Back to Work: Tech Is Hiring

New companies and new jobs are sprouting in the Southland's "Silicon Beach"

If you're looking to work for a company with the potential for huge growth, and you have the chops, there are dozens of newly launched tech startups looking for you, and you don't have to go all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley to find one.

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So many startups have chosen to locate in Westside LA coastal communities that the area has been dubbed "Silicon Beach."

The rebound from the "great recession" has been called the "jobless recovery," but new companies need employees, and tech is in the midst of an ongoing boom seemingly untouched by the ongoing problems elsewhere in the economy.

It's providing opportunities not only for experienced computing engineers and product developers, but also 20-somethings eager to get in on the ground floor at a company before it takes off.

Fresh out of college, Kiran Sandhu of Simi Valley had worked two years as a sales rep for the Nestle Company. But the opportunity to join a young, fast-growing company led her to interview with Santa Monica-based Edgecast Networks, and she was hired as a project manager.

"I didn't have much tech, but I'm willing to learn," Sandhu said.

Her new employer is one of the growing players in the field of Internet content delivery networks.

"We basically deliver service to make the Internet faster," said James Segil, Edgecast President, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded the company just five years ago.

Within another year, its goal is to be facilitating 10 percent of all worldwide Internet traffic.

Edgecast is staffing up to keep up with its ambition. Segil said Edgecast currently has 120 employees.

"We want to hire 40-50 in the next six months," Segil said.

Edgecast is not alone, and new startups are appearing every month.

Logan Senn, 29, was already working for an established web company, managing websites, when he heard about a startup called SteelHouse.

"I saw an opportunity here I couldn't pass up," said Senn at Steelhouse's headquarters in a business park near the banks of Ballona Creek.

SteelHouse was founded by Mark Douglas, a Silicon Valley veteran turned entrepreneur. Douglas had a vision for "behavioral commerce," and SteelHouse is developing software technology for Internet retailers.

"We basically help them understand you as a consumer," Douglas explained.

SteelHouse promises increased sales to retailers; the carrot for online consumers is real-time discounts or other incentives to sweeten the deal.

A 10-fold increase in the number of e-tailers using SteelHouse's "The Opportunity Machine" has compelled the company to increase its workforce, Douglas said.

For key positions in product development and sophisticated engineering, demand for talent has led to competition and bidding wars between startups.

"If we make an offer and they're not getting an offer from someone else, we wonder if we're making right offer," Douglas said with a laugh.

SteelHouse, like a number of tech companies, lures talent with perks such as an onsite play room (think pingpong and RC helicopters) and unlimited vacation time -- take as much as you want, so long as you get your work done. And Douglas promises Steelhouse will pitch in $2,000 to cover your vacation cost.

For sought after talent, a major incentive is the chance to be on the cutting edge of "the next big thing."

During his two decades in tech, product developer Marwan Soghaier had previously worked with Douglas, and rejoined him at Steelhouse.

"We're here to break some serious ground with our technology," Soghaier said.

One major source of talent is in-house referrals from current employees. Edgecast encourages this by offering generous incentives, from a new kitchen or home entertainment system all the way up to a trip around the world.

The seed money for new startups continues to come from angel investors and venture capitalists. Clearstone Venture Partners is among those making their home base on Silicon Beach; in Clearstone's case, just a block from Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.

"The (new) companies are all here, Marina del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica, other parts of West LA, so we decided we wanted to be with them." said William Qigley, a Clearstone managing director.

He foresees continuing growth in a number of Internet areas, including e-commerce, and particularly, online gaming.

The growth provides opportunities for qualified job-seekers. Quigley cautions them to do their homework on startups they're considering, and go where the future is brightest.

"You have to decide if the growth prospects are good," Quigley advised. "You don't want to pick a (business) that's going to be obsolete."

Where to find the tech jobs? Well, connections are important. The Internet is invaluable, with web-based services such as StartupHire, LinkedIn, and even Craig's List.

Senn, Steelhouse's recently hired sales account executive, is convinced he chose well: "This business is just exploding."

At Edgecast's expanding office space near Santa Monica airport, project manager Sandhu said the learning curve is steep, but not overwhelming.

"I continue to grow every day," she said.

For young people about to enter the job market, Edgecast's Segil suggests studying the expanding spectrum of what digital technology can provide.

"Figure out how it works, how to build it, and you'll be hugely valuable to an employer like me who's desperate to find someone like you," Segil said.

Steelhouse's Douglas agreed: the key is to pursue your passion.

"Money can't lead to happiness. But happiness can lead to money," Douglas said.

Back to Work: This story is one in a weeklong series focusing on jobs and employment in Southern California.

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