Salt Lake City has long been recognized as a picturesque gateway to skiing, hiking and mountain climbing; it’s also the home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But beneath the city’s serene surface, the technology industry is disrupting the traditionally stable labor market and creating interesting jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago.
“At one point in time, tech pros looking for upward mobility had to leave Utah to take the next step in their careers; now, they can stay here and progress,” noted Jim Wright, a 20-year resident and director of technology recruiting for Prince, Perelson & Associates.
Low corporate taxes, reasonably priced real estate, and big investments in higher education have made Utah an attractive place for innovative tech companies. No wonder that, in 2015, Entrepreneur ranked Salt Lake City as the top startup destination outside of San Francisco or New York City.
Today, more than 646 startups have settled into what local entrepreneurs like to call “Silicon Slopes.” They join tech giants such as Adobe, eBay, and Workday, all of which have opened up large offices in the city.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of competition for technical talent in the past, so employers were able to hold salaries down,” explained Sharon Marston, a mining engineer and owner of Salt Lake Recruiters. “Now there are ample opportunities for mid-career professionals to boost their salaries and move beyond production-coding roles.”
Could Salt Lake City be the right place to advance your tech career? Here’s what you need to know.
Until recently, tech pros who wanted to live in Salt Lake City had limited options when choosing an industry and career path. Most went to work for an aerospace or defense firm, and spent their entire careers creating code.
Today’s tech job hunters can select from a wide array of industries, including software, online retailing, clean tech and educational tech, noted Jonathan Jackson, COO of the Utah Technology Council. A large number of biotech, life sciences and pharmaceutical companies have also settled in the metropolitan area. In fact, Utah’s medical device industry encompasses over 100 companies.
A 2016 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report cited the city’s flourishing educational tech sector as one of its greatest strengths; that community is supported by local accelerator, BoomStartup, and anchored by major employers Pluralsight and Instructure.
If education-focused tech isn’t your thing, Salt Lake City is home to a variety of established businesses and startups that focus on energy and “smart cities” technology. Data management, analytics and business intelligence are other local specialties, with new startups inspired by famous unicorns Qualtrics and Domo.
“Manufacturers are moving into the area, as well,” Marston noted. “They’re looking for Embedded-C engineers and e-commerce specialists with 10 to 15 years’ experience.” According to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, the state’s manufacturing and distribution industry has experienced employment growth above 11 percent for the past five years.
Jackson admits that misconceptions about local customs have made it more difficult to attract talent from outside the state.
To be clear, Utah has a family-friendly feel and some pretty quirky liquor laws. But disruptive tech firms have managed to reshape some local practices—at least to a certain extent. Many tech firms will definitely party down after a big release. Although the nightlife may be a bit lacking compared to San Francisco or New York, tech pros can hang out, talk shop, make friends and connect by attending professional and socially-oriented meetups across the city.
But partying isn’t considered a major draw—if anything, it’s the spectacular scenery and easy access to outdoor activities. “There’s an organic balance to life,” Jackson noted. “You can literally code half day and ski half day if you want to, because the slopes are just 30 minutes away.”
Experienced tech pros can enhance their skills and increase the likelihood of transitioning into another industry or role by attending immersive bootcamps, or participating in on-the-job training courses organized by TechHire Utah.
Hot Specialties and Skills
Many of Salt Lake City’s original startup ventures bootstrapped their way to success. However, a recent influx of $3 billion in venture funding has not only spurred growth—it’s exposed a serious local talent shortage and the opportunity for ambitious, business-savvy tech pros to move up the ladder quickly.
“Many entrepreneurs were forced to import experienced leaders from outside the area to qualify for series A and B funding,” Wright said. “Tech pros who would like to move into management or a senior leadership role should seriously consider joining a mid-stage startup.”
The ongoing movement to the cloud is fueling local demand for cloud architects and cloud security experts, while the growth of Big Data and analytics is increasing the competition and wages for professionals with database management and business intelligence skills.
Smart Career Moves
If you’re stuck in a dead-end job or production-coding role, this is the perfect time to cash in on the surging Salt Lake City market.
Salt Lake City’s hiring leaders say that it’s somewhat or very challenging to find skilled tech pros. That means professionals with local relationships can likely find something interesting, provided they update their résumé and stay in the loop about opportunities.
“Utah employers have traditionally valued longevity and loyalty,” Marston explained. “They are known for making tech applicants jump through hoops before extending an offer, but they are having to change their practices in order to survive.”
Employers who remain slow to hire, or who insist on administering numerous pre-hire tests, are losing out to swift rivals. The tussle for top talent is putting upward pressure on wages in almost every industry. “For instance, local employers are offering newly graduated software engineers starting salaries in the $115,000 range, and $200,000 retention bonuses if they stay five years,” Marston said.
Mid-career tech pros are likewise seeing an uptick in salaries and bonuses, provided they have current skills and the right degrees and certifications. Utah’s employers also prize longevity; if you’re searching for a job in the area, make it clear that you’re not just job-hunting to increase your salary (especially if you’re from outside Utah).
“Some companies want total buy-in,” Wright said. “Don’t make it seem like you’re window shopping or comparing [Salt Lake City] to Arizona or Colorado, or they will pass you by.”