Bob Lokken, one of Boises top serial software-business starters, says Idaho has plenty of kids who could land high-paying jobs as software engineers. So why dont they?
Lokken founded ProClarity, a Boise business-software firm, and sold it in 2006 to Microsoft. Now he runs WhiteCloud Analytics, a 3-year-old company at 225 N. 9th St. that makes software to analyze health care data to help hospitals deliver care more efficiently.
He might not keep it. The one thing Im fairly passionate about is starting companies, he says. The one thing that Im not very passionate about is running them after I get them started.
Lokken spoke about WhiteCloud and the software-engineer shortage Sept. 13 as part of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerces CEO Speaker Series. His comments are condensed from a transcript prepared by chamber PR Director Caroline Merritt.
A couple years ago, as a planet, we started generating more data in a 12-month period than there was storage capacity on the planet to store. WhiteCloud is all about fixing this problem. One part of the economy where this is particularly acute is health care.
We will double the amount of data that a health care organization has in this country in the next 12-16 months. Well probably double it again in the two years that follow. If the way you get insights out of data is by having somebody hack away at it in a spreadsheet a pretty familiar routine to most of us those are manual tools and data-analysis processes. How many man hours you can put out on that particular task? The data is going to far outstrip that. It already has.
We dont actually think that overwhelming amount of data is a burden. We actually think it is the biggest opportunity that exists for the U.S. health care system to transform itself. Because in all that data lie incredible insights that can help people practice better medicine.
Were doing quite well. This is the third software company that Ive built in this Valley. This one is growing significantly faster than the other two. Actually, as my wife would point out, its a good sign, because the second one was faster than the first one, and the third one is faster, which is some sort of sign that you might actually be learning.
THE GOOD SIDE OF BOISE ...
Lets talk a little bit about the state of the tech market in Boise. We have a legacy in this state of entrepