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California is a big state. We’re big in size. At 163,695 square miles, California is the third-largest state in the U.S. California is also big in people. Over 37 million people make it the country’s most populous state. And California is big in economic resources as the world’s 5th largest economy. You would think with all the space, people and resources—not to mention the attraction of our sunshine and coastline factors—California would be buffered from the tech talent shortage. It’s not. In fact, within the state there is a fierce, unemployment-boosting battle for tech talent between Bay Area companies and their Southern California (SoCal) counterparts. It’s a North versus South competition in each region.

As someone who’s worked in the recruitment of senior-level tech consultants in both Northern and Southern California, I often am asked by hiring managers on one side of this California divide or the other if “it easier to recruit tech pros up/down there? Can we pull talent North/South” My answer? It depends. An employer can leverage their Southern or Northern Golden State location advantages to recruit intrastate tech talent if they pay careful attention to these four factors.

1. The Pay Factor: The North Has an Edge

Remuneration expectations are high in tech and they trend even higher in California. In the Bay Area, those expectations tend to go through the roof because of the cost of living is one of the highest in the country and proximity to Silicon Valley adds some serious employment cachet. Where Embedded consultants in SoCal might ask for $80-90/ hour rate, we see Bay Area consultants starting at $90-100 +/ hour.

Employers in the Bay Area looking to pull SoCal talent can use higher pay as a way to attract SoCal talent to the North, but the rate difference needs to be substantial. A five-dollar hourly difference does not substantially increase the likelihood of candidates moving north. Where we do see greater pull is when rates increase by 12-15%. Anything less than that cannot mitigate the Bay Area’s higher cost of living.

2. The Remote Work Factor: The South Has an Edge

Remote versus on-site work expectations do vary substantially between the Bay Area and SoCal. I see it come into play as early as the interview process. In SoCal, employers are much more accustomed and open to remote workers, and they often show that by conducting interviews remotely. In the Bay Area, employers are far more likely to expect workers and pay worker (see Factor #1) to be onsite from the very start.

SoCal employers can tout their remote work options, and even their remote interview capabilities, as a way to attract more tech talent. The sprawling size of SoCal and its limited public transport options means candidates have to drive for job interviews and cover a lot of distance. Simply creating remote interview options is a way for SoCal employers to boost in the number of candidates applying for positions. Add partial or full remote work opportunities to the employment package and SoCal employers are tapping directly into a strong recruiting advantage.

3. The Commute Factor: The North Has an Edge

SoCal is 99% car-centric, and public transport lags behind the North. While traffic in the Bay Area is miserable as well, the BART and a public transport network that connects the counties does offer some relief, especially for tech workers looking to avoid a car commute. Leveraging access to public transport in the Bay Area does have some recruiting pull.

4. The “Make Your Mark” Factor: The South Has an Edge

One advantage SoCal has when it comes to tech employment is related to size—more accurately the size of companies across the region. In Southern California, there is a greater variety of companies that are smaller and mid-size. Why? Because it’s a more affordable place to operate compared to the Bay Area where cost of real estate and talent have spiked to record levels. Redpoint Ventures, for example, reported that between 2009 and 2014 the cost of running a start-up company in Silicon Valley doubled.

That higher population of companies in the small and mid-size range across SoCal offers tech workers more opportunities to make their own mark in the workplace. Tech consultants who work in smaller, more nimble organizations and environments—as opposed to within some of the tech behemoths that dominate employment in the Bay Area—are given more room to bring their ideas and creativity to the job. Established, global tech firms also have stricter hierarchies, processes and routines. For tech workers looking for opportunities to innovate and have a voice in the workplace, SoCal offers more. 

Would I declare a clear winner between Northern and Southern of California in the battle for tech talent? Absolutely and it’s the tech professionals who get to work in this industrious, complex, pioneering, and picturesque state. When it comes to employers, I believe you can win talent in either place. The key is to focus on your regional recruitment advantages and target the talented tech pros who will respond to those incentives. Ready to give these tactics a try? Contact our Costa Mesa team to find the best hardware and software talent in California.