Lately I’ve met quite a few people from silicon valley coming to Berlin to check out the startup scene. Thought the local Startups scene is often compared to the one over the great lake, a few things are very different. Often mentioned are the missing network of founders and investors as well as longer history in tech entrepreneurship. But today I want to discuss two urgent problems concerning the tech job market in Berlin, which not even the local founders understand entirely, as far as I can see. But we need to understand their roots to be able to tackle them and find solutions.
Very few tech-founders
When you look at the number of students in computer science and how many tech founders you have you quickly notice a huge difference between Germany and other places like the valley. One of the reasons for that lies in the university courses in Germany (and Europe): you learn about the bigger picture, the higher concepts, the theories of computers and informatics here. As the term “computer science” describes it so very well: after your studies you know your way around the science part. But you don’t learn to code, to design a software architecture, to create a product nor a UI that users understand. Product development is not part of these courses, don’t event hink about entrepreneurial or administrations.
As a result IT graduates in Germany have almost no experience in Software Development nor knowledge of business. There is a good reason why established companies like Microsoft, SAP or IBM expect a transition period of 6-12 months for a graduate in their company before they can even consider him able to be part of a development team. But at the same time there is a huge demand for software and hardware engineers world wide. So established companies **don’t only **pay very well **in this sector they also give techies a lot of freedom and ensure they have fun at work. So there are only very few techies capable and interested in founding a company as product development and business are rarely part of studies in informatics in europe (other than at MIT or Berkley) and the tradeoff is very high.
Though back in the first dot-com bubble* even in Germany a lot of techies founded or co-founded companies. Being really happy to find someone to take care of the business-side of things most took MBAs and took care of the non-business-part only. Only to learn that they got screwed over by their business “partner” big time when things heated up. This experience became part of the collective memory of hacker scene here. It is rooted in there so deeply that even though it is a totally new generation of hackers now they are still alienated by business and marketing people **and simply **consider them not trustworthy. The second big reason why so few hackers are interested in taking their idea up another level and found a company. Most tech innovation still happens hidden from the majority of the society and even hidden from the startup scene in the members-only-area of hacker spaces.
Barely design-driven entrepreneurship
Secondly there is a huge lack of good designers in the startup community in europe, although the roots for this are to found totally elsewhere. They have not had the bad experience in the 2001-bubble and product development is actually a huge part of the design process. Well, yeah, similar to developers not learning anything about design, designers barely learn how to code during their studies. But that ain’t the reason, the reason lies within in the system: While the arts are free, studying design is not.
Almost any half-way decent university in europe offering some kind of (web-) design course is privately run and therefore very expensive. And most of them take up so much time that there isn’t any time left for a job on the side. Of course there are scholarships but they barely cover everything, so many, many design student take a student loan and you can get them easily. Leaving them with a huge debt (100k-120k isn’t that unusual I was told) when they graduate. So even though they are totally in-experienced they have to ask for a lot of money just to pay off the loan and have enough money left for the rent. They simply can’t work for shares or lowered cash because they just can’t afford it. That is why design is so expensive in europe.
But what does that mean?
Because of all of that, it is very hard to find those passionate Tech-Teams with this great solution for a common problem that you just need to give some money for marketing and everything else just happens on its own. Even if you find a founder team of tech people, you probably have to help them a lot with the business- and marketing-side of things. But most startups are founded with a lack of technical skills by business administration graduates, who “see a market for it” somewhere and just need “someone to program it” anyway. Though there is no one willing to do that. And just opening another startup-jobs-offerings-website isn’t going to change that. There are just so many more benefits - for a developer - to work for big corp than for your startup (as I showed earlier).
But there are things we can do. And with reading this article down to this point, you made the first and most important step already: realizing that the market is different than in the valley, that great product aware tech-teams are the exception and most techies need help with their business-side. The second thing is about emphasizing the offerings big corp can’t make to developers: do a startup is about making a dent in the universe. And by that hope to find those few that are willing to take upon that risk and join a startup instead of heading for the safe bet at IBM or SAP.
And then there is the third and probably hardest part: be honest and fair with the techies. I already told you, that there is a huge distrust from developers against business people. And unless we can change that nothing is going to change. So, tell your techie co-founder the truth, tell him to get a lawyer (or talk to me about the gig) for the contract, **give her the shares she really deserves, talk about exist-strategies openly and negotiate in his favor when there is an investor. In short: stop screwing with him.
When we do that, there is a real chance more techies are willing to join the startup scene and help create awesome products.
* Yes, I said “first”.
** I offer free advice and help for techies, who are unsure about the co-founding they are doing.