Startups, the New Employment of Computer Science
by Scimson on February 19, 2014 - 1:54am
In our capitalist world, employment is an important issue for a decent life. Many new opportunities are created nearly everywhere, some are successes, and others fall into memories. The technology world has begun, along with the incredible growth of the internet, dominating the market of startup companies. They can grow really fast and create employment opportunity for local skilled developers and engineers. However, they compete on the same market as the tech giants of Silicon Valley such as Google, Facebook and others like Microsoft and Apple. The issue of employment is mainly related to economics, but the news themselves are more relevant to the field of Computer Science. The first concerns come from the highly competitive jobs offered by the giants and the ambitions of the entrepreneurship of school graduates. In her article published on march 25th, 2011, “Silicon Valley Hiring Perks: Meals, iPads and a Cubicle for Spot”, Claire Cain Miller expresses the new realities in the field of computer science and engineering. The employment in this field is becoming more and more tricky, creating surprisingly high unemployment even though the job opportunities are very high. On the other hand, in Montreal the situation is really different. The concerns are coming from the restrictive laws which limits the development of startup companies. “Quebec’s Preoccupation With French Is Limiting Its Startup Scene”, Rebecca Hiscott’s January 30th,2014 article on the Montreal technology companies explains the constraint that the Quebec imposes on the economic development of this field. Finally, the 1994 academic research journal of David B. Audretsch and Zoltan J. Acs, “New-Firm Startups, Technology, and Macroeconomic Fluctuations”, presents a research conducted on startup firms made over a period of 10 years nearly 30 years ago. It evaluate the impact of startups on the economy. I will define the local and international problems with employment by summarizing the Silicon Valley articles followed by the Montreal perspective. Then, I will explain the academic journal and conclude by relating the topics to Computer Science.
According to Miller’s article, employment opportunities in startups are very controversial. Most people interested in joining those newly founded companies usually have an entrepreneur spirit. It can be really useful for the startup, but an entrepreneur spirit also leads to the ambition of starting an independent company. This reality has been engaged readily by some companies who offer training in starting your own business and getting investments as part of their employees’ benefits.
In Silicon Valley, the demands have always been high for highly talented computer whiz. The demands are currently so high that the offers of benefits are basically a war between companies to lure developers and keep them. For example, the company Zynga offers haircuts and iPads to recruit as well as free meals, stock options and buses. It is also popular for companies to offer free food in the office to please employees. Salaries are also very competitive and start high right out of college. There also are currently high pressure job offers where the outstanding benefits are provided only if it is accepted right away during the same phone call. The investors are financing the development of technology companies faster than the schools can produce engineers and programmers develop the products. There is currently a shortage of people skilled in these areas in Silicon Valley.
However, most ambitious college graduate are not dreaming of working in a corporation, but rather to start their own. Some new companies even promise employees to help them start their own someday. A few employers even go as far as saying that they are not competing against each other, but rather against the quick entrepreneurial spirits of new recruits. Employers are scouting the campuses of universities and the computing competitions to find recruits, even without a degree. Another problem from the field of Computer Science is its rapidly evolving technology. Most languages that are taught in schools are not those currently used in the real world, but rather older ones. Mr. Adelson, the CEO of SimpleGeo says that the message being sent is “that this is a cool, cool place to work.”
Following Hiscott’s news, most people would find Montreal, with its low rents, its universities, and the free healthcare, appealing to be a great place to start a company. It is currently an important city in the development of video games with the government offering to pay from 30% to 37.5% of the employees’ salaries. However, to access the highest provincial funding, companies must translate their product in French for the initial release. The tech industry is an important player in Quebec’s economy. Montreal is among the top three regions in the world with the highest concentration of multimedia corporations. Conforming to the language requirement of the Quebec might be annoying for some companies, but others such as Starbucks circumvent the system by naming themselves “Café” Starbucks, introducing a French word into their name. Furthermore, businesses who have an address in Quebec are required to have at least a French version of their website if they have any. Most of the legal requirements are not a big deal for large companies. However, small businesses and startups are those who suffer the most since they have a small team and translation often requires new people which are unaffordable before the release of a product.
