IT talent still thriving in big cities

A new report about IT skills reveals two trends: In the U.S., if you’re hunting for IT talent, shop in the big metropolitan regions. Overseas, if you’re in the market for IT professionals, Romania and China are hot spots to watch.

The study, conducted in 2001 by Chantilly, Va.-based Brainbench, amply belies reports that major U.S. metro regions are less attractive, at least for IT skills.

Last year’s terror attacks provoked a wave of hand-wringing over the urban location of data centres and backup facilities, and of course redundant and secure facilities are a must for any IT operation. But the pool of talent could off-set plans to move IT operations to more remote locations.

The report, polling 750,000 of Brainbench’s online test-takers, takes into account a variety of IT certification areas such as Active Server Pages, C, C++, computer technical support, HTML 3.2, HTML 4.0, Java 1, Java 2, JavaScript and network technical support.

The results showed that dot-bomb central San Francisco led the nation in the number of certified IT professionals. New York, which witnessed companies exiting downtown offices after the World Trade Center attack, came in second, followed by Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle and Denver in the top 10.

Regions that have positioned themselves as the next Silicon Valley fell off the list, at least temporarily. Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Milwaukee/Racine; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/Highpoint, N.C.; St. Louis; Austin, Texas; Dayton/Springfield, Ohio; and Las Vegas were all displaced from the top 10.

Brainbench President and CEO Mike Russiello said one reason for the shift may be the report’s methodology. “Last year, we ranked IT certifications based on the quality of the score,” he said. “The present survey looks at the total number of people who scored above a minimum level.”

Even with the new criteria, the U.S. has the most certified IT professionals, with nearly 200,000, followed by India and the Russian Federation. The surprise is Romania, at No. 6. “IT is seen as adding value to the economy. And with increased offshore IT work, Romania is trying to carve out a niche as a low-cost IT centre,” said Russiello.

In China, which ranks No. 38 on the list, engineering graduates account for 37 per cent of all university students, compared with just 6 per cent in the U.S. So even though IT skills are supposed to foster higher-paying jobs, the supply of IT workers keeps a lid on wages.

The bottom line for now is that cities aren’t dead and inexpensive IT talent is growing.

Pimm Fox is Computerworld (US)’s West Coast bureau chief. Contact him