Tech hiring goes innovative and fast

The competition for top recruits in engineering and other fields has become as intense as ever as much of the high technology industry is enjoying a renewed boom.

Companies, ranging from Microsoft, the world’s biggest software maker apart from Google and Yahoo to the myriad of start-up companies across Silicon Valley pumped up with venture capital frequently find themselves going after the same candidates or recruiting in one another’s backyards.

These companies have expanded their recruiting arsenal far beyond the traditional job fair to include a growing number of events like technology lectures, cocktail parties, pizza parties, treasure hunts and programming contests, dubbed “code jams” or “hack days” to lure talent. These are no-pressure recruiting occasions meant to create excitement around their companies and impress potential recruits as young as college freshmen.

The rapid expansion of these companies is also acting as a catalyst to the growing phenomenon of Silicon Valley’s ‘talent wars’. Microsoft Corp, for example, plans to expand its Fargo, North Dakota, facility to add space for 575 workers. The Redmond, Washington-based company hired more than 10,000 workers in 2006 and 5,000 this year in 2007. Microsoft is also in the middle of a $1 billion expansion to its headquarters to add space for an additional 12,000 employees.

Microsoft also plans to add 1,200 staff for research and development in mainland China in 2007 at an estimated cost of $60 million. To this effect the company has also bought land to set up corporate campuses in Beijing and Shanghai, Zhang Yaqin, Microsoft’s head of mainland research and development operations.

Microsoft, which has about 3,000 employees on the mainland, last year invested about $150 million “in just people costs” in China and will “add probably 40% in people” this year. Much of the new spending will be on Microsoft’s mobility software, including Web services, digital entertainment and media applications for mobile telephones. With the land purchases in Beijing and Shanghai, Microsoft will have the capacity for 8,000 people in 2-3 years time.

Businesses, particularly technology firms, say they need to recruit foreign nationals, many of whom have received their graduate degrees in the United States, to compensate for a shortage of qualified programmers, engineers and scientists.

US businesses want Congress to lift quotas on the number of visas the government issues to skilled professionals such as the software engineers that Microsoft employs. But as recently as last week lawmakers rejected legislation that would have addressed their concerns. Canada doesn’t impose quotas on the number of visas it issues each year.

Microsoft said it plans to open the Vancouver facility by the end of the year. It will initially have about 200 workers, and employ about 900 within a couple years. Microsoft plans the Vancouver center to allow the company to continue recruiting and retain highly skilled people affected by the immigration issues in the United States.