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High-tech industry on hiring binge in California; Google, Facebook and Zynga lead the pack

March 25, 2011 |  4:15 pm

It's the Silicon Valley hiring boom being felt all over California.

California added nearly 100,000 new jobs in February, and the state's unemployment rate dropped by two-tenths of a percentage point, to 12.2% from 12.4% in January, in part led by a hiring surge in high tech, the California Economic Development Department reported Friday.

Top technology companies are competing fiercely for engineers, designers, computer scientists, data crunchers and other workers with specialized technical skills. But the hiring frenzy has also begun to reach workers with other kinds of skills.

Zynga Take Josh Persky, 28, who was working for Fox Sports Radio in Los Angeles when he was laid off on his 26th birthday. He subsisted on unemployment benefits, then odd jobs, for two years before landing a job in January as an office manager with Causes, a San Francisco start-up that helps people donate money to their favorite charities on Facebook and the Web.

Switching cities and industries changed his life, Persky said. "Every company in the technology industry is growing. Causes employs 24 people and plans to be over 35 people by the end of the year. Every engineer has three offers on the table," he said. "Working in technology is the kind of job you think you are going to have when you are 14 and you have never had a job before."

Silicon Valley is looking like an economic Shangri-La as companies here hire aggressively and court prospective recruits with free food, lots of perks and loads of cash. Competition for talent is especially fierce among Internet and social media companies.

Internet search giant Google gave all of its 24,000 employees a 10% raise this year. And it announced in January that 2011 would be its biggest hiring year ever. Google does not disclose specific hiring numbers, but its previous biggest hiring year was 2007, when it added nearly 6,200 people around the globe.

After Google announced the plans to increase its workforce 25% to more than 30,000, it received a flood of job applications, including more than 75,000 in one week. Google would only say that "a significant percentage" of its employees work in California, but a person familiar with the breakdown said more than a third of Google employees work in the state. YouTube, Google's video-sharing website, also said it would increase hiring more than 30%.

Google faces particularly stiff competition from Silicon Valley rivals such as Facebook, which is also sparing no effort or expense in recruiting engineers and other workers.

"Facebook will be hiring throughout 2011 for all parts of the company," a spokesman said in an email. 

Zynga2 Facebook has more than 2,000 employees, 1,400 of whom are in Palo Alto, and it's growing at a rate of about 50% a year. Last year it opened an engineering office in Seattle and a sales and operations office in Austin, Texas. This summer it's moving from Palo Alto to a 57-acre Menlo Park, Calif., campus that has already been permitted for 3,600 employees, the target growth for Facebook in 2011, a person familiar with the company's hiring plans said.

Popular social gaming company Zynga, which has more than 1,500 employees, expects to double that number in the next year. The San Francisco company is on a hiring streak: Zynga has hired 224 people in California so far this year, and it hired 563 last year.

San Francisco's Twitter, which is valued by investors at billions of dollars, has more than 400 employees and plans to grow to 3,000 employees by July 2013. A year ago, it had just 140 employees.

Bindu Reddy, chief executive of social media advertising start-up MyLikes, hails from Google and has a vast network of contacts in Silicon Valley. Still, she spends more than 70% of her time trying to recruit engineers. Reddy hired nine people for the 12-person team at MyLikes in the last five months, a process she called "intensely crazy." Going up against teams of recruiters at Facebook, Twitter, Google and Zynga, as well as start-ups loaded with cash, she has had to offer 15% over other offers to land recruits.

MyLikes opened a small office in Los Angeles to hire engineers because competition isn't quite as intense in L.A. as it is in Silicon Valley. Reddy landed a couple of former colleagues from Google, which  is expanding its own footprint by leasing more than 100,000 square feet of office space in three buildings in Venice.

Dice.com said it continues to see strong gains in the number of technology job postings in Silicon Valley. There were more than 5,000 open positions on Dice.com starting in March, up 41% year over year. 

In addition to long hunts to fill key positions and sharply increasing salaries, Silicon Valley companies are wrestling with retention as competitors make lucrative offers to try to pick off their key employees. In January, Google successfully beat back an effort by Twitter to hire one of its product development vice presidents, Sundar Pichai. Google also recently gave a top engineer a $5-million bonus package to keep him from defecting.

RELATED:

War heats up for top Silicon Valley talent

Tech firms try to outperk one another

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Zynga employee Lacey Salet brings her dog to company headquarters in San Francisco. Credit: Robert Durell / For The Times. 

Photo: Amitt Mahajan munches on free lunch at Zynga, which offers all kinds of perks to its employees. Credit: Robert Durell / For The Times.

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