Dallas region sees growth in software and mobile app development talent
By Hannah Cho
Originally published in: Dallas Morning News Thursday, June 26, 2014
When content management startup ContentGuard decided to move from Southern California last year, its choice for a new headquarters came down to Seattle or cities in Texas.
In the end, perhaps surprisingly, it picked Plano.
The rich talent pool of mobile app developers in North Texas was a major factor in the company’s decision, said ContentGuard chief product officer Scott Richardson.
“Because of the IT and financial services market in the area, we’re able to get talent that’s used to building products for big companies,” Richardson said. “There’s a lot of talent there.”
Traditional technology centers like Silicon Valley, New York and Austin aren’t the only places where developers are thriving as demand for mobile applications grows.
The Dallas region, too, is becoming a hub for computer and software programmers as well as app and Web developers. With North Texas’ lower cost of living, a rich pool of potential corporate clients and a growing economy, businesses and employees are finding job opportunities or moving here.
“I truly feel like Dallas is our own mini Silicon Valley,” said Chris Ronan, president of Dallas-based RD2, an app development and design company, one of many such boutique firms in North Texas. “You take what you learn from what happens in Silicon Valley, but this is where the rubber meets the road.”
Consider the job growth in the custom computer programming industry, which represents about 43 percent of information technology services employment in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s an industry that has recovered and grown since the recession. In North Texas, custom programming employment grew at a faster pace than in Texas and the U.S. as a whole over the last decade.
Doubling of jobs
In the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area, for instance, computer and software programming jobs more than doubled to an annual average of 23,193 last year, from 10,387 jobs in 2003, according to an analysis of quarterly employment census data from the BLS.
In fact, Collin County saw a whopping 492 percent growth in such jobs over the last decade, outpacing bigger counties in Texas and tech centers like New York County and San Francisco County, according to the BLS.
While Collin County’s programming workforce is relatively small, the county now accounts for 5,588 such jobs, compared with 944 jobs in 2003.
From startups to large companies, employers are recognizing the growing workforce.
Take Tyler Technologies, a $417 million software company in Plano.
Bruce Graham, president of Tyler’s fast-growing courts and justice division, says the company no longer needs to go to Austin or Silicon Valley to hire software developers.
“What we found is we have no lack of talent,” Graham said. “There are very talented programmers here. We haven’t had any issues with that.”
Tyler’s courts and justice business implements and manages electronic filing and online court systems for judicial systems around the country, including Texas and California. It also provides technology for law enforcement to manage dispatch, incarceration and other related data.
Given the consumerization of technology, “applications like ours have to be sexier and more mobile,” Graham said. That means developing software that’s more intuitive to use and takes design into account.
To build a pipeline of talent, Graham has built a partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas’ computer science department that involves seniors working on a project with Tyler developers.
Over the last few years, Tyler has also hired six UTD computer science graduates. This summer, Tyler is hosting three interns from the school’s computer science department.
Besides building and expanding its in-house development talent, Tyler works with outside development firms, like RD2 and projekt202 in Addison.
projekt202 CEO David Lancashire said the industry’s growth in the region is due in part to the growing recognition among businesses that enterprise software can be just as enjoyable as consumer-focused technology.
That shift is translating into growth for the firm, which focuses on developing Web, mobile and workplace software applications, Lancashire said.
21 area hires
The firm, which also has offices in Austin and Seattle, has hired 53 people so far this year. A mix of software architects, developers and user experience experts, 21 of the new hires were in the Dallas area, Lancashire said.
“In the enterprise world, there is still clunkiness that remains. That literally means billions of dollars of software work that needs to be done,” he said. “So that’s a great opportunity for Dallas and for all of us in this particular industry.”
Finding programming talent was a worry for John Dubois, co-founder of Oculus360, a big data startup in Plano.
A longtime Austin resident who also worked in Silicon Valley, Dubois moved to the Dallas region to launch Oculus360.
While it made sense for the startup to be based in North Texas — one of its investors, Trailblazer Capital, and many corporations are based here — Dubois questioned whether the software development talent pool would meet the company’s hiring needs.
He needn’t have worried.
Most of the hiring for developers has been local, Dubois said. The 19-employee startup, he said, has found both experienced software developers who left large companies to try their hand at working for startups and entry-level developers just out of college or with a few years of work experience.
“My biggest concern was technical talent in general,” Dubois said. “When I thought of Dallas … I thought more about hardware and the telecom corridor. The answer is absolutely there is [software talent here].