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Innovation Economy

For Boston’s most wanted workers, offers roll in

Sam Tymorek was not exactly one of Boston’s hottest commodities back in 2008. With a master’s degree in music composition, he was working as an unpaid intern at a recording studio, hoping it might lead to a position as an audio engineer. But he was paying the bills by manning the cash register at a Brookline burrito shop.

“I had some experience working as an audio engineer, but it was really difficult to find any kind of job in music,” Tymorek says. “But I had some friends who were software developers, and they not only had jobs, but they liked them.” Tymorek had taken some programming courses in college, so he checked a book out of the library and started to teach himself the Java language.

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Now, he’s part of a cohort you might call Boston’s Most Wanted: workers who get multiple inquiries each week from headhunters; who are the most popular attendees at any business networking event; and who can change jobs at will, usually upgrading their salary in the process. Some of them literally get so many messages from recruiters and would-be employers that, when they’re content in their current positions, they delete their LinkedIn profiles, says Tom Summit, founder of the recruiting agency Catalyst Corp. in Rowley.

“I’m completely aware of how lucky I am,” says Tymorek, who in December took a new job as a software engineer at PowerDash, a Cambridge company that makes energy monitoring software. It is the third place he has worked at since getting his first programming job in 2009.

It’s great to be one of Boston’s Most Wanted . . . and not so great to try to hire one of them, as many companies in the technology, life sciences, and health care fields are well aware. “Hiring has gotten really hard,” says Risa Pecoraro, the research and development manager at Homesite Insurance, which offers policies online. “We had two open quality assurance spots” — workers who test new software before it is deployed — “that took about five months to fill, using our internal human resources team and three outside agencies.”

In the tech sector, people with experience creating mobile apps for iPhone and Android devices have a surfeit of suitors. So do programmers who know languages, databases, and programming frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, Python, PHP, Django, MySQL, and Java. Data analysts, product managers, and online marketing specialists who can help companies acquire new customers are also in demand, says Keith Cline of the recruiting agency Dissero.

“We’re adding about four new engineers every month,” says HubSpot chief product officer David Cancel, “but we would love to double that — if not more.”

Dave Cohen, a senior engineer at Moontoast, a Boston e-commerce start-up, describes the current market for programmers as “a feeding frenzy.” He quit his previous job last summer without a new one in hand, giving two weeks’ notice. Within a few days, he had three offers, “and I had two other final round interviews that I called to cancel.”

Carol Waldo is among Boston’s Most Wanted in the biopharma industry: someone who knows how to work with regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. At her previous employer, she got so much voice mail from recruiters “that you can’t possibly listen to them all or return them all,” she says. She left a California biotech last fall to become senior director of regulatory affairs at Cubist Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, which makes antibiotics.

At Biogen Idec in Cambridge, vice president Tara Pettersson says medical doctors who help supervise clinical trials are “high in demand, and they know their worth.” The company is also hunting for “global market access professionals,” who help Biogen introduce its drugs into new markets around the world.

Process engineering professionals and people with experience monitoring product quality are among the tough seats to fill at the Lexington campus of Shire PLC, says Joanne Cordeiro, the global talent acquisition leader there.

At Boston-area hospitals, technology staffers who can help roll out new medical record-keeping software are in high demand. Lori Cunningham, director of HR operations at Boston Medical Center, says experienced nurses are also tough to find. “We could get 200 applicants for a position that doesn’t require experience, but for an experienced operating room nurse or labor and delivery nurse, we just aren’t able to find those,” she says.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, director of recruiting services Megan Bradley says coding specialists who can assign the right code to everything that doctors and nurses do, for billing purposes, are in short supply. So are medical technicians who handle tasks like bone marrow transplants or blood banking.

Once one of these rock stars of medicine or technology lands at your organization, there’s always the chance he or she will take flight. “You have to be totally aware that people can and will be recruited away,” says Pecoraro at Homesite Insurance. “We try to invest a lot and give people a lot of opportunities to work on great products with a great team.”

HubSpot, in particular, has been so aggressive about trying to grow its engineering team that it isn’t unusual for other companies to blog about its attempts, successful and not, to poach their programmers. The Cambridge company develops digital marketing software.

“Boston in particular is a place that is in the middle of two big booms: a biotech boom and an IT boom,” says David Autor, a professor of economics at MIT. “There’s no question those labor markets are super hot.”

But Autor says booms can eventually go bust, with once-precious employees being dumped onto the market. “A couple years ago, the finance sector hired anyone who could add two numbers together and get the right answer,” he says.

Following the financial crisis, many of those people are out of work or in different fields.

In other words, today’s iPhone programmer could be tomorrow’s mortgage processor.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.
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