August 5, 2013

Tyler Technologies builds work force through internships

PHOTo / Tim greenway
PHOTo / Tim greenway
Kirk Cameron, vice president of development at Tyler Technologies in Falmouth, says his division has nearly doubled in seven years, a trend he expects will continue. To his right are intern Adam Hanson, top, and his mentor, Marc Tidd, a building engineer.

Maine projections for computer and math-related jobs

10.1% increase expected between 2010 and 2020, from 9,000 jobs to 9,912

274 annual openings: 92 new jobs and 182 replacements

$30.64 hourly wage

SOURCE: Maine Department of Labor

In 2010, as an undergraduate student at the University of Maine in Orono, Sheraz Najum was torn between two career paths: electrical engineering or computer engineering. He wasn't sure which he should pursue, or whether there'd be any job openings in either field when he graduated.

That summer, he landed a paid summer internship at Tyler Technologies Inc. in Falmouth — and uncertainty gave way to clarity.

"I was lucky to have an opportunity to learn from real-life situations," Najum says of working for the $363 million Dallas-based company that provides software for more than 11,000 public sector clients across the world. "I loved working here, from the first day I started. The first impression I had was great. It was so well-organized."

Assigned to a software development team, Najum says he quickly internalized the workflow that starts with the analysis of needs identified by local, county or state governments — Tyler Technologies' sole client base — and moved through the various stages of software design and implementation.

"My manager gave me all sorts of positive feedback about my work," he says. "At the end of my first year, they offered me a chance to come back the next summer."

In his second internship at Tyler, in 2011, Najum says he was assigned a challenging project that boosted his self-confidence and spurred him to work as long as needed to solve the problem before the deadline. By summer's end, some of his ideas were incorporated into a Tyler software product.

But the biggest thrill was the offer of a full-time job as a software engineer at Tyler Technologies' Falmouth plant when he graduated from the University of Maine in 2012. He's now in his second year there.

"I could not ask for a better career than what I have now," says Najum, who had a competing post-graduation job offer outside the state but chose to stay in Maine for its quality of life and the positive work environment he had found at Tyler. "It's in my blood. It's something I dream about."

Najum's experience is precisely why Tyler Technologies offers paid summer internships, says Liz Rensenbrink, its human resources manager in Maine. This summer it offered eight internships to computer science/information technology college students. And with the company continuing to grow, she says, an intern who performs well stands a good chance of landing a job upon graduation.

"Tyler works very hard to hire young people from Maine," says Rensenbrink, noting the company this year has added more than 30 people to its Maine work force of 500 employees in Falmouth, Yarmouth and Bangor.

Almost 90% of those jobs are in software development and testing, information technology, training and software support, Rensenbrink says. That's why Tyler Technologies eagerly joined the Project>Login program, launched in February by Educate Maine and the UMaine System. The program set an immediate goal of doubling the number of yearly computer science / IT graduates in the state university system from 71 reported in 2012 to 142 — which, she says, would obviously help Tyler and other Maine employers find qualified applicants to fill job openings.

"Those numbers are growing," Rensenbrink says of Tyler Technologies' work force needs in Maine and other U.S. locations. Nationwide, it has 2,000 employees.

Taking ownership of the problem

Tyler Technologies' needs are mirrored by Project>Login's other corporate sponsors — Bangor Savings Bank, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Idexx Laboratories, MaineHealth, Maine Medical Center, Pierce Atwood, TD Bank, University of Maine System, Unum and WEX, which collectively have committed $800,000 to the effort.

Michael Dubyak, chairman and CEO of WEX, the $623 million fleet fuel card company based in South Portland, says about 160 of the company's 700 employees in Maine are computer science / IT specialists. Their computer programming skills, he says, are key to WEX's rapid growth as a provider of electronic payment services for travel, health, education, insurance and other business expenses.

"We differentiate ourselves, typically, with technology — we can do all kinds of things with technology," Dubyak says, offering as one example fleet fuel cards programmed to limit a card holder's fuel purchases to $100/day as a way of helping a company manage expenses. "It's the driving force of our value proposition to our customers: We're providing precision solutions [to meet individual needs]."

Dubyak says WEX has found computer science and IT openings to be the hardest to fill, acknowledging that many of those hires in recent years have come from outside Maine. "It's important for us to get good quality talent," he says. "We're competing on a world scale. We need world-class talent."

Even so, Dubyak says he and WEX's top managers would prefer to fill as many computer science and IT openings from within Maine as possible. They wondered if somehow WEX was alone among business peers in Maine in having difficulty attracting strong computer science candidates from Maine. They quickly discovered other major employers — including L.L.Bean, Idexx, Unum — were having similar problems. Of the 2,000 computer science and IT workers employed by WEX and six other Maine employers, Dubyak says, considerably less than half are graduates of the University of Maine System.

In 2010, Dubyak approached then-Chancellor Richard Pattenaude and outlined the problem from the perspective of Maine businesses. In their discussion, he says, Pattenaude agreed that the UMaine System should team with businesses to find solutions to their work force needs and commit itself to doubling the number of IT graduates in the UMaine System, which then averaged 50 per year.

"This is music to our ears," Dubyak recalls telling Pattenaude.


That conversation got the ball rolling, leading to the Feb. 6 launch of the Project>Login initiative. Dubyak, the volunteer chairman of Educate Maine, has since taken a leading role in advocating for the initiative and its efforts to double the UMaine System's computer science and IT graduates.

The program lays out four additional goals, which Dubyak says are intended to increase the general awareness of job opportunities in those fields, now and in the future, and begin to show students, before they get to college, the real-world relevance of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, subject areas:

  • Develop programs to retain existing computer science degree students.

  • Connect adults seeking career changes with education and training opportunities.

  • Recruit middle and high school students to follow the computer science / IT career path.

  • Cultivate continuing education opportunities for existing computer science / IT professionals to keep them up to date on trends and technology.

Hot off the press, the July 24 "Jobs in Maine" report of the Maine Development Foundation ranks software developers – with 411 job postings online — at No. 10 in its top 20 occupations Maine employers were looking to fill in the first two quarters of 2013. MDF credits John Dorrer, senior adviser with Jobs for the Future, with providing data for its report.

The MDF report also gives additional and timely context to two earlier studies frequently cited by Project>Login — the 2011 job skills gap report by economist Chuck Lawton for Southern Maine Community College and the Maine Department of Labor's 2010–2020 projection of employment opportunities in the state:

  • MDF places software programming skills in the top five skill clusters most commonly sought in online job postings. That lends urgency to Lawton's 2011 finding that computer science and IT represented the second-largest shortfall in the number of degrees needed to fill skilled jobs in Maine — a gap of 986 workers by 2018 if Maine's community colleges and universities did not beef up education and training in those fields.

  • In its assessment of top college majors associated with Maine job postings, MDF says computer science is the third most-requested requirement in job postings, following nursing science at No. 2 and business administration and management at No. 1. That finding dovetails with the Maine DOL's estimate that there will be a 10.1% increase in computer and mathematics-related occupations in this decade.

Some caveats?

Dubyak acknowledges that even if Project>Login achieves its goal of graduating 142 computer science / IT students from the state university system each year, it won't necessarily fully meet the needs of Maine employers.

"We're not going to win this battle by only recruiting students from Maine," he says. "You also want to make the state more attractive as a place to live and work in for people living outside the state."

But he believes it's already having an impact, noting that 60 paid computer/IT internships were offered this summer — almost half of the target of 150 set for the initiative's fourth year. "Paid internships will slow down the attrition," he says, regarding a common problem in STEM degree programs.

"It's a very significant step forward," agrees John Dorrer, a former acting commissioner of Maine's DOL and currently a work force systems analyst and senior adviser for Jobs for the Future. "The Project>Login model has applicability for many more occupations besides computer science."

But Dorrer offers a strong caveat, and it's based on a 2011 study he did for the Maine DOL's Center for Workforce Research and Information, comparing median annual salaries for computer-related occupations in Maine and the United States. Across the board, he says, that survey showed median salaries in Maine average 85% of the median U.S. salaries — with information security analysts (79%) and computer programmers (80%) at the low end of the spectrum and computer software engineers/systems (92%) and computer support (93%) closest to the U.S. median.

"As we crank up in an effort to meet Maine employers' supply needs, we could be preparing more of our talented students to go elsewhere if we are not being wage-competitive at the same time," he says. "If you get a degree in computer science, the nation is your market, if not the world. We have to stay on the offensive and make sure we're offering a competitive wage for those jobs."

Win-win situation

A visit to Tyler Technologies' Falmouth office highlights why an internship there far surpasses the more mundane summer jobs college students often take to help pay for their studies. The ambience is bright and cheery. Several interns play ping-pong doubles in a game room during their lunch break. Other employees fit in some exercise in the fully equipped fitness center, which Rensenbrink half-jokingly says is where they'll occasionally have the opportunity to work out with President and CEO John Marr Jr.

Jim Duffy of Skowhegan, a computer science undergraduate at the University of Southern Maine and one of the eight interns hired by Tyler Technologies this summer, learned about the opportunity during a career fair at the college. He was nervous about approaching the company representative, but remembering the mantra "Do something that scares you every day," he went to the company's table to check out what it might have to offer. Now he's glad he did.

"Before this job, there was a lot of allure to moving away," he says. "That was something I was considering once I graduated. Tyler is really showing me I can have a great career — here — in Maine. We're lucky to be in this field. I'm lucky I chose it."

Marc Tidd, a software build engineer and intern mentor, says the Tyler internships are very much hands-on, with interns getting opportunities to solve real-life problems. "What I look for most is for someone who's able to find their own solutions," he says. "You need to be able to do your own research and problem-solving."

As he sees it, there's no question Tyler's internship program serves a corporate purpose: "It's a way to find new talent," he says.

It's also a way to develop internally the mid-level leaders that any company needs to be successful, says Kirk Cameron, Tyler Technologies' vice president of development.

"Attracting and keeping top-quality people is my greatest job function," he says. "We effectively pay our interns the same pay as we would pay an entry-level employee. We give them real work and tell them, 'Show us what you can do.' … I created the mentor role to give folks an opportunity to develop their leadership skills. It's an alternative path [to the traditional MBA degree] to help those people grow."

Cameron, who came to Tyler eight years ago, says his division has nearly doubled in seven years and he expects that trend to continue. With that comes a need to hire more people with strong STEM skills.

While Tyler offered internships long before Project>Login, Cameron says it was an easy decision to join the other Maine companies to heighten students' interests in computer science and IT careers.

"It facilitates spreading the word," he says. "We're all looking to keep the best and brightest in Maine. So, yes, our objective is to keep more of Maine's talented people, but you need that to grow the businesss … It helps build a future for Tyler, and it creates a future for our young people."

Read more

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