When Mark Hobbs was looking for a developer to work on his startup, FundMetric, he posted ads on job boards, contacted the computer science department at Dalhousie University, and reached out to his contacts. Then he waited.
While a couple developers were recommended to him, they’d already taken jobs out of province. Other than that, he received no replies.
It was only after his story was posted on news site allNovaScotia that he finally found someone.
For Hobbs, it’s a sign of a talent shortage that’s not only holding back the tech industry in Halifax, but throughout the Maritime provinces.
“If you’re having the problem in the big city, in Halifax,” says Hobbs, “in New Brunswick the challenges are going to be the same.”
He sees it as a cultural problem.
“There’s a stigma in Nova Scotia that people don’t want to stay here,” says Hobbs.
Even though the province has a large number of universities, with many students coming out of province, they just aren’t staying.
“It seems to me that almost everyone who graduates goes back to where they’re from,” says Hobbs.
That’s definitely the impression among professors at the Dalhousie Faculty of Computer Science—that most graduates end up leaving the province. But not everyone agrees that there’s a talent shortage affecting the Maritimes specifically.
“Broadly speaking, there is a tech talent shortage in pretty much every market,” says Jevon MacDonald founder of Halifax-based GoInstant. “I do not see any evidence that Halifax is in a worse position than any other city.”
MacDonald says he’s received hundreds of applications from developers in Halifax for the few open positions at GoInstant.
“My own anecdotal experience has been that it is generally easier to hire, and just as importantly to retain, talent here,” he says.
Milan Vrekic, executive director of Volta Labs, a startup house in Halifax, and a co-founder of file sharing company TitanFile, agrees.
“It is notoriously hard to get a developer if you are a first time founder without a product,” says Vrekic. “But I do not subscribe to the opinion that this is so because there is no talent available.”
Vrekic says founders, in Halifax—and other cities—can’t just post a job ad and wait for developers to come to them. Instead, he says founders need to hustle and create buzz around their companies, go to events with developers and ask for recommendations to attract top talent.
Developers “are expected to take on a lot more risk than the business founders,” say Vrekic. “If you have no product, it is expected of them to spend their billable time building the product while a typical business founder can still do something else to supplement their income.”
“Promises of large sums of equity mean nothing until the equity is worth something,” he adds.
If anything, with many computer science graduates leaving the province, Nova Scotia may have the opposite problem—not enough startups for talented developers to work in.
The region certainly has suffered for years from the notion that talented people need to leave to succeed.
“A lot of the mentality is that you’ve got to go to Toronto, Montreal or Fort McMurray,” says Hobbs. “But in the tech industry that’s not true.”