Most investors are not willing to invest in Quebec since they fear that the laws might interfere with the profit. Without investment, it is almost impossible for a startup to grow and employ more people. Also, the paperwork involved in the management of a company is even greater since everything as to be translated in French. The government explains these laws by the need to protect French from the English majority. However, Montreal is not the typical Quebec’s city and most English speaking people reside there. The rumors about a possible separation of the Quebec from Canada is also a fear that most investors want to avoid.
It is also known by some employers that the engineers in Montreal cost significantly less in salary than elsewhere, such as Silicon Valley. If we want Montreal to flourish with new startups, it is going to be necessary to attract talented people. It is a big advantage since Montreal has both low wages and low rents. Local entrepreneur have high esteem of their city for startups. However, the bilingualism issue of our province still prevents it from being competitive in the technology world.
The main employment issue for Montreal in this debate concerns the future. If there are no startup companies, or at least not enough, there are no new jobs being created. Since the restrictive laws of Quebec scare investors while making it harder for small companies, Montreal is not a convenient startup environment. However, it could be since all the other aspects are highly praised by new companies. It is also worrying that the competitive salaries of Silicon Valley are not retrieved in Montreal. From an employer’s perspective it might be good economically. However, from the worker’s point of view, it can be degrading to be paid less to do the same job simply because of the location you live in. However, one of the reason Silicon Valley is so competitive to employ computer scientist is because the opportunities to create startups are great. The fact that starting your own company is interesting and ambitious causes problems of employment in a field where high demands and nearly flawless work conditions are offered. There is a clear contrast between the low salaries of Montreal’s engineers and low opportunities of startup companies compare to the high salary of California and its hundreds of rising small companies.
Even though it is outdated, the study of Audretsch and Acs was a precursor to today’s company. It was organised during the era of the rise of Microsoft, a company that started in a garage and grew to create the richest man on the planet. It mainly studied the growth of small companies on the macroeconomic level and the elements which contributed to the startups. Even at that time, this paper was exploring the ideas of startups exploiting innovative ideas and taking leaps of faith. If we compare this idea to what is happening currently in the startup world, we can see that most success have been accomplished with innovative ideas. It is the research that predicted the current state of the technology market and surely has insight on the economic development of startups.
The field of Computer Science can be deduced as a field almost dedicated for startups, following the news summaries. It is a recently new field of research and study. As a computer science student, I would define Computer Science as the study of machine processed mathematical concepts. That is the research of algorithms and the different possibilities computers can process it to provide information and communication. The basic task of a computer scientist is to solve a problem using computer oriented methods. Combined with entrepreneurship and focusing on a need our society could have, it is one of the easiest domain in which a great idea can be developed to fuel a startup company. These companies can generate employment for the area in which it is established even though it encourages the computer scientists to follow their own ideas instead of finding a job.
To conclude, I believe there is an important local issue in Montreal with the law preventing to city to rise as high as its international rivals. The computer scientists of Montreal should receive the same value as others in the world since they are able to do as much. The city also needs to flourish with new companies to ensure future jobs and economic growth for the Quebec itself. The research has already been done demonstrating the impacts of such companies. In Silicon Valley, the situation isn’t as dramatic, but I think most programmers and engineer needs to consider the underestimated possibility of failure in a startup. As great as starting a company may sound, it is hard and experience in an already established corporation could be beneficial to a future startup. Computer Science is the dedicated field for startups and has proven multiple times that it can create an important economic growth helping the region in which it is located. There shouldn’t be any reason to prevent Montreal from becoming as successful in this domain as Silicon Valley. With the internet, Computer Science is a worldwide field that shouldn’t be limited by areas.