Business

Growing tech segment means work at home, sharing space

Ryan McMahon (Photo by Marty Price)

By Beth McLaughlin. Jobs in the tech industry grew 6​ percent in North Carolina in 2016, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, CompTIA.

“A 6 percent job growth means North Carolina added over 11,000 jobs last year,” said Steve Ostrowski, spokesman for CompTIA. “That’s the second highest percentage growth rate in the country for 2016, second only to Utah. It was a good year for your state in tech hiring and tech employment.

In terms of actual number of jobs added, with over 11,000 jobs, NC was third behind California and New York, Ostrowski added.

In talking about technology occupations, there are two types of employment—the core, hands​-​on jobs in which people are working on a help desk, setting up networks, performing security on networks, people who handle the mobile devices, people who create software code, mobile apps, that sort of thing—those are considered tech jobs, Ostrowski said.

The other aspect of tech employment is the support personnel, people who work in the office, but are not doing the hands-on work with the technical devices, networks, and so forth, he said.

It’s the actual core tech jobs that are on the increase, according to CompTIA.

The growth in NC was not broken down by county in CompTIA’s report, but by major metropolitan areas. Cabarrus County is included in the Charlotte Metropolitan area.

​Thousands of new tech jobs​

In the region, 1,908 tech industry jobs were added in 2016, a 4.3 percent​​ ​increase year-over-year, according to CompTIA’s CyberStates report. There were an estimated 46,398 tech industry workers in Charlotte in 2016, and 61,932 tech workers employed in companies across the Charlotte, NC economy.

The average annual tech industry wage in 2016 was $90,488, 68.5 percent higher than the overall average wage in Charlotte, according to the CyberStates report.

The Cabarrus business, Alevo, a developer of energy storage systems—think batteries the size of the payloads that fit on the back of tractor-trailers—has quite a few technology employees on the payroll, even though it ​is ​primarily a manufacturing company, said Scott Schotter, the company’s chief marketing officer.

“We have an IT department,” Schotter said. “We have a lot of automated equipment for manufacturing and for the software that runs it. We have an analytics department with software engineers and programmers. We’re building our manufacturing system across the board and tech jobs are a part of that.”

Schotter said in keeping with the trend for growth in tech jobs across the state, Alevo is growing and tech jobs are a part of that. “We are building our manufacturing infrastructure across the board and tech jobs would be part of that.”

​In the trenches, in slippers​

Business Today also talked to tech workers from Cabarrus County, finding there’s no clear trend in whether tech employees primarily telecommute or work in an office​ ​building. It does seem to be a trend that a Cabarrus resident will commute to a building outside of the county, if he or she does commute.

Jessica Draper moved from Kannapolis to Charlotte to be closer to educational and job opportunities in the tech industry. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in May, 2016, and has found work in Charlotte as an application software developer since then.

She said she finds most of the tech growth in North Carolina is in the Raleigh/Cary area. “I considered moving there after graduation because looking for a job here was getting discouraging.”

Another tough aspect of finding employment was most jobs seemed to require two to five or five to seven years’ experience, she said. She was hired into a two-year development program.

Concord native Kathy Sellers Maroney is the daughter of Frank and Sandra Maroney. Her father was an orthopedic surgeon and was chief of staff of the former Cabarrus Memorial Hospital for a number of years. Maroney left Concord for a while, but returned in 2003. She’s been working tech jobs since 1998.

Maroney works at home and keeps odd hours. She works with teams in California and in India, so she’s likely to have meetings at 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the same day. Sometimes she gets a cat nap in the afternoon between meetings. She enjoys wearing her bedroom slippers to work everyday, she added.

She said she’s not surprised at the growth in North Carolina’s tech jobs.

​More jobs coming

​“There are absolutely going to be more tech jobs everywhere,” Maroney said. “With the way things are going, everything manufacturing is moving away. The manual labor type jobs are being mechanized everywhere. You’re getting more people who are doing the technology jobs, too. You don’t hear of people going into college thinking, ‘I want to go work on a manufacturing floor.’”

“We are such a bedroom community for Charlotte. There will be many more tech jobs opening up here. There’s so much space for growth,” she said.

Cindy Fertenbaugh, a member of the Cabarrus County Board of Education, is extremely hopeful for the future of tech jobs in Cabarrus County. She cited a new program in the school system giving kids an opportunity to explore robotics in an after school program, and noted there are many technical  certifications students can get before graduating high school that will help them advance as they enter college for an associate’s degree or four-year-degree. Some of the certifications can help them attain work right out of school as well, she said. “It can sure give them a leg up.”

She is very familiar with tech work as she is a tech project manager for a major grocery store chain based in Mecklenburg County. Fertenbaugh commutes to a brick-and-mortar workplace. She said her company is trending more towards team work and people working together in the same physical space. Though certain jobs can also be done at home.

“Grocery stores are 24 hours now,” she said. “If something goes wrong with a system in the middle of the night and you’re on call, you can usually fix the problem from home. You can work a tech job anywhere.”

Brian Ward of Mount Pleasant works a tech job from his home. He’s a solutions architect/presales engineer for a company called VMWare based in Palo Alto, CA. There is a large campus presence there. He said a lot of tech jobs still require brick-and-mortar sites for workers to brainstorm and have team meetings. But for sales people, “Ideally they want us out of the building and in the field, anyway. So we can do this job from anywhere – 99 percent of us work remotely.”

In downtown Concord there’s a place to beat the isolation of the telecommute—an office where you can go to do your work with fellow telecommuters or people working for themselves. It’s called Hb5. It’s an open office environment with WiFi, printing services, and “all the free coffee you can drink,” said Ryan McMahon, partner and spokesperson for Hb5.

“It gives you a place to go every​day, to co-work and interact with others for a common goal,” he said.

Brainstorming and co-work is encouraged, and member​s​ share their expertise and ideas to help grow the small businesses and partnerships being formed there, McMahon said.

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