Concursive Corporation

  • Norfolk, VA
  • 23510

High Tech Life and Times in Hampton Roads

Posted by Michael Harvey on June 28, 2007, 1:05 PM EDT
Michael H. photo

There aren’t many serious, high growth, venture-backed technology companies here in Hampton Roads, VA.

We’re a military town. Heck, a military region! Hampton Roads is actually a group of seven cities: Norfolk, VA Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, and Suffolk, encompassing the entire southeast Virginia region of the Chesapeake Bay. Hampton Roads is home to Norfolk Naval Base, the largest naval installation in the world, Langley Air Force Base, NASA Langley, several army bases, and the Oceana Naval Air Station. We are the largest metropolitan area without a professional baseball team, a fun but otherwise useless factoid. There are a lot of (1.7 million) people here, but the federal government is by far the largest employer. We are home only to Norfolk Southern Railroad, Stihl Chainsaws, and Ferguson Enterprises.
In many ways Norfolk, where Centric CRM was born and lives, feels much more like a small town than a part of the 33rd largest MSA in the nation. Our airport is small. Traffic is light, the cost of living is low, and services are good. We’re a cultural lot; we have great restaurants, theater, symphony, rock concerts, museums, and one of the finest beaches in the world. We even have an opera house. But we’re also a continent away from Silicon Valley, the center of the technology universe. Frankly, I like it the way it is, and wouldn’t want to live in the big city. But there are downsides.

As CTO at Centric CRM, I’m asked from time to time how I will successfully scale the technology team since we haven’t located the company in a major technology center: NoCal, DC, NYC, Boston, the Research Triangle. I’ve always fairly glibly responded, “There’s plenty of talent in Hampton Roads”. There are highly trained men and women leaving the armed forces; there are contractors and consulting organizations catering to the DoD, and lots of small tech companies hovering around the periphery of NASA and the military. We have four universities and many more small colleges. There must be ample software engineering talent. In prior lives, as CTO and EVP of Engineering at a couple of other companies, I was able to attract plenty of systems and networking talent right here in Norfolk. I’ve always believed my own story.

But this is my first software company.

Ominously, my friends at other local tech companies bemoan the perceived lack of a strong talent pool, above all a Java developer talent pool. Since Centric CRM is a Java company, these sentiments are particularly worrisome. Would we really be able to attract the kind of talent we’d need to take Centric CRM to the next level (or two!)?

Centric CRM had cruised along with about ten employees for many years before we negotiated our first venture investment with Intel Capital, and we finally find ourselves needing to expand substantially and rapidly. We needed smart, highly motivated, senior software engineers with team lead experience to fuel our growth. We needed mid-managers to help us control it all and build the processes we’d need to keep Centric CRM at the forefront of the open source enterprise application space. So we advertised at the local Universities, we opened accounts at Dice and Monster, and started advertising.

Unfortunately the results were not encouraging. Timing was bad for the universities – it was June, and most graduating students had already found employment. Dice and Monster were returning lots of resumes, but mostly they were located in other cities and had no interest in relocating, or were not fully qualified for the positions we had open. We went on like this for weeks, and I was considering moving to San Jose, defeated and shamed.

But then something interesting happened: we started getting calls and resumes. Resumes from local talent that we had presumed existed, but had never seen. After a bit of work we hired the engineers we needed, and we’re still getting resumes. I wouldn’t call it a flood, but it’s pretty clear that the local talent pool will sustain at least one high-growth Java software company. Also interesting is the fact that bright young engineers are also willing to leave their contract jobs making big bucks in Northern Virginia to join an exciting young entrepreneurial company here in Hampton Roads.

The situation is looking good for us here in Norfolk, and I hope that means it’s looking good for Norfolk, too.

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