products and speed to market.

There are opportunities to innovate in these other industries, not just in tech. Forward-thinking companies place value on developer-led strategies to offer a better customer experience and stronger business agility, and to have the ability to adapt and continuously deliver in a fast-changing tech market. In turn, consumers will show more brand loyalty for these companies.

Financial service companies perfectly exemplify this transition. The size and age of the industry, combined with its emphasis on data flow and careful attention to privacy and governance, mean that it is an industry burgeoning with opportunity, where technology investment such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can yield huge benefits for companies and consumers alike. In the last 10 years, Barclaycard US has embraced its identity as a tech company with financial services as the final product. On a practical level, that has meant attracting top developer talent to our hub in Wilmington, Delaware, with a focus on skills such as full stack development and containerisation.

As you can imagine, telling a bright-eyed grad that they should pack up and drive to a smaller city – like Wilmington – over Manhattan’s Lower East Side or San Francisco’s Mission District isn’t always an easy sell. Still, there is a unique opportunity for developers to join established companies in various industries, where they can grow, innovate and have a direct impact. Larger companies that are embracing the tech-first philosophy can offer more extensive support and resources than a start-up, and a customer base that is the ideal testing ground for new ideas. This empowers developers to dream and build big, backed by an incredible amount of insight and combined experience in multiple geographies around the world. Most importantly, large corporations can offer the immediate need for technology initiatives, from the opportunity to experiment with segments of a customer base to the amount of data they deal with, meaning a level of responsibility that techies simply cannot find elsewhere.

There are opportunities abounding across the country, whether it’s credit card operations in Delaware, manufacturing in the Midwest, or oil and gas in Texas. The technology revolution has only begun in many industries. And they offer a quality of life (and often a salary) far in excess of what can be obtained in the high-cost centres that currently dominate the tech industry. This is the frontier of technology today, and it requires a new kind of creative thinking.

The concern about the future of tech jobs in America is real. For grads seeking a place in this market, it’s about more than the skill set you can develop, though that is crucial. It’s about positioning yourself where your skills can have the biggest impact. Today, for the first time in 20 years, that may mean thinking beyond the Valley.

By Shelton Shugar

Shelton Shugar is the chief information officer of Barclaycard US. Shugar brings more than 25 years of experience in enterprise computing to the position, as well as deep knowledge in cloud computing, product development and e-commerce. Most recently, he served as vice-president of Enterprise Cloud Services with Hewlett Packard Enterprise in San Francisco. He had previously held positions at CA Technologies, Yahoo, eBay, Homestore and Verisign, The Thomson Corporation, and AOL. He holds an MSc in computer science from Johns Hopkins University.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading