With Ample Talent Available, San Antonio Can Beat the Brain Drain

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Drue Placette rides a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Drue Placette rides a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus through downtown San Antonio.

Over the last couple of months I have noticed something disheartening: Companies from Silicon Valley, Austin, New York, Boston, and Dallas have contacted me and actively tried to recruit me – not because I have applied for a job, but because they have followed my social media channels and the innovation projects I am working on.

Sadly, not one company from San Antonio has reached out to to me.

San Antonio is suffering from brain drain, but that’s not because we don’t have jobs for qualified people or an amazing city that is a joy to live in. It’s because we have too many companies that fear creatives and innovators, and too many companies with broken recruiting practices.

Companies can easily discern some of my shortcomings on social media; I don’t fancy myself the best writer, for example. But some choose to see beyond those flaws, identify the unique talents I have to offer, and take a chance on me.

Rather than seeing one flaw and immediately writing someone off, companies in other cities seem to desperately want people like me. They actively pursue such people and do what it takes to get that talent.

Some in San Antonio, on the other hand, seem to think that if people don’t apply directly, they aren’t good enough. Too many local recruiters don’t know what to look for on résumés: If applicants don’t list the exact skills or prior job titles on executives’ checklist, recruiters conclude they are not the right person for the job. Or employers require college degrees that in certain areas, including technology, not only make little sense but even disqualify some of the best innovators.

Innovative companies don’t just look for skills or education. They also look for potential and personalities that would be a great fit for the company, and they allow people to grow into the job and culture.

San Antonio is home to brilliant and wonderful people, and it breaks my heart to see top talent or unrecognized talent leave because local companies don’t see what’s in front of them or are not willing to let people grow.

I love our city and the people in it. We need to stop saying we don’t have the talent here, because it’s not true. We should focus less on recruiting people from elsewhere and more on elevating the people in our own city. We need to learn how to recognize the talented people we have and work to keep them here by showing them that we value them and by giving them the resources to realize their potential.

Geekdom helped pave the way for me and so many in the tech community by providing resources and connections we couldn’t obtain on our own.

More recently, I have been spending much of my time at Port San Antonio. With the vision of new President and CEO Jim Perschbach and the support of its board, my collaborator Dale Bracey and I finally have the means to create an innovation campus at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology that we have been working on for years.

That venture is not about making a bunch of money off investing in or growing huge startups or about building a brand. It’s about giving the talented people in our city the opportunity to realize their potential and show the rest of the world what we as a city have to offer.

This rendering shows a front view of the new technology center that will house the expanded SAMSAT (San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology).

Courtesy / UTSA – Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research

This rendering shows a front view of the new technology center that will house the expanded San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology.

Like Geekdom, we are doing that by giving people access to tools and resources and establishing an environment that fosters creatives and innovators. David Monroe, who founded the museum at the Port, has been instrumental in making this happen by implementing his visionary ideas for STEM in San Antonio. He saw the potential in Dale and me and brought us into everything he has been working on so tirelessly, allowing us to grow our visions to accelerate this city. He knows my flaws but chose to focus on my strengths, and that’s exactly the mentality we need to spread.

Our initiatives at the Port in no way aim to take away from all the wonderful things happening downtown or in other tech hubs across the city. Our goal is to focus on things that aren’t being done elsewhere and collaborate with others so we all grow together instead of competing with one another. A cohesive tech ecosystem would also lure other companies to our city – not because of financial incentives but because of the talent pool we have here.

San Antonio is an amazing city full of gifted people, so let’s stop waiting for the talent we have to come to us and start pursuing them. That’s not to say we should stop recruiting people from other cities, but utilizing the 80/20 rule – spending 20 percent of our efforts looking for outside talent and 80 percent on our local talent – could help us break old habits that haven’t served us.

11 thoughts on “With Ample Talent Available, San Antonio Can Beat the Brain Drain

  1. Couldn’t agree more Drue! Great article.

    San Antonio is a great city but I think it’s slower than other cities in regards to innovation and creativity. It is changing though. Thanks for being the change!

