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What job hunting in South Florida’s tech scene is really like

South Florida’s startup scene is number one in the country — and many of our new firms are increasingly tech oriented.

But our tech job growth, at 3.8 percent, still trails 17 other states, according to a recent report from nonprofit IT trade association CompTIA. Just 4.5 percent of Florida’s jobs are tech-related, making us 33rd in the country.

So even as the ranks of workers with tech skills grows, a significant number of them are still unable to find work in South Florida. This is a dramatic change from our earlier problem – when regional companies struggled to find anyone local with tech skills, period – but it’s a hurdle nonetheless.

Antonio Mañueco, ‎the lead software engineer at blubeta, LLC, and the creator of the Wynwood Tech Slack Channel, says he estimates the ratio in the channel’s “jobs” room is 25 jobseekers to 75 employers. That doesn’t sound so bad. But it often depends on who’s looking for the job, and what skills they bring.

“If you are experienced in this city, you’ll get offers left and right if people are not trying to poach you already,” Manueco said.

He added that what more frequently happens is that junior talent looking to go into a company for mentorship and experience are hired to do “very trivial tasks,” which ends up inhibiting their growth as a new candidate in the tech market.

“Certain companies have the bandwidth and the right mentors to take on juniors, other do not,” he said.

We spoke with four jobseekers, and one employer, to get first-person views on what job hunting in South Florida tech is like. A few common themes came up: First, graduating from coding academy is not a guarantee of full-time employment. For instance, even Wyncode, which has one of the strongest placement rates in the country, still doesn’t get to 100 percent. Another problem is a lack of support or mentorship, even (or perhaps especially) in the case of immigrants.

And finally, South Florida suffers from geographic isolation — both in terms of individuals trying to move down to the area for jobs, and for individuals looking to move out of the area.

These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Shaun

35, Navy veteran, developer

I just graduated coding bootcamp a month ago, but I’ve been looking for a job since the second month, just to give potential employers a heads-up. They were good with communicating and telling me things I needed, but when it came to actual positions, they would say I don’t have enough experience. If I apply for 100 jobs, 80 of them will be looking for a mid to senior-level developer. No one wants to put in time to develop talent — they don’t want to have to hold your hand. That’s true for large and small companies.

Kely

26, Washington, D.C. resident looking to relocate to South Florida, UX designer

I wanted something new. Up here it’s a rat race, the same routine. I was born and raised in D.C., and I was looking for something a little different. I’ve been in the UX industry about a year and a half. I completed a General Assembly course seven months ago after leaving a software sales job.

I’ve had difficulty with submitting my resume [to South Florida firms] and not hearing anything back, and I start to wonder if it’s because of my location. If I do hear something back, when they learn I’m in D.C., any type of communication is completely dropped. I’ve been getting interviews in D.C., so I know it can’t be my portfolio.

To have to drop what I’m doing up here to risk it down there is a huge risk; moving to a totally different state without a job already in the works is really difficult.

I’ve spoken to UXers that work in Florida that have made the transition. They told me the tech scene is growing and should be a lot bigger and that probably more UX designers will be needed. However, it seems like companies don’t see a need for them yet. Some of the job descriptions can also be a little crazy, like, I don’t know if they understand what UX is. It’ll say something like, “We’re looking for a UX unicorn, but who is also a junior UX designer, but we’re also asking for 5-7 years of experience.”

Guillermo

33, developer

A lot of the jobs advertised are not in line with the reality once you get in. If you take an entry-level position, they’ll try to squeeze you for everything you’ve got. They’ll start you off at below industry-standard pay and overburden you with work. It’s really discouraging. If you are looking for a job… you’ll be underpaid and overworked above the scope of that job.

Some companies won’t advertise in the right places, or won’t even advertise at all, especially for entry or mid-level jobs, they’ll just give those to friends or someone the owner or HR department knows.

If the opportunity comes up, I’d definitely relocate, but this is where I grew up, there is my hometown, this is where I feel most at home. It does feel like the city is pricing me out.

Andre

42, undocumented Brazilian immigrant, datacenter expert (we left off Andre’s last name because of his immigration status) 

It doesn’t matter your background or experience. Even if you are the best in your class, they need to know if they can pay you through a W2 so they can do all the taxes. So what I do is I do not say, and they do not ask, so that I can talk to a tech guy like me, and when it comes up that I don’t have a work permit or Social Security Number, they can say, “Let me see if I can do anything [to work around the issue of papers].”

I didn’t realize it would be that complicated when I moved here looking for better opportunities. It’s also gotten much worse to be an immigrant under Trump — there’s a lot of uncertainty and risk that employers aren’t willing to take on.

Marc Aptakin

Founder, Mad Studios and Mad Dev

For a while we had a non-South Florida hiring policy — it was really hard to find good candidates here. I’m a South Florida native, so I was maligning my own people, but we just didn’t have a lot of luck early on. We targeted the Midwest for the Midwest work ethic, or the northeast and New England, where it’s just a faster pace, which is the way we tend to work.

Eventually, we changed our model and set up internal tests. We’d have candidates come into our office, because sometimes we wouldn’t get a good representation of the way they would work in a high-pressured environment. By making the tests on-site, we were able to bring in more South Florida candidates. We’re now at a little over 22 percent [of our hires coming from South Florida].

Coinciding with our tests has been an evolution in the quality of candidates in South Florida. Before, a lot [of them] seemed more flaky, a little bit more of a kid in mom’s garage, even if they were 40 years old. Today, they’re more professional, and looking at it as a career base, than just a guy who knows how to program.

By Rob Wile
Rob Wile, the curator for Startup.Miami, is a writer and entrepreneur living in Miami Beach. He’s a former staff writer for Fusion and Business Insider. His work has also appeared in Slate, Newsweek, Money Magazine and The New Tropic. He writes a newsletter on tech, business, and the South Florida economy called The Heatwave.

  • Antonio Llanos

    We need to start attracting companies from other areas to fill the gap. Let’s use our strengths of diversity and “hunger” for something new to drive this. Too much focus on trying to “grow” jobs in a startup eco-system that isn’t going anywhere. We need to invest in our universities to improve their STEM programs to add to the attraction. We need to meet with industry leaders and find out what it takes to keep jobs here and not send them elsewhere. What about incentive programs to add offices in other counties to improve commuting?