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Tech firms still hiring: Bright spot in ugly jobs market

GrantStream software developers, from centre left, Josh Davis and Andrew Miles trouble shoot a design issue on one of their company's software templates.

Glenn Lowson/glenn lowson The Globe and Mail

Underwhelmed by the latest jobs report? Then take a glance at the U.S. tech sector, where heavy hitters are painting a much rosier employment picture.

"We continue to hire and are always looking for qualified people," James Beer, the CFO of software giant Symantec ," told TheStreet. "We're not forecasting specific hiring targets, but as anyone can see on our website, we have a number of positions open and are indeed hiring, particularly in the area of engineering."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which reported record second-quarter revenue last week, has seen continued demand for its security and storage software.

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A recent survey of 1,400 U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) and 360 of their Canadian counterparts also pointed to a robust tech recruitment climate. The study, which was conducted by staffing company Robert Half Technology, forecast a 6% net increase in tech hiring during the fourth quarter of 2011, up 2 percentage points from the prior quarter.

Tellingly, some 66% of CIOs also said it's challenging to find skilled professionals, up 18 points sequentially.

"Predicted IT hiring by CIOs has been on an overall positive trend," explained John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology, during a recent webcast to discuss the results. A "staggering" 92% of U.S. CIOs are confident of their growth prospects in the fourth quarter, he added.

Recent research has pointed to a slowdown in U.S. high-tech job losses, with software cited as the healthiest part of the market.

"The biggest demand in our workforce is software engineers," said Patrick Lo, CEO of San Jose-based wireless networking specialist Netgear ."I know that the nation is going through the pain of 9% unemployment, but in Silicon Valley, you just don't feel it."

It's not just the Bay Area, though, that offers employment opportunities. Netgear, which recruits nationwide, also has thriving development centers in Chicago and Atlanta, according to Lo.

Gordon Coburn, the CFO of Teaneck, N.J.-based IT consulting and services firm Cognizant has also been chasing talent. "During the third quarter, we increased our headcount by 12,000 sequentially – we're up to 130,000 people [worldwide]" he said. "It's fuelled by demand from our clients for our services – a lot of clients are investing in technology after a couple of years where they have scaled back investments."

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Coburn added that, with more than 20,000 of the company's workforce in America, Cognizant will continue to "hire aggressively" in the U.S.

Another research study, released last week by Robert Half, identified some of tech's hottest roles. With mobility and security higher than ever on the enterprise IT agenda, there's strong demand for mobile application developers and data security analysts, it said. Business intelligence analysts and software developers with Microsoft .NET and SharePoint experience are also proving popular.

It's not just techies, however, that will feel the benefit of the hiring uptick.

"Going forward, the biggest constraint we have is hiring more sales people faster," added Bob Beauchamp, the CEO of Houston-based BMC Software . "We're doubling down in our efforts to retain good sales people."

"We're seeing several positive trends in IT," added Ihab Abu-Hakima, CEO of wireless LAN specialist Meru Networks . "We're scaling our sales, marketing and engineering organizations – what we have said is that we're looking to exit this year with double the sales capacity of what we entered this year."

Newly-public storage specialist Fusion-IO , which recently posted strong quarterly results, added 58 people during the most recent quarter, according to CFO Dennis Wolf, taking its workforce to 499 people.

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"We're going to continue to hire in sales and marketing, as well as R&D," he told TheStreet.

Recruitment drives certainly add to the picture of an increasingly healthy tech sector, particularly following chatter of an improved IT spending environment.

"We're hiring, particularly in engineering and the sales force," J.D Sherman, the CFO of content delivery specialist Akamai , told TheStreet. "While, overall, in the U.S., unemployment seems high, for experienced engineers and sales people, there's hiring going on."

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