TechHui

Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

In Dave Takaki's forum post Action Committee for Threatened Hi Tech Tax Credits John raised an excellent point, "But maybe the issue is: Hawaii has insufficient tech talent so we are simply throwing money at the wrong problem." This is definitely a serious issue for a number of reasons.

1) Hawaii's top graduates often leave to take jobs on the mainland. There is a perception that there are no good tech jobs in Hawaii. I once had a conversation with a student at UH lamenting the fact he had to leave the state to find a good job doing Flex/Flash work on the mainland. At the time I knew four local companies desperate for Flex developers, Ikayzo being one of them! He never thought to look locally.
2) Its surprisingly difficult to get mainland talent to relocate to Hawaii. There are exceptions, but I've had several candidates flirt with the idea for months, waste inordinate amounts of my time and chicken out at the last minute. This is especially true for people with families.
3) Its hard to retain talent once they are here if they have no connection to the island. The exceptions are usually young, unattached people with a healthy sense of adventure and those with a significant other in the state. My attorney has advised me against asking candidates "Are you a young unattached person with a healthy sense of adventure?" :-)

A few years ago Sandi and I joked that HTDC should start a dating agency for techies that relocate. For some reason she never ended up taking the idea to her boss...

Hau’oli Lanui! I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday season!


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Comment by Laurence A. Lee on February 5, 2009 at 2:04am
Actually, a starting salary of $35,000/yr with benefits is very reasonable for Oahu.

The reason being, there are plenty of candidates in the islands who are willing to accept and perform the job at that compensation level. They may not be as efficient or as competent as you, but they fill the void and eventually get the job done.

The local pay rates will never increase until local developers have enough self-respect to walk away from lowball offers. Especially in this economy, where having a crappy, low-paying job is better than nothing.

As for colleagues failing to "keep up with technology" - that's a definite sore spot for many on here (myself included). I have nothing but contempt for outdated VB6, COBOL, or Perl programmers who never thought to pick up a book and learn some new skills that might make them more effective and more valuable to retain as employees.

"Living with Parents" is definitely a "normal" Hawaii Culture thing. Don't get me started on another Hawaii Culture rant. ;-)
Comment by GB Hajim on February 4, 2009 at 10:09pm
12 years ago was at the peak of the dotcom boom. I was pulling down 6 figures every year during the late 90s. Different ball of wax then. Programmers were the kings then.

Big Island is a different animal than O'ahu. The average income is under $20k. You can rent a 3/2 bath house for under $500/month here. I just bought 5 acres with an oceanview on which to build our film studio for $180k. Pay is most often proportional to the cost of living in an area. You all probably know all this...right?

Many California game companies moved to the Midwest so they could lower their wages and yet increase the standard of living for their employees.

Live long and prosper yall.
Comment by GB Hajim on February 4, 2009 at 8:27pm
I don't think so. They need to stay close to the their VC and banks.
Comment by Cameron Souza on February 4, 2009 at 6:57pm
> And the cost of living here is about half of O'ahu.

I wonder if this economy will cause Oahu companies to take a hard look at the Big Island.
Comment by GB Hajim on February 4, 2009 at 4:14pm
I can't believe they are only offering $35k. That is totally unreasonable! My employees start at $42k and get free health and dental (I pay 100%). And the cost of living here is about half of O'ahu.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 4, 2009 at 3:09pm
Branden Tanga: When you go to California, Washington, or Nevada, Hawaii is always a place people are FROM, not a place people are moving TO.
True, but recently I've started to see companies like Pipeline Micro, Avatar Reality, Kuehnle Agrosystems and Sopogy reverse this trend by relocating top notch engineers and scientists from the mainland and Japan to Hawaii. Take a look at Pipeline's CTO, Seri Lee. Seri is a world class thermal engineer Pipeline hired away from a semiconductor giant. The same is true of the CG guys at Avatar. These are all Act 221 companies.

John Wang re: salaries
You are absolutely correct in saying that typical web developer positions in Hawaii pay less than similar jobs on the mainland (at least in the major cities.) That being said, I think you will find people with strong skills in hot areas such as Flex, Silverlight, GWT, etc. can command a reasonable salary working for the local companies that understand their value (yes, there are some), the big government contractors, the dual use companies doing cutting edge R&D, or remotely for businesses on the mainland. I obviously can't get into specifics about which companies pay what salaries but I've been on both ends of the equation as an employer and as an employee. Also, you can bet the top notch engineers and scientists at the companies I mentioned are getting competitive salaries and equity. Obviously living in Hawaii is part of the pitch and many consider it a significant perk.
As an example, the 2 web developers here where VB.Net is used, had to be forced to attempt a free Microsoft conference teaching VisualStudio 2008. In my mind, no developer should have to be forced to go to a conference.
Exactly. Not to be cold, but I don't loose any sleep over these people. They are getting paid exactly what they deserve.
Comment by GB Hajim on February 4, 2009 at 12:18pm
Well said Branden!
Comment by Branden Tanga on February 4, 2009 at 11:29am
I agree with GB. There is a TON of talent in hawaii, but they never stay here. I'm sure all of us have friends who went to the mainland for college, or moved there after graduating from UHM. And you know what? When they leave, they never move back. When you go to California, Washington, or Nevada, Hawaii is always a place people are FROM, not a place people are moving TO.

Many young talented people from Hawaii are willing to move anywhere to look for good jobs, that much is apparent. So it's the chicken or the egg scenario. Why should a young talented person stay here if their only choices for good employment are federal contracting (which can be hard to break into), or working for a bank/airline/state/other big org with a tech "department". Why should companies or investment entities spend money here when most of our young people move to the mainland?

Whatever the criticisms of Act 221 (and they are valid criticisms), the state has shown a willingness to stick its neck out, so that companies and investors will stick their neck out, so that those of us who are young and hungry may decide to stay here. The state is willing to be the egg that hatches the chicken.
Comment by GB Hajim on January 10, 2009 at 2:40pm
Hey!!!
Comment by Chris Hand on January 10, 2009 at 2:17pm
I am a huge fan of GB's approach, I think that what he is doing is fantastic. More than once I have considered cleaning out my garage, setting up a lab and getting a set of the brightest interns I could find to produce something.

I also strongly agree with Laurence, if you are trying to get to market as quickly as possible with the lowest cost possible a few seasoned vets can do in an afternoon what might take the same number of interns weeks to do.

Heh. If GB doesn't put them on an non-compete they can go work for Laurence in a few years :).

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