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Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

IT job explorsion in L.A. -- for sysadmins,
Webmasters and Windows NT developers

Why Hollywood is calling, and what's in it for you

December  1996
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Despite recent news reports of California's recession, IT jobs in Los Angeles, especially for systems administrators, Webmasters, and Windows NT developers is booming. Don't let the city's aura of smog and past recessions deter you. Hollywood is buying into the Internet in a BIG way. (1,600 words)

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Dear Edgar,

I'm a developer working for a little Internet company here in New York. My wife just got a job offer from a company in Los Angeles. She works in the world of entertainment so for her I suppose it's a good move. But why would anyone else want to live in L.A.? I noticed from your company's homepage that you have an office there. Smog and earthquakes aside, as a software engineer it seems to me that if I'm going to move to the west coast, it should be to where all the excitement is -- Silicon Valley. Am I wrong about this?

Move to Hollywood?

Dear Hollywood,

Some people do not like Southern California. But be wary of the stereotypes -- L.A. is not what it was, especially from an IT standpoint. This is an area that has undergone a total and complete turnaround in recent years. Not too long ago there were riots, earthquakes, and economic instability. All the news coming out of the area was about Rodney King, public looting, the Menendez brothers, O.J. Simpson, fault lines opening up in the ground, and shootings on the highway. It was a very undesirable place to live, and people left in large numbers, taking the real estate market with them.

Today, Southern California is bouncing back. The tectonic plates have calmed, the Menendez brothers are in jail, the highways are safer, and the weather is still beautiful and warm practically every day. More importantly, the economy is rebounding. The real estate market is reflecting this resurgence as people are coming to L.A. to fill the thousands of new jobs being created primarily in the technology industry.

The history
Los Angeles was thriving in the 1980s, and until the early '90s was one of the hottest areas in the country, with people moving there in droves. Around this time the national economy went into a recession and somehow California managed to keep its head above water for about a year and a half longer than everywhere else. Then the bottom fell out of the technology industry when the government cut back on defense spending, sending the powerful L.A. aerospace industry into a spiral. To make things even worse, the physical and psychological stability of the area was shaken in 1994 when an earthquake measuring 6.7 hit the San Fernando Valley community of Northridge.

Between the time of these natural and economic disasters, the recession caught up to California, sending the entire economy into a downturn and affecting the City of Los Angeles more than anywhere else in the state. The cutting of funding to aerospace development was a particularly difficult blow to the IT industry. Massive companies such as Hughes Aircraft had virtually built some towns in the area from scratch. In a matter of months they were cutting jobs and downsizing.


During the past two to three years, the IT excitement in Los Angeles has rebounded dramatically. There are several factors driving this resurgence -- the phenomenal interest in the Internet along with the exploding IT demands of the entertainment giants. Funded largely by the powerful movie studios, there are hundreds of new start-ups in the area.

A race is on between many of them in specific Web-based arenas, such as the development of new ways to tap into electronic commerce and the creation of successful models for online advertising. Internally, every studio has an interactive division, many of which are registering domains and creating Web sites for new movies. Most of this work is being done, however, by a local group of new media advertising companies specializing in Web development. The film companies are also at the vanguard of computer-generated animation and are lending huge resources to computer-aided post production houses.

Even the once-powerful aerospace companies are repositioning themselves in the changing marketplace, moving into other technology areas and developing software for computers and television. Hughes, for instance, recently released its popular new product called "DIRECTV." Even when the opportunities have dried up in these organizations, the engineering talent is not at a loss. With all of the new companies and interesting start-up divisions -- like DreamWorks SKG, Disney Feature, and CitySearch -- there is plenty of work in the burgeoning new areas of multimedia and Internet development.

One of the reasons Los Angeles is able to rebuild so quickly is its solid infrastructure. California is the eighth largest economy in the world. Los Angeles county has a population larger than 42 states in the nation. It has the population, the economy, the business, the talent pool, and the education system to support a powerful technology industry. Because of this fertile environment and existing infrastructure, it is no surprise that companies like Pencom are there, positioning themselves to take advantage of this growth. At the same time, all of leading consulting firms, such as EDS, Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Andersen, and Cambridge Technology Partners are also there, expanding their operations in the area. Interestingly, even noted industry visionaries, such as Mark Pesce, the creator of VRML, have moved from the Bay Area down to Los Angeles.

The three hottest skills
The three hottest technical experts in demand in L.A. today are systems administrators, Windows NT developers, and Web/intranet developers. Although our company's L.A. office is fairly new, the Pencom technical recruiters have been doing business there for years and have noticed trends and opportunities developing around three main areas.

First, systems administration. Even before we moved some recruiting operations into L.A., our systems administration outsourcing unit, PSA, has been very successful there, finding that large corporations are moving to open systems and implementing Unix for the backbone of their corporate networks. The entertainment and evolving aerospace industries (redirecting their business models and advancing their IT architectures) are driving this need fairly hard right now.

Second, in strong competition with Unix is the emergence of Windows NT, which also is being embraced by some large, forward-thinking companies. The commercial end-users, from banking and financial to oil and insurance companies, are at the forefront here. (Let's not forget the migrating aerospace contractors.) But perhaps even more noteworthy than the demand for NT network engineers is the demand for NT developers.

The third, but by no means least important, area of opportunity is Internet development. The Web is a huge, new medium in L.A., attracting tremendous interest from the entertainment industry. This development is being led by a group of small, enterprising, leading-edge, new media advertising companies, which are soaking up all the business from the wealthy entertainment giants.

While there is work in many places in the country for HTML/Perl programmers, our recruiters tell us that there is an interesting twist to the work in L.A.: Companies want Web developers to make their Web sites fun and highly interactive. Some are developing episodic features, such as Web-based "Melrose Places." Others are incorporating trivia contests and gaming features. The manager of our L.A. office, Ricky Krostag, tells me that the Web developers are not fond of the "geek" moniker: They are leading the way in a medium they find cool, new, and hip.

Though our recruiters are placing people into very technical jobs, many of them are happy to find themselves in positions where they are involved in some content development and have a lot of latitude for creativity. No one knows yet which models of Web development will succeed. To get there first, the entertainment giants are pumping money into start-ups that are in turn hiring bright, energetic developers to explore and create the next best thing.

This is a perfect market for young developers who want to unleash their creative minds and are interested in riding the ever-changing wave that is Web development. An HTML/Perl designer today will be something very different tomorrow. Many aspects of HTMLing will be phased out by Web authoring and editing products. The more technical types will move into Java, ActiveX, and the next industry-altering technology. Others will move to the graphical design side. And still others will find themselves in content development or perhaps production or management -- overseeing a team that codes and builds a site. If you like the idea of working in an environment that constantly changes, this is right for you.

An L.A. renaissance
In many respects, the energy in L.A. today reminds me of Silicon Valley back in the late '80s, when my team of recruiters was working hard to build that market. At the time, everyone was creating a new flavor of Unix or a new chip for a new platform. Now in Southern California, it's not about hardware, operating systems, or product development for PCs. Now the enthusiasm centers around new uses for the Web. At the same time, the resurgence of the economy and the rise of big business is creating a renaissance in IT development. Corporations are funding Web start-ups, constructing intranets, and rebuilding a technology industry. Even though some could argue that there's still smog, the future is bright for L.A.

The fact is Hollywood in particular and L.A. in general is a great place to look for a job. If you are a systems administrator or Windows NT or Web developer, the job market is especially favorable. If you do decide to move, write back in a year. I would like to share your new perspective with our readers. Good luck!

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