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KUT News | Mark Dewey

A boom in software development means full employment and high salaries for Austin technology workers. Computer programmers who can build video games or mobile phone apps are especially in demand.

At a recent North Austin happy hour, friends greet each other, swapping gossip, and job recruiters roam the room, building connections. This is what Matt Genovese envisioned when he created Door 64. The group is a way for tech workers to polish their people skills.

“Technology folks aren’t always known for just coming out on a whim and meeting each other at this kind of event, but I’m proud to say that we’re able to do it here in Austin,” Genovese said.

Holly Berry hires software developers for Electronic Arts, a game company with titles like Madden NFL and Medal of Honor. The jobs are in Austin, but the talent search is national and highly competitive.

“The top 10 percent, the top talent in the industry, every company is vying for at the same time, so it makes it an extremely competitive market,” Berry said.

Long Cao, 23, is a Web developer, writing computer code for a startup called SpareFoot. The 2011 University of Texas graduate chose the company for the good salary and hip culture.

SpareFoot’s Brazos Street office has big windows, a foosball table and dartboard, and colorful, urban-style murals — part workplace, part college hangout.

“The first phase of our interview was, we went to Buffalo Billiards, and we went to happy hour with the development team,” Cao said. “Within the first 10 minutes I knew that this was a team that I could work with.”

The nationwide talent pool is limited. So keeping software developers happy is job No. 1 for Austin tech companies.

Just ask Rich Warwick. He recently opened an Austin outpost for the California company Evernote. It’s a hot application, with tens of millions of users and a lot of buzz.

Warwick wants to grow the office from 10 people to 200 over the next three years. For that to happen, Evernote needs to keep increasing its revenue, but Warwick also has to find the talent.

“There’s a good solid workforce here in Austin,” Warwick said. “Lots of companies saw it, and they’ve descended on Austin, sucked up all the talent. Now we’re pretty much stealing from each other and having to recruit outside of Austin.”

More students are choosing programming at UT, Austin Community College, St. Edwards University, and other Texas colleges. But there still aren’t enough graduates to fill demand.

At UT, for example, computer science enrollment stands at 1,351, only half of what it was at its 2001 peak. Seniors in UT’s computer science program this year have already received an average of two job offers. A typical 2012 salary is more than $70,000, with many offers over $100,000 a year.

Computer Science Department Chairman Bruce Porter says he’s seen this before.

“It’s not as hot quite yet as it was in the mid-’90s, but we’re getting close to that point,” Porter said.

He says his department can handle many more students, if they’ll sign up.

“Our department is an open-enrollment department. That mans anybody who wants to be a CS major declares it and just simply joins,” he said.

One recruiter said quietly that anyone who can write code can get a job right now.

UT sophomore Emily Ledbetter is not a computer science major, but she can write code and has landed a paying internship this summer. She’s sold on software as a career.

“The thing that I’m worried about is what industry I want to go to,” Ledbetter said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know, there are too many out there.”

Regan Templeton of contributed to this story.

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