Comm grads needed as Austin high-tech job market continues to expand

By: Melanie Yoes

Austin has been known as a high-tech haven for the past two decades, and the scores of online startups and web-based companies still flocking to the “Silicon Hills” should provide plenty of job opportunities for tech-savvy communication graduates.

A high quality of life, low cost of living, tax incentives and a young, educated population base attract businesses from around the world to the Silicon Hills, a nickname Austin acquired after it experienced a technology boom in the early 1990s similar to that of Silicone Valley in northern California.

While the market for mobile apps and online services continues to grow, more and more jobs are becoming available to communication graduates in and around Austin, particularly in the field of social media management.

As part of Mass Comm week at Texas State, Andrew Waldrup, culture evangelist at Gowalla, Whitney Francis, community manager at Google Places, and Jennifer Stafford, social media manager at HomeAway.com, spoke to students Wednesday about the importance of networking and communication within the realm of social media and the high-tech world.

“It’s not really so much about what technical skills you have, but about who you know in this business,” said Stafford, who handles social media for HomeAway.com, a vacation rental web site. “If you can pick up at least the basics it will be really helpful for you, but you don’t have to go to school for, say, web development to get a job in one of these fields. Basic HTML is about as techy as I get.”

Waldrup, a Texas State alumni recently hired by Gowalla, said keeping up with the latest social media platforms and practices is important for those considering a career in a high-tech or social media field.

“You need to have a presence on all the social media sites, as well, so employers can see that you know what you’re doing,” he said.

Francis, who manages the social media for Google Places, recommends that students research the company they are interested in before applying, start a blog about a hobby or interest and print business cards with their contact information to hand out at monthly high-tech meet ups at bars and restaurants around Austin.

“I ran a blog called Free Eats Austin and did social media consulting for restaurants and bars a few years ago. Someone in the Google HR department found my profile on LinkedIn, brought me in for an interview, and that’s how I got my current job,” she said.

Waldrup also suggests that students create a business Facebook or Twitter account to get experience running the back end of those social media outlets.

“It’s very different, running your personal social space versus running one that’s representing a company,” she said.

Many of the new high-tech startups are looking to hire young, creative types and early adopters rather than job-seekers with a standard business mindset.

“The more personality you have the more interested we are in getting to know you, rather than the cookie-cutter person with a PR degree,” said Francis. “Your resume is key when you’re looking for a job in this field. The type of resume you would send to a regular business is pretty boring to a tech company, because culture is really important to us. Since it’s such a tight knit setting and you end up working closely with people, often for long hours, it’s important to express your personality in that piece of paper.”

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