  2. I think that a top tier university with top tier research is probably biggest gap in the ecosystem compared to the other cities listed. As Military City USA, San Antonio also has a much more conservative and risk-averse culture all around.

  3. The introduction to the article made me wonder: Geekdom has been so good at giving locals a chance to be creative in the tech world, why doesn’t it also expand to serve as a resource center for local tech talent? And If not Geekdom, the city/county could promote the creation of a local tech employment resource center–something like cafécollege where local talent could sign up with more than just a resume, local companies could come looking for talent and post needs, and requests for appointments (and even interviews) could be made (and held) there. (And related to the author’s comments, in such a resource center local talent could include details of all the reach-outs they have had from companies from outside San Antonio as a way to try to awaken local company representatives looking for employees to the talent they may be overlooking here).

  4. I returned to San Antonio for family and to finish a second bachelors degree in computer science. After finishing my degree I had the hardest time finding a job in San Antonio that would put my degree to good use. Instead, I found a job that rarely challenges me, does not add to my professional development, and does not pay enough to sustain a family ( I do not have any kids but would like some). I have to the same realization that Drue has made in the above article. Unfortunately, I don’t believe his article will do much towards changing tech recruiters minds in town. If he hasnt gotten a phone call from people in town, with so much experience, I definitely wont. I guess if I want to stay in the state and work on software it is Austin, Dallas or Houston. After I finish my familial duties in a couple of months, I will be putting applications anywhere but San Antonio. Bon Voyage San Antonio, you will always have a special place in my heart just not in my wallet or mind.

  5. Are you freakin’ kidding me?!? What world do you live in? Because I live in one where San Antonio city leadership is hell bent on keeping tech companies away and maintaining our status as Call Center, USA.

    When Ron Nirenberg, city council, et al decided to not just “quietly not bid” on Amazon’s headquarters, but rather made a public spectacle of thumbing the city’s nose at the company in antagonistic fashion, they sent out warning signals to every other large tech company looking to do business in San Antonio. Their “we-don’t-want-your-stinking-hoity-toity-tech-jobs-or-billions-in-investment-so-just-stay-the-eff-away” attitude didn’t just resonate with Amazon, it resonated throughout the whole tech world globally and it told them to, “Stay away, we’re closed for business to you.”

    And what effect do you think that ultimately has? Do you think publicly pushing tech companies away ATTRACTS brain power to San Antonio? No, future generations of brain power will now have to leave San Antonio if they want to work those “hoity toity tech jobs”. Unless, that is, they want to work beneath their abilities, fulfilling orders on a phone bank. But hey in 5 years you can be team lead and in 10 — if your lucky — you can be Phone Room Supervisor!

    So take your happy BS somewhere else, at least until we have new city leadership, because the brain drain is alive and well in San Antonio, circling and circling until the basin is dry. Thanks, Ron Nirenberg!

    • Mike K, you need to read my TPR quote where I talk about exactly what you are saying. There is a lot more to it than what I put in this article or what I was quoted on in the TPR story but, I had to keep it concise for now.

      “Cost of living is great for entry-level positions, but if we create a culture where we don’t rise those people, we are just creating a rustbelt of talent,” said Drue Placette, executive director of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. Placette warned against incentive deals that promise lots of jobs but with few middle or senior management jobs attached.

      you can see the full story here: http://www.tpr.org/post/san-antonio-holds-bottom-top-tech-talent-markets

  6. Mike K, you need to read my TPR quote where I talk about exactly what you are saying. There is a lot more to it than what I put in this article or what I was quoted on in the TPR story but, I had to keep it concise for now.

    “Cost of living is great for entry-level positions, but if we create a culture where we don’t rise those people, we are just creating a rustbelt of talent,” said Drue Placette, executive director of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. Placette warned against incentive deals that promise lots of jobs but with few middle or senior management jobs attached.

    you can see the full story here: http://www.tpr.org/post/san-antonio-holds-bottom-top-tech-talent-markets

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