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A flight to the top at the world’s most established technology companies is no longer the most sought-after route to success.
Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — the aptly named FANG companies — are coming under increased scrutiny for their total market dominance. In their respective but more frequently overlapping areas of focus, these giants have collected enough information to hold an alarming amount of global influence. Chief among that, and perhaps most concerning, is the amount of data collected on us, the everyday users. Well past their inflection points, and with every single usage, these companies are woven deeper into the fabric of our lives. Some might even say more emphatically that they have become our everyday lives.
Longtime technology follower David Kirkpatrick went as far as to say that the big breakthrough industries of the future will be characterized by meaningful barriers to entry — best-placed for those who own the most data. Groundbreaking innovations that fall within AI — like autonomous cars and specific advances like augmented reality — require significant capital and data, priming those markets for domination by an established core with deep pockets.
Implicit in that is the limited space for startups to gain a footing in the market. Just as these juggernauts draw customers with less and less effort, the tipping-point status of their services makes not joining the Big Four feel like being left out, and they will win the war for talent.
However, that is not what the view looks like from my position as CEO of a company whose charge is to find and place engineers, designers, product managers and data analysts at technology growth companies — startup tech companies in particular.
I am happy to report that “talent” remains liquid. A flight to the top at the world’s most established technology companies is no longer the most sought-after route.
This is indeed a different world from even a decade ago, when brilliant MBAs and engineers were often choosing between and opting for Google over Goldman. At that time, this was the ultimate indication of a changing of the guard.
So what is giving the rest of the employer world a fighting chance?
FANG matured and became established
A smart man once said it’s hard to scale “special.” Keeping your mojo decades post-launch is no small feat, and while these companies have had tremendous impact on a global scale, they are now well past their teenage years and contain more layers. When engineers talk about what they look for in an employer, they often choose the opportunity to be a big fish (hero) in a small shop with grand ambition, over a small fish in a big shop that has already made its mark (a contributor). At the same time, transparency also becomes a challenge in a company of great size. Public-company transparency is one thing, but the transparency that many talented technology executives seek pertains to operations and leadership. They desire the enterprise-wide view that the startup environment provides, and many of them want to have a hand in driving a company’s broader development.
The millennial and iGen crowd will soon be a majority in the workforce, and these generations crave a part in the next big thing. The disconnect is that FANG companies are the current big thing. Millennials and iGen believe in the art of the possible and embrace socially-minded missions. This is not to suggest that Google became evil or less socially conscious when, in 2015, it dropped “Don’t be evil“ from its core values, but it did create a space for others to carry the torch. Young companies, with founders almost always still in tow, are as passionate a group as you can find. They tell the story of the mission — always prospective at this point in their life cycle — in such an effective way that VCs swoon and new talent wants to walk through fire.
Every company is a technology company
Most important is the evolution of the rest of the employer community outside of the obvious technology companies like Netflix or Cisco. Simply stated — by so many we can’t accurately attribute — every company is tech-centric. Technology is now a non-negotiable for enduring success. With these “tech-peripherals” — from giants of the oil industry to health insurers using data analytics to forecast patients most at risk — there are more ways to make a difference with technology than ever before.
Engineering, data, design and product talent will always be coveted by companies across tech — the giants and the comers, and increasingly, the tech-peripherals.
Make no mistake about it — it is a competitive battle.
The FANG companies may very well receive continued criticism from regulators over their growing influence, but from where we sit, the future of innovation remains open to new breeds. How do we know this? Today, very little talent walks in our door and says, “Can you get me a job at Google?” Rather, they say “Can you get me into the next Google?”
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