One year ago, the Austin-based hosting startup, WP Engine, moved to San Antonio and opened a small, four-person office in Geekdom in the Weston Centre. As business quickly grew, a second four-person office was added, and shortly thereafter, yet another. Today there are 25 people in WP Engine’s sixth floor space in the Rand Building, which the company has outgrown. It will soon move to roomier digs on the newly-remodeled building’s second floor.
By the way, WP Engine is still hiring.
WP Engine has doubled in size over the last year, with 300 people now working at its headquarters and in offices in San Francisco and London. Together that growing workforce manages more than 30,000 WordPress customers in 120 countries, including the Rivard Report. The United Kingdom has become the company’s second fastest-growing market.
WordPress, the world’s most popular online publishing platform, uses open source software to power 24% of all websites in the world, up from 19% two years ago. Essentially, WP Engine gives its customers tools to make it easier and more secure for them to develop their websites.
WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner compared building a WordPress site to constructing a Lego tower.
“WordPress is a framework,” Brunner said, and users “can build on top of WordPress in an easy, flexible manner.”
As users build their websites, WP Engine automatically updates websites and controls factors such as speed and security. Because of its line of work, WP Engine is a niche competitor with Rackspace and other hosting companies, except that WP Engine only hosts WordPress sites.
WP Engine hosted a one-year anniversary event at Geekdom’s newly-remodeled Events Center Friday morning. Mayor Ivy Taylor joined Brunner for a fireside chat on San Antonio’s growing tech sector. Brunner, a Trinity University grad, asked Mayor Taylor about the future growth of the Central Texas Corridor.
“We need to make that mental shift where it is not San Antonio versus Austin but it’s actually San Antonio and Austin working together,” Mayor Taylor said, drawing applause.
Geekdom Director Lorenzo Gomez echoed those sentiments: “San Antonio and Austin are no longer two cities. We are a megaregion.”
San Antonio is making headway in the tech scene. In August, Google Fiber announced its plans to expand to San Antonio, and on Monday, Sept. 28, select communities within the city can sign up for AT&T’s super-fast GigaPower Internet service.
“Those are some of the exciting things that have happened that will provide that infrastructure that will be necessary to help the tech sector thrive and grow,” Mayor Taylor said.
WP Engine is at the forefront of San Antonio’s tech community and has plucked graduates from Codeup, Rackspace‘s Open Cloud Academy and individual Geekdom members. Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, which also is enjoying rapid growth as more and more enroll in coding programs, is completing its move to the fifth floor of the Rand Building by next week.
The programs underscore the growing number of programming jobs being created in the market.
“33% of WP Engine employees don’t have a college degree,” Brunner said. The accessible world of the Web “has allowed people to build jobs and build a livelihood for themselves.”
WP Engine Senior Recruiter Roxanne Molina, who is based in San Antonio and formerly worked at Rackspace, often hires self-taught coders and web developers without a formal background in technology. Although San Antonio’s tech scene is growing, Jenny Fuller, WP Engine’s senior director of talent, often hits a wall when searching for employees.
“It is difficult to find people locally in San Antonio who have strong technical skills,” Fuller said. About 20% of San Antonio’s office consists of former Open Cloud Academy students, and nearly 50% are former Rackspace employees.
Fuller and Molina do search for talent in San Antonio “so that people don’t have to leave san Antonio to find opportunities,” Fuller said.
For people to stay in San Antonio, the city must be a place that inspires people, Mayor Taylor said.
“We want San Antonio to physically be a place that inspires people to be innovators, to be entrepreneurs, to want to be here,” she said, adding that downtown San Antonio is not the only sector of the city that needs attention. “We have already moved outward. We need to have happening areas in the hubs that already exist.”
The chat ended with Brunner asking Mayor Taylor for a call to action.
Mayor Taylor asked audience members, most of whom work in the local tech world, to get involved in the community and mentor the next generation of techies through groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas.
*Top image: WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner and Mayor Ivy Taylor discuss technology in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson. .