Tech Firms Focus on Cities In Pursuit of Younger Workers

Boston Waterfront


Tech companies across the country are increasingly setting up shop in urban areas, driven by the need to hire younger workers who aren’t about to give up their city lifestyles. At the same time, they have to consider older professionals who don’t want the hassles of a longer commute.

The move is particularly pronounced in Boston, home to a large community of colleges as well as a vibrant tech industry. You can see it in the numbers: Last year suburban Burlington, Lexington and Waltham accounted for 3 percent of open software engineering jobs, says the Boston Globe. Boston and Cambridge together listed 63 percent.

While locating in suburbia is cheaper, the kind of people companies want to hire—younger tech professionals looking for their first or second job–aren’t interested in the commute. “I lower my rent costs but I don’t get top people,” said Jim Dougherty, co-founder of the startup Madket Inc., located in Cambridge.

Venture capital firms are part of the trend, too, with many of them moving from office parks into Boston’s innovation district. That adds a lure for startups, who want to be as close as they can be to VCs, any which way they can. “For companies that really have ambitions to become significant companies, it’s a pretty clear choice that they have to be located in one of these two areas [Boston or Cambridge],” said Dave Barrett, Managing Partner with the venture firm Polaris Partners, which recently moved to offices on the Boston waterfront.

Still, many businesses find good reasons to stay closer to Route 128. The corridor remains home to the likes of EMC and Nuance Communications, for one thing. For another, a lot of older tech workers live in the suburbs and don’t want to trek into the city every day. Duncan Lennox, CEO of the mobile software company Qstream, worried that he’d lose some of his existing staff if he moved from his Burlington location. “They are all folks like me who have kids and already want to be out in the suburbs,” he said.

The bigger companies aren’t ignoring all this. Some are opening satellite offices in Boston and Cambridge to attract city-centric candidates. “There’s a lot of competition for smart graduates,” Matt Revis, Vice President of Mobile Devices at Nuance, told the Globe. The company, he said, opened an “Innovation Center” in Cambridge because it “wanted to make sure that we had one of the coolest offices for people coming into tech.” The move has worked. Nuance has hired a number of people who wouldn’t have come on board if they had to commute to its facility in Burlington.

Image: Shutterstock/Marcio Jose Bastos Silva

12 Responses to “Tech Firms Focus on Cities In Pursuit of Younger Workers”

  1. Fred Bosick

    “While locating in suburbia is cheaper, the kind of people companies want to hire—younger tech professionals looking for their first or second job–aren’t interested in the commute. “I lower my rent costs but I don’t get top people,” said Jim Dougherty, co-founder of the startup Madket Inc., located in Cambridge.”

    If it’s their first or 2nd job, how do you know they’re top people?

    Young city dwellers looking for their first IT job….That demographic sounds familiar… who does it remind me of? Who could it be……Yes! I have it, H-1B visa holders.

    The mystery is solved.

    I guess when you don’t win the lottery for your next indentured servant, you pick the next best choice.

      • Fred Bosick

        There *are* older H-1Bs in Ford IT. But I think my comparison is suggestive.

        I’ve worked with very established IT people in past jobs and some of them were virtually Amish in appearance. I truly think the urban angle is a stand in for something else. It makes *no* sense for Boston area employers to to open offices downtown as opposed to Route 128.

        Another “feature” of downtown living is the greater reliance on having roommates to share costs. I’ll give you your reluctance to compare to H-1Bs if you allow that employers might well be taking advantage of shared living to economize on wages.

  2. “Looking for younger workers”. Sounds like a red flag. To bad the EEOC
    is all talk and no bite. I’ve said it before, over the age of 40, watch your back.

  3. David

    Interesting. And this whole time I thought high tech companies could not find qualified workers. Turns out they will bypass this requirement for youth. Can you say pathetic?

    • Coffee Nose

      You just cracked me up, with a mouth full of coffee. I’ll be OK. I never will understand why people over 40 are considered useless, in too many places. I know 80 year old engineers that can blow away the kiddos, technically.

      And my two cents on something else: I wish company CEOs would understand that there’s not a shortage of technically skilled people… there’s a shortage of RECRUITERS who understand how to find the right people. Nowadays, everybody and their dog is a recruiter. Some recruiters just do it as a part-time hobby, but 90% of the full time recruiters still are so technically challenged, it’s no wonder they can’t find anybody. I wish recruiters had to have some sort of verifiable credentials.

  4. I guess Mr. Feffer in Des Moines doesn’t have a clue about the cost of living in the Boston area. What young person can live in Boston or Cambridge on their own? They HAVE to live further out and they will face the same crushing commute to Boston or Cambridge, along with everyone else.

    It also appears these “startups” aren’t interested in the experienced IT workforce in the Boston area, eh?

  5. It is not just younger talent that are in cities, but talent itself. Cities are magnets for talent. Living in the city is in some ways enviable, with short commute times and a high quality of life, and “even though housing and other costs are higher, bigger cities provide more opportunities and a thicker labor market for just about anyone to move up the socioeconomic ladder and find new opportunities when needed.”

    • luckless pedestrian

      @RFIChoke… I’m right with you… and I’ll add… watch what these “younger workers” do in a few years when they tire of the congested urban scene, become disillusioned with the hipster lifestyle and settle down to raise their family… they’ll head right out to the suburbs… just like their parents did. We’ve seen this all before folks.

    • Facist governments? I would say the ones who rely on city and higher density suburbs are the ones who have to foot the bill for people who just ache to live in the country where there they don’t at least hear their neighbors, preferable not even see them, yet wish for ALL the infrastructure that city folks have. Governments in cities and many suburbs have an imperative duty to one: have the basis for a high quality of life and two: make sure we can all get along. I’m long past the age of being a ‘hipster’ and young enough that I have quite a number of years to retirement but I would rather take public transit, have at least decent schools and lots of options in my free time. Yeah, I give, but man, you can get a lot back in return.

  6. Large cities have historically been a draw for younger folks wanting a more active social life and the vibrancy a city has to offer. But is the author implying that if you are a younger worker, you should focus your job search on cities and if you are older you should focus on the traditional high tech corridors? Or is this strictly a northeast phenomena? If wide spread I wonder how long before the lack of housing, high cost of living, and lack of discretionary funds begin to reverse the trend? In San Francisco, folks are converting apartment living rooms into shared bedrooms, just to be able to find affordable housing. And while the number of start-ups in the city is incredible, I don’t see a lot of larger younger employee centric companies like Facebook or Google closing shop in Silicon Valley and moving to San Francisco. Twitter and moved there, but that was during the recession and they received some very nice city provided tax incentives. Will the city continue to provide those incentives as it’s employment numbers increase?