Who would have thought all this fuss could come from a piece of glass?
A tiny, silicon-based information conduit has driven an engine powerful enough to push the world economy into a new era. It's an amazing feat that has created dazzling wealth - more than any other movement mankind has ever known.
Equally amazing is that the spark driving the engine is refired over and over again every day right here in Northern California - at glass buildings in San Jose, at red brick lofts in San Francisco, and in warehouses, basements and garages all over the surrounding counties.
As the massive engine roars forward, with dot-com, e-commerce, hardware and software companies in tow, only one thing is missing: a supply of technical specialists to keep the juggernaut hitting on all cylinders.
Silicon Valley, heart of the world's New Economy, needs workers. Engineers, consultants, technical and information officers, product development managers, technical support staff, database administrators, technical writers, and network administrators are among the jobs available to those willing to take the controls.
Openings by the Thousands
"Basically, any e-commerce or dot-com that offers a technical service to client companies needs people," according to Ardy Daie of Strategic Staffing in San Francisco.
Daie says there may be 100,000 jobs available at various times in the Bay Area high-tech job market. This dearth of workers is due to a couple of things, Daie believes. First, the technology is new, and relatively few people have the skills necessary to, for example, develop Internet applications.
Second, there is a lot of turnover in the industry. In some ways the turnover was created by the very companies that need workers. To lure top programmers and engineers, technology companies began offering stock options as part of their compensation packages. Once the market began its upward spiral, employees got into the practice of cashing in their stock options and moving on to the next job, and a new set of stock options.
Now, Daie notes, stock options usually must be vested, meaning an employee must wait a year or more to begin realizing value. Plus, the Nasdaq has leveled off recently, making stock values rise much less rapidly.
Still, salaries are plenty hefty in the industry. "The same job I filled for $45,000 last year, I'm lucky if I can find someone for at $70,000 this year," Daie reveals. In general, he calculates tech industry salaries have risen 30 to 50 percent in the last year.
How can you cash in? There are several ways.
Get With the Program
Intensive certification programs offer six- to nine-month courses covering a specific programming language or system analysis method. UC Berkeley and other four-year colleges offer extension classes, where students with college degrees can augment their knowledge. Technical colleges offer a variety of two-year programs.
Another option, Daie explains, is the crossover phenomenon whereby people with non-technical backgrounds are being hired and trained by tech companies.
"The longer (the hiring dearth) has gone on, the more companies are willing to take a look at people without technical training, but with some potential or aptitude," Daie reasons. "We see a lot of candidates from the financial and insurance industries looking to get into this."
Indeed, Cisco Systems and Oracle, Silicon Valley mainstays, have on-site campuses where employees and others can take classes to learn skills the companies would like their workers to have.
In addition to outside employees receiving training, existing programmers who know low-level languages like Fortran, Cobol, and C are retooling.
"The theory is going to be the same for all languages," Daie explains. "Once they learn one programming language, it's not that difficult to make the transition. A lot of mid-level programmers can just go out, buy a book and learn Java or ASP or C++ on their own.
"The glamour job right now is web programming," Daie observes.
So, what's behind all the demand?
A Computerized Paradigm
The very way business is conducted is undergoing a metamorphosis. Most people who have been in the workforce for more than five or ten years can recall the way things were before they got their computer.
"Automation and computerization have transformed the economy," attests Robert Schwab of the San Mateo County Job Training and Economic Development Department.
Now, with computers everywhere, there is a high demand for program, database and networking technologies. Many of the world's largest companies in these industries reside right here in Northern California. All of them need qualified people to continue creating the software, hardware and switching equipment that keep making it easier to operate and link computers.
Schwab points out that not all high-tech companies are producing only high-tech jobs. Webvan, for example, an online grocery store, has an enormous calling for drivers to deliver goods to individual houses.
"As online grocers begin to command more market share, it could reduce the demand for stockers, merchandisers and checkout personnel," he theorizes, noting that the traditional grocery store is pretty labor intensive.
But old-style retailing isn't going anywhere for a long time, Schwab concedes. "Sometimes, I like to go to the grocery store just to people watch."
E-commerce is not about to evaporate either. After all, Internet companies enjoy substantial competitive advantages. A catalog retailer, for example, can only change stock or prices every time it prints and mails an expensive catalog. Whereas an Internet retailer can make wholesale changes every day with a few keystrokes.
"There's no turning back entirely to the ways of old," Schwab maintains. "It's inconceivable that we would abandon a method of commerce that's speedier, more convenient, and has lower overhead. Nothing in history has ever indicated a return to a slower technology."