When it comes to technology talent, a new study shows Halifax is tops in two categories and fares well in several more compared to other major cities in Canada.
Halifax heads the list of Canadian cities with concentrations of graphics programmers and web developers for Apple’s iOS mobile products and appears in the top five of six other categories, according to Stacking Up: A Snapshot of Canada’s Developer Talent, which was released this week by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.
Sean Mullin, executive director of the independent think-tank based out of Ryerson University in Toronto, said Halifax is doing well despite being up against some of the largest cities in the country.
“My assessment of Halifax is, in aggregate numbers, (it’s) still not a huge location,” he said. “Not surprisingly, Vancouver, Montreal (and) Toronto (are) dominating in terms of the aggregate number of people employed in software technology fields, and because of that they’re always going to have a high number of professionals across a whole bunch of disciplines.
“But when you look at a city like Halifax, (it’s got) a strong concentration in a couple of areas that really do matter, like iOS and graphics.
“We had done a . . . related report a year ago where we just looked at the size of the tech sector, which is a more broader definition beyond just software developers, and Halifax did quite well. It was above the Canadian average in terms of the number of people employed in the tech sector. It was near the top in terms of private sector employees for the city.
“I’m not an expert on what’s going on on the ground in Halifax, but taking a look at those statistics, relative to the size of the city, it seems to be doing its fair share, if not punching above its weight on technical talent.”
The most recent study combined general numbers from Statistics Canada and specific results from data and surveys produced by Stack Overflow, an
online resource for developers around the world.
The numbers show Halifax only has about one per cent of all developers located in major Canadian cities, but it has the highest concentration of graphics programmers and iOS mobile developers.
But it also ranked high in backend developers, full-stack developers, desktop developers and database administrators, and was in the top five for data scientists and machine learning specialists.
Mullin said Statistics Canada’s labour market categories generally include website developers and tech sector employees, but the industry changes so fast the federal agency can’t provide detail on which ones work on iOS versus Android platforms, or which ones understand machine learning, for example.
Stack Overflow, with 20 million users covering a wide range of technology applications in 35 countries, has that detail, he said.
It’s the biggest online destination for people who work in programming, said Mullin.
“If you are a software developer, you have 100-per-cent heard of them, and if you are not a software developer, you’ve never heard of them,” he said. “What they are, essentially, is they are Google or Wikipedia for when you have software problems.
“It’s essentially a Wikipedialike interface where people can post questions — I’ve got a problem with this software and I’m trying to solve this problem, and people can answer it and rank those answers up and down.”
The website aggregates and makes public a lot of information about its users, Mullin said, and its annual user surveys are admittedly self-selecting, meaning the results might not be statistically significant but they are generally useful for detecting trends.
“We think there’s enough value in presenting this different source of information, as long as you’re aware of the limitations of it,” he said.
Jesse Rodgers, CEO of Volta Labs, a technology and entrepreneurship incubator in downtown Halifax, said the study confirms Halifax’s economy is diversifying.
“It’s good to have a high concentration of highly skilled people,” he said. “Those are skills that are translatable to just general programming.”
The study’s results show “there’s more to Halifax than shipbuilding. We’ve
got interesting things in IBM and what RBC is doing here, and other organizations like DHX, and it goes on and on and on.
“I just don’t think they get a lot of notice, because we end up out of that discussion where the coders are. A lot of it is Kitchener-Waterloo or Toronto.”
Volta doesn’t target programmers or specific subsets of software developers, said Rodgers. The incubator helps support a wide range of startup companies.
But having numbers that show Halifax has a growing tech sector is important, he said.
“We want to let people know that are looking for highly innovative jobs that those companies are here,” said Rodgers. “For companies, it’s important to have that data because when they’re out fundraising and they’re fundraising from people outside of the region, the first question they get is what’s the job market like in Halifax, and they can point to something like that and say, ‘Well, we’ve got a high density of these people with this skill set.’ “So things like that help companies that are raising money demonstrate that they can build those companies here in Halifax, and that’s important.”
-TOM AYERS -THE CHRONICLE HERALD