Atlanta Tech Recruiting Blog

Musical Chairs in the Atlanta Technology Marketplace | March 7, 2010

Musical Chairs in the Atlanta Technology Marketplace

The Great Recession. Is it over? Will it get worse? Anyone who claims to know the answer is deluding both you and themselves. And the purpose of the Atlanta Tech Recruiting Blog is not to delude anyone. So if you are looking for an answer to those questions, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you are hoping for an understanding of what is going on in the Atlanta Technology Hiring Market, I believe I can provide some perspective. We’ll start with my vision of the history of technology hiring in my 16 years in the recruiting industry:

When I started recruiting in 1994, the U.S. economy was coming out of the recession of the early 90’s. The Internet was in its’ formative stages. My first employer has just rolled Mosaic out to our desktops and the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy with only a handful of websites up and running. Then the Dotcom’s got rolling. Hiring for engineers was at a fever pitch by the 1997 and continued getting hotter through the new millennium. If you could fog a mirror and spell C++, you could get 5 job offers with multi-million dollar stock option packages in less than a week on the market. The “hiring pendulum” was pegged all the way to the right, in favor of the engineers. At the height of this boom, I moved to Atlanta. It was the best of times.

Then 9/11 happened. Suddenly, AOL acquiring Time Warner didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore. Dr. Koop was actually a quack, not a DotCom with over a billion dollar market cap. And hiring in the technology industry hit the wall. All of the great talent had chased their million dollar dreams to startups, and now a large percentage of those start ups went out of business pushing that great talent into the job market rapidly. The select few companies that had the ability to hire could pick and choose from a large crop of the “best-of-the-best” that were banging on their door to get in. Recruiters weren’t necessary from 2002 until the middle of 2003. The “hiring pendulum” was now nailed to one left in favor of the hiring entities. It was the worst of times.

By the end of 2003, the pendulum began moving back towards the middle. This was primarily driven by larger organizations gobbling up the best talent and the startups with real business plans entering growth modes coming out of the recession. Technology hiring continued very steadily through early 2008. But it wasn’t a boom. The tech industry had its’ boom, and its’ bust. It was just steady growth. Salaries in the tech industry never eclipsed their high points of 1999-2001. Techies performed their jobs for accurate salaries in stable situations. The “Hiring Pendulum” for technologists had settled near the middle, moving slightly in favor of the engineers by early 2007. Meanwhile, the home builders and the banks boomed. And on September 15th, 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. And in one brief moment, the hiring pendulum for everyone, including technologists, went all the way beyond the left into the “Dead Zone”. Massive layoffs occurred across the board at almost all companies. There was near zero hiring. BUST.

The “Dead Zone” continued into Q1 2009. But for the technology industry, it was different. Instead of the market being flooded with great engineering talent because so many startups shuttered their doors, a very different dynamic was taking place. Only a small percentage of technology organizations closed. Large-scale layoffs were occurring, but they weren’t letting go of the best people. It was pure “top grading” organizationally. A good 25% of the Bottom 50% of technologists were washed out. But very few of the best engineers were on the market. Companies cut to the bone. Worker productivity increased because there were less people to complete the same workload. But you can’t get blood from a stone. Eventually they had to add talent.

In Q2 2009, the technology job orders started coming in. But they weren’t the job orders of the past. Clients wanted to add multi-faceted talent that could actually fill two roles or more. They wanted a 90% skill fit. They wanted them cheap. And in most cases, they want to bring them on board temp-to-perm. This didn’t work. The decision makers “thought” they could pluck premium talent like in 2003. But the dynamic was different. The best-of-the-best was not on the market. The people that could fill these roles were often employed.

However, employed does not mean happily employed. According to market research organizations, up to 60% of employed workers are unsatisfied in their current role. This is driven by salary freezes since 2008, lack of bonuses and being overburdened in their workload. But we were in the middle of a recession, and people were willing to stick with the devil they knew, as opposed to the one they didn’t. So the open positions at companies remained unfilled.

By Q3 of 2009, companies realized they needed to hire and couldn’t hold out for that 90% skill fit. Unsatisfied employees were confident enough in market condition improvements that they were willing to take a chance in leaving their current firms. Hiring occurred. But each person leaving the current company left a large void. Organizations had to scramble to backfill these positions, or they would fall behind in their corporate initiatives.

In Q4 2009 the dam broke. Hiring in technology was back in full swing. The basic tenets of “supply and demand” dictated it. Organizations need to hire. Engineers changed jobs. Companies need to backfill those positions. And the game of “musical chairs” was on. And it’s still in its’ early stages.

Technologists are the definition of highly skilled labor. Only a small percentage of workers have the ability to even understand the work that needs to be done in technology, no less be effective at it. And technology, when used effectively, is a value proposition for the organizations that embrace it. Capital spent on technology initiatives is capital well spent, because it improves the bottom line.

Regardless of the US economies overall woes, technology is one of the first areas to show positive improvements in hiring. And I expect this to continue. We see it continuing right now, in Q1 of 2010.

That being said, there are still hurdles. There are very few large scale initiatives in hiring. Organizations are, for the most part, looking to hire individualized skill sets. But the skill fit is dropping to more reasonable levels. Hiring velocity is improving. Candidates are beginning to get multiple offers, as opposed to just that one right offer. And every unhappy employee that sees’ one co-worker leave is pushed one step closer to joining the massive game of “engineering musical chairs” that will change the org charts of almost every technology company in Atlanta and beyond.

Best of luck finding the right seat!

-Douglas Kling


Posted in Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Great post Douglas. Best of luck with the new site.

    Comment by Melanie Brandt — March 7, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

About author

My name is Douglas Kling. I am the Director of Recruiting for Hunter Technical Resources. 17 years into the recruiting business, I am loving it as much as Day 1! The goal of the Atlanta Tech Recruiting Blog is to add value to job seekers and technology organizations by providing insight into hiring dynamics within the Atlanta Technology Community. I can be reached at: All blog posts are written by me and NEVER by a ghost writer...







%d bloggers like this: