The B.C. tech industry has exploded in recent years. Startups are booming everywhere, from downtown high-rises to Surrey industrial parks, and Metro Vancouver tech companies are hiring faster than any other sector.
Despite the breadth of industries that tech companies represent, however, the average citizen still imagines their offices to be staffed by basement-dwelling geeks.
Popular culture’s nerd stereotypes are pervasive and often act as a factor in dissuading Vancouverites from entering the lucrative business. In reality, local technology companies are calling for diverse talent from many different trades—whether they know how to code or not. Like any other industry, tech organizations need communications, PR, and HR representatives, along with accountants, project managers, and sales executives. Nearly every Vancouver technology firm is hiring.
Jill Tipping, president and CEO of the B.C. Tech Association, has made it her mission to spread that message.
“It’s important to demystify what it means to work in the tech industry,” she tells the Georgia Straight at B.C. Tech’s upscale office in the new Great Northern Way development. “Yes, there is Ping-Pong, and dogs in the office, and the coffee is good—all that is true. But the reason people should look for jobs in the sector is because human beings are at the centre in ways that they’re not in older industries. Tech companies all have a fundamental drive to be fast to market, experiment, and innovate. That means that what you’re working on—no matter what your role is—is inherently exciting. Growth, opportunity, solving problems, and working to quick time lines make for an exciting and flexible career.”
At base, Tipping says, technology companies are dedicated to identifying ways in which life could be improved for everyday individuals. Local companies are in the business of creating cutting-edge tools to help eliminate irritating or time-consuming problems or make dangerous situations safer. In Metro Vancouver alone, organizations are currently working on projects such as generating clean energy by replicating the reactions happening inside the sun, correcting vision with virtual-reality headsets, and creating custom-fitting footwear using a picture of a person’s foot.
“I see technology as a force for good in society,” Tipping says. “It makes opportunities more equal and improves outcomes.
“It’s also important to help people recognize how tech can help them in simple terms,” she continues. “Often, engineers can get caught up in the complexity of ways in which their product fixes a problem, and that’s what makes them amazing at their jobs. But it also means that they can talk in too much detail with people who already understand it. We need to get away from the idea of the product itself and focus on the problem that it solves and why someone should care. That’s when everybody says: ‘I want some more of that in my life.’ ”
One of the ways that Tipping hopes to encourage local Vancouverites into the industry is through education. In the past few months, the B.C. Tech Association worked in conjunction with Melanie Mark, the province’s minister of advanced education, skills, and training, to provide an extra 1,000 places in tech-related courses at local post-secondary establishments. With more than 83,000 jobs expected to open up in the sector over the next 10 years, Tipping wants to double that number. In her view, the province’s tech companies will hire as many people as universities can graduate.
“On a personal level, my family’s fortunes were transformed by the availability of public education,” she says. “I come from centuries of peasants. That’s my background. And then my dad went to Glasgow University for a B.Sc. in engineering, and that took him to Canada. He has three daughters, and we each have two degrees. That’s our family’s story, but that can be our province’s story, too, if we help to educate people.
“I see tech not as an industry, but as a revolution,” she continues. “It’s going to happen to all economies. B.C.’s tech sector is growing; it’s thriving, and there are all these wonderful stories. I think we’re in a great position to be one of the leaders.”
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays