An Insider’s Guide to Portland Tech Careers, with Tim Butler

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Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 210:

An Insider’s Guide to Portland Tech Careers, with Tim Butler

Airdate: September 25, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want and make a difference in life.

I’m Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s list. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every week, I interview a career expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

Our hometown of Portland, Oregon has a thriving technology sector. But it also presents special challenges for job seekers, especially for candidates without tech experience.

Joining us today in the Mac’s List studio to talk about this is Portland tech insider, Tim Butler.

He’s a technical sourcer at the local office of New Relic. It’s a software company headquartered in San Francisco. Tim, is it hard to get a job in Portland’s tech community?

Tim Butler:

The short answer is yes, it definitely is hard. And I would even say in broader terms, the Portland job market is one that is a real challenge. You know, there’s an old adage that it really matters who you know. And I think that’s even more so the case when you come to Portland.

I’ve talked with many candidates, throughout the years that I’ve been in recruiting, that have really been used to having a great resume and a solid background, and they think that they can just kind of float the resume there. And they find out very quickly that they’re not getting much activity. And of course, the market determines how quickly they may get a response.

Mac Prichard:

So, why is that, Tim? And I’m assuming there are other cities where they can float that resume and they get an offer. But you say it’s not happening here.

Tim Butler:

I think it really just comes down to, Portland is a town where people love to do business with and work with those people that they know, or it’s very referral-friendly. So, if you have a friend or connection that is working somewhere, they may reach out to you and say, “Hey, who do you know?” “Who do you know?”, happens quite a lot here in Portland.

Mac Prichard:

What about for a listener who doesn’t have a tech background? Is there an additional challenge there, someone who might want to break into your sector?

Tim Butler:

Great question. There certainly could be. I think with transitioning into any new industry, there’s always going to be some challenges. And it’s important to do your research to find out as much as you can, do some informational interviews. But with tech, the beautiful thing about the Portland tech community is that there are so many different networking opportunities where you can at least get out there and rub elbows. Even if you’re an introvert, there’s still ways that you can learn about the different tech companies that are in town. And that’ll help you sort of determine if you’re interested in software, if you’re interested in hardware, what types of roles exist within those tech companies? And as long as you’re able to do that, then you’re going to have the experience to sort of pinpoint target your search on to as far as which companies you’re going to be pursuing.

Mac Prichard:

Is this a city that is open to either newcomers to town or people who want to change sectors? Or is it a closed community?

Tim Butler:

Yeah, I would say it’s definitely open. For me, personally, I worked in insurance for 20 years, and at the tail end of that 20 years decided that I was enjoying the recruitment aspect of what I was doing. And I reached out to a recruiter for the company that I was leaving, and I said, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking about doing.”

And that individual, they’re not in the Portland market, but they said, “Yeah, I think you’d be great at it. In fact, I’m going to give you a couple of contacts that you can reach out to.”

And what I found through not only Twitter but networking with former colleagues like that instance, is that Portland definitely is a place where there’s a lot of collaboration that takes place and people who are willing to help a newcomer along and make those introductions when necessary.

Mac Prichard:

So it’s an open city, a collaborative culture.

Tim Butler:

Very much so.

Mac Prichard:

A collaborative culture.

Tim Butler:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

And there are opportunities to meet new people. What’s different about Portland’s tech community as compared to other cities, say San Francisco or Seattle or smaller cities, perhaps?

Tim Butler:

I would say that you’re probably more able to get to…I hate to use the word players…but great referral sources and people who are in positions of authority and making decisions.

Because we have things like Startup Week, Design Week, and a lot of those great things where, and I think if you’re in a larger city, like a Seattle or San Francisco, you may be able to get to go to different events, and maybe even more events, but it’s likely that the numbers are going to be so large that you’re not going to make as many deep connections, I would say, and be able to gain more ground as far as the networking piece goes.

Mac Prichard:

In the interest of full disclosure, what are the drawbacks here in Portland…in Portland’s tech community as compared to other cities?

Tim Butler:

For me, I’ve always called Portland a branch town. And what I mean by that is, we don’t have a plethora of Fortune 500 companies. So it’s not really a place where you, you’ll see a lot of corporate gigs. You’ll see some but it’s really more of, there are branches of these larger corporations that are here, as opposed to it being just a bevy or plethora, like I said, of these Fortune 500 and large companies, where there’s so many jobs that are available within the tech space and even other industries as well.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned at the start of our conversation that it is a competitive job market, it can be hard but it sounds like the key is referrals. It’s networking, is that right?

Tim Butler:

It is and you know, interesting enough, there’s some that I’m connected to on Twitter that I finally got to meet in person. Which side note, that’s a great thing about Twitter is that you can start virtual but you know, it’s great when you can take it offline. And I noted that she mentioned something about how some “gurus” in the industry are saying that networking is key, and you’ve got to make it a full-time job.

I like to talk about a layered approach. But for Portland, networking is just vitally important. You definitely want to layer your job search approach, but you can’t hold back on participating in networking events.

And that doesn’t mean that you’re going to Eventbrite and signing up for 10 $20 events to go to. There’s a lot of different ways that you can network. You can network virtually like I did via Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as those other ways of connecting with people at events.

Mac Prichard:

What are your best networking tips for people who want to break into Portland’s tech community? Or are already part of it and want to move up? What do successful people do?

Tim Butler:

I think the successful ones are able to be resourceful and figure out, “Okay, what events are taking place?”

One of the great resources that I have been recommending for years is a site called calagator.org/. And basically, it’s an aggregator, and they have a calendar of tech events that are taking place here in the Portland market. I love it. And whenever I send it to people that are looking at Portland from Cincinnati, Chicago, Raleigh, or other places around the country, it’s something that they instantly are drawn to, and it appeals to them because they don’t have to go to Meetup and just sort of start searching and finding their way to figure out where are these sort of hot events, if you will, be going on in Portland. So that’s number one.

And then I would say, Portland Women in Technology or PDXWIT, as it’s known. It’s, as the name sounds, women-focused, but it’s very much a place that accepts all comers to their events. And if you don’t think of it in terms of going to network for a job, and just getting to know people who are working in tech, especially if you’re looking to break into tech, it is an absolutely great place to go because they have just a number of different events that are taking place. Probably, if I had to guess, 4-5 different events taking place throughout the month, every month,

Mac Prichard:

I’ve been to a number of their events, they’re very good. And you meet people there that you might not ordinarily cross paths with. And people are very open and friendly. I also want to say Portland Women in Tech has a terrific job board. There are over 100 positions there every month and I do recommend it strongly.

Tim Butler:

Yep, and another one I would recommend…and while it requires being here in person, it certainly works well if someone is already here in Portland or visiting…and that is New Tech PDX. And if anyone’s ever been to a pitch event, it sort of has a pitch format to it, where there are four to five different companies that give about a five-minute pitch.

And then there’s about a 2-3 minute Q&A period for the audience to ask questions. And if someone is just interested in Portland, and Portland tech, it is an absolutely great event to go to. There’s a cost associated with it. But if you get in early enough, I believe it’s $10 plus the service fee to attend. And that does come with a meal. They have catered food at every event plus beverages, too.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned the importance of referrals and how they can help a job seeker in Portland’s tech world be more competitive and have more success. What about, are there other challenges that job seekers should be aware of when looking for a tech job in Portland?

Tim Butler:

Well, it’s obviously very competitive. I would say that the biggest challenge could be if they’re going to be transitioning into tech, that they might be looking at an entry-level. A great example of that would be someone who’s going through a code school or boot camp, has never worked in tech, the challenge they’re going to face with the Portland tech community is that for the most part, we’re looking for senior-level talent.

I like to say that we’re chasing the same…it’s an arms race, basically for the same level of talent here in the Portland marketplace. And so it can be a challenge. If you’re an entry-level candidate, maybe you’re someone who’s a new grad with a computer science degree, or you’ve gone through one of the boot camps, it can be a challenge to find those entry-level and early career positions.

And likewise, if you’re new to tech, and maybe you’ve got 10-15 years of experience, and you’re trying to find a project management/program management type role, you can be competing against, for the most part, mid to senior-level people that have already worked in the industry. And so that’s going to be a big challenge.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s take a break. When we come back, I want to talk about how people, particularly entry-level applicants can overcome those challenges. And I want to dig into training because sometimes, people look at code academies and other institutions in order to get skills or certificates, to help them make the switch.

Portland is a great place to live. But it can be a tough place to find work. Even with a record low unemployment rate, you still have lots of competition for the best jobs. If you live here, or you’re thinking about moving to Oregon, we have a free guide that can help.

If you live here — or you’re thinking about moving to Oregon — we have a free guide that can help. It’s called How to Find a Job in Portland: 8 Steps to a Meaningful Career.

Go to macslist.org/portlandjobs.

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Go to macslist.org/portlandjobs.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List Studio. I’m talking with Tim Butler. He’s the technical sourcer at New Relic.

Now, Tim, before the break, we were talking about the challenges that entry-level people might face in getting a job in Portland, and you said there’s a lot of demand for more senior people, but perhaps not as few opportunities, not as many opportunities rather, for people who are breaking in. Right. Tell us about that?

Tim Butler:

Well, I think what it comes down to is the size of the company, I think plays into that, again, going back to what I said about it not being Fortune 500 companies. So, the larger the business, the more likely there is to be an internship program as well as early/entry-level career positions, in addition to your typical mid and senior-level roles.

So, because Portland is going to have more small to medium-sized businesses, they’re trying to get work done. And so training becomes an issue, and onboarding, and having the time to do those things for someone that is going to require some training, especially if they’re new to the industry. That’s where you’ll see businesses tend to lean towards, we just don’t have the time to do it. And so we really need to get someone in here that’s got five-plus years experience, 10-plus years experience.

Mac Prichard:

What do you say to people who are considering going to a coding academy or perhaps taking a certificate program at a community college in order to get a technical credential that will help them break into tech, what should they be thinking about?

Tim Butler:

I think what they should be thinking about first and foremost is, what are they passionate about?

If maybe they know someone that’s in the industry, maybe someone that’s a software developer, maybe they have family members that worked in tech, and they’re just sort of circling back to what was already there, maybe deeply-seated. And the cool thing that I like to talk about when I occasionally go and visit one of the local code schools is, you’ve got this treasure trove, if you will, of transferable skills that you’re bringing to the plate. It doesn’t mean that you will necessarily qualify for a mid or senior-level position, but it is going to help you in your search.

It’s going to cause a hiring manager to look twice at somebody that is going to have that certification from a code school or boot camp, community college, whatever the case is. So, I definitely think it’s valuable to, once you’ve sort of made the determination that I’m going to do this, that you go forward and pursue that certification.  A great example is someone that I know of that had been here in town, but was working in academia, and decided that they wanted to do something sort of along the lines of program management and wanted to go the scrum master route.

I’ve never known anyone to do this. But I can tell you that that person was successful. And part of the reason they were successful was not just the training they did, but they also volunteered through the local Project Management Institute. And so that kind of goes back to the “who you know” piece. If you’re doing volunteer work and being involved in other events, you’re going to get to know the people and the players that are in the community. And so that’s going to help you in addition to the training that you’re getting,

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought up volunteering because it is a form of networking, but I don’t think people think about volunteering as networking, do they?

Tim Butler:

They don’t. And when I talked to the code school students, I tell them that because I don’t know what the numbers are. But I just make the assumption that there’s got to be someone in here that’s terrified of networking whenever they hear that term.

And so I’ll talk about virtual, whether you’re doing it via Twitter, or LinkedIn, or some other online groups that maybe you’re part of if you found this online community, but definitely volunteering, as well as, you know, if you’re a parent, and you’re at a PTA meeting, and you have a life change going on, and you just have a conversation with somebody that you know, you’re going to code school and you’re excited about that.

You don’t know who they know, you may think you do. But that can ultimately help you somewhere down the line, where they might know someone that’s interested in someone that is, you know, making a change and because they know you, they’re more likely to become a referral source for you than somebody that you’re just meeting for the first time, and you’re telling them that you’re going through some training, and they’re like, “Okay, that sounds great”, and they move on.

But if someone knows you already, in this sort of non-threatening, volunteer-type environment, they’re going to take a natural interest in you and more people than not are going to be willing to try to help out that individual that’s ultimately going to be looking to make that career change.

Mac Prichard:

One more question about training, attending a coding school or signing up for courses at a community college requires an investment. So, before people take out a loan, or perhaps tap savings to do that, what do you encourage them to think about? Because it can be, especially for some people, a big check?

Tim Butler:

Sure, I would encourage them to definitely do some research. There are a lot of choices that are out there. You can do the self-study at home programs. If you have a library card here in the Portland metropolitan area, you can take classes on Lynda.com if you’re interested in software development.

So, you can even dabble, if you will, with like a Lynda or some other free resources that are out there. Being self-taught is, I won’t say the norm, but there are definitely a lot of technical professionals that are self-taught. So, if you’re doing your due diligence, as far as researching tech careers, talking to people that you might know that are in tech careers, before you make that big investment, then you’re going to be going in, I think, with eyes wide open and understanding that okay, this is a big commitment. I definitely am passionate about this. And I’m going to go forward with it. And I always talk about, you know, finding the passion. You know, if making a difference in the lives of others, and you realize that you can do that through software development, is what drives you, then great. You can certainly accomplish that with a tech card.

Mac Prichard:

What other tips do you have about research? You mentioned it when considering going back to school. But how about in a job search? What kind of research do you recommend a listener do when considering getting a tech job in Portland?

Tim Butler:

I think if you are going to formal networking events within the tech space, if you can find, you don’t necessarily have to find a hiring manager, but if there is one that’s there, that’s great. But what you’ll find is that a lot of them might stay away because they don’t want to get bombarded by all the job seekers in the room. And if they are there, it’s probably because they are hiring. And they are interested in talking to candidates.

But I would just say, go to those events. And whenever you have an opportunity to talk to somebody, whether it’s a software developer, Scrum Master, whatever their role is within tech, they can tell you a little bit about how they got into tech, the people that they work with, the types of projects that they’re working on, the products that their company is building, if they’re building products, or the services that they offer. And just be really curious and go about it that way. And again, you don’t have to be at a physical event to do that. You can find somebody on LinkedIn by just doing a search for “software engineer in Portland”, and reach out to that individual and see if they’re willing to have a chat with you, you know, buy them a cup of coffee.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned people who might be considering moving here from other cities; any tips about how to do a remote job search if you want to find a tech job in Portland?

Tim Butler:

They are usually links that I’ll send to someone to kind of give them some information, as far as like cost of living. I definitely recommend the various sites that are out there where you can check on what it’s like as far as livability and those things that are important to you, as far as the community that you want to live in.

So you can get a better understanding of the differences between what it’s like living in East County in Gresham, or Troutdale, or living way out west in Silicon Forest and out near Intel, and Hillsborough, Beaverton etc, and then figure out that piece, because we know that traffic is not great.

But you can still work your way around it and figure out where you would like to live and get a sense of the cost of living environment and see how it compares to where you are currently. And then I would say just taking a look at, if you do a simple Google search, even a YouTube search, I’ve come across some pretty interesting videos about Portland, on YouTube.

But calagator.org is a great site that again…I always send a link to Tech Town, Portland, I’m not sure the exact address. But Tech Town, Portland is part of our local economic developments initiative, I guess it is, to sort of embolden the tech community and make it more attractive and help draw new talent to Portland, actually. And so I know that they occasionally will have videos in there as well as some information about the tech scene here.

And then the Tech Association of Oregon is another good site, I would say, too, to check out and that’ll give you a little bit of information as to what the scene is like here.

Mac Prichard:

When you see people come here for tech jobs, do they…are they able to do a search from a great distance and get an offer, or they have to come to town, Tim, and just start talking to people?

Tim Butler:

I think it can happen that way. Where you can do it from a distance. As a recruiter, you typically…it’s not that you’re skeptical. It’s just that you don’t want to get left at the altar. And you want to know how serious they are about Portland.

And so, well, there are certain questions that you can’t ask in interviews, you can certainly ask, “Okay, so why Portland? Is it the show Portlandia? Is it that it’s known as Beervana?”

And just try to get a sense of what it is and find out okay, maybe they do have family. Maybe they have friends that have told them that, maybe they visited here, maybe they’ve been here on business. And if you can find out that they’re really invested in coming, then a recruiter and a hiring manager are going to be more likely to want to talk to them, because they know that they’re serious about the Portland area.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the right answer to the question about Portlandia?

Tim Butler:

Coming from a native who was skeptical in the beginning, the more I watched it, the more I began to think that it sort of mirrors reality. There’s definitely a love for brunch here that exists and a lot of the quirky things around, like environmentalism and pets, and having gone through the whole home sale thing, the writing of the letters, I didn’t get to do that part.

So, I was a little disappointed that nobody wrote letters to us about our home that was for sale. But yeah, there’s…we got three when I sold our house. There’s definitely a lot that holds true. And the more I watched it, the more I was surprised that, “Oh, gosh, I guess some of this is true.” Though, I don’t know that it is as weird as Portlandia makes it seem. I think that’s sort of…maybe Austin truly holds that title. I don’t…I’ve never been Austin, so I can’t compare.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. And then what how about Beervana, Tim?

Tim Butler:

That’s definitely true, and I’m not a beer drinker, but I am certainly well aware that it is because, at every turn, there’s beer.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned some great online resources, including Calagator. Do you have a favorite Portland tech job board?

Tim Butler:

I don’t know that I do actually… You know, here are three favorites.

I like what Rick Turoczy’s Silicon Florist blog does with startups. And if you’re someone that’s really passionate about working for a startup and being part of the startup scene, he does a really good job of posting positions on his site.

Of course, Mac’s List is a great site to find out about jobs in Portland in general. And I think Portland Women in Technology has really done a stellar job of really posting a lot of open positions within tech.

Mac Prichard:

I would add, the Oregon Employment Department has a great tech-focused job board run by a fellow named David Duncan; I think it’s called Portland tech jobs, there are usually a couple thousand. It’s an aggregator…

Tim Butler:

Yes, I actually have seen that. It’s not like a go-to for me that I’ve seen. But I know that I’ve come across it throughout the years, a few different times. And I’ve seen that where there are a lot of jobs that are certainly listed in there.

Mac Prichard:

Well, tell us what’s next for you, Tim.

Tim Butler:

What’s next for me is just kind of continuing to do the work that I get to, that I enjoy and get to do and it’s called sourcing. And what that simply means is, I’m looking for people under leaves, rocks, wherever I can find them, scouring every end of the earth…well, not every, in the US at least, to try to get them interested about the different positions that I’m working with, within our product engineering org over at New Relic.

And for me, the exciting thing is, is that I am working for a company that truly is devoted to having a diverse workplace. So, diversity is a mandate that we have in hiring. And so that allows me the time that it takes to realize that they may not necessarily be sitting here in Portland, so I can take the time to reach out to somebody in Philadelphia, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, Miami, wherever they might be in, and try to find someone that I think is a great fit for the positions that I’m working on. And we’re growing rapidly. We’re doing some really exciting things with our software. And so it’s a great place to be and it’s exciting work that I get to do.

Mac Prichard:

I know people can learn more about you by connecting with you on LinkedIn and you’re open to LinkedIn invitations…

Tim Butler:

Yes, I am, definitely.

Mac Prichard:

As well as following you on Twitter. Well, you’ve given us a lot of good information here today, Tim, about how to break into a tech career in Portland. What’s the one thing you want a listener to remember?

Tim Butler:

I guess I would say that Portland is a welcoming and collaborative place. You definitely need to put in the work to get to know people within the Portland market. And you know, if you go about networking, and realize that it’s a give and take and that it’s…you’re not just taking. If you do it the right way, you’re going to be able to connect with people who are really, genuinely and authentic about trying to help others make that change. So, you certainly want to own your job search because it’s all on your shoulders, but realizing that Portland is just kind of that special place, and if you put in the work and the effort to really network and get out there, you can realize that because it is a welcoming place.

Mac Prichard:

Tim started with a point I hear a lot at Mac’s List.

The job market in Portland is competitive; especially for people who move here, it can seem overwhelming. But Tim also made an important point about the city itself. Relationships matter, referrals count, and it is an open system. That’s not true in a lot of cities.

You can get in to see key decision-makers here and you can make relationships with people who matter and get the referrals, whether you move here or you were born here, that will help you break into Portland’s tech community. It’s actually a principle I think that applies across all of the city’s sectors.

Whether you want a job in technology, or in another sector in Portland, we’ve got a free guide that can help. It’s called How to Find a Job in Portland: 8 Steps to a Meaningful Career.

It shares valuable tips about not only networking and how to get referrals, but insights into local job boards and other tools and resources that can help you find a job here that you love.

If you want to get your copy today, go to macslist.org/portlandjobs. It’s free.

Did you know that when you apply for a job, an algorithm, not a hiring manager, may decide if you get an interview?

Our guest next Wednesday is Nicolle Merrill. She’s the founder of Future Skills.

Nicolle and I will talk about how algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence affect your job search and what you can do about it.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

Building a tech career in Portland can be daunting, especially for newcomers. The good news is that Portland is an open and welcoming community, even if you are new to the tech field and lack experience. The key to breaking into Portland’s tech industry is networking and meeting the people who do the hiring here, says Find Your Dream Job guest Tim Butler. Tim says that if you put in the time and do the work, you’ll find others who can help you identify Portland tech careers in authentic and meaningful ways. 

About Our Guest:

Tim Butler is a technical sourcer at the Portland, Oregon office of New Relic, a software analytics company. Tim has been working as a recruiter and helping local professionals build Portland tech careers for the past eight years after spending 20 years in insurance. His passion is helping professionals find new career opportunities that align with their career interests and goals. His current focus is on finding talented software engineering professionals.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re interested in working with Tim to find a job in Portland, head over to New Relic for more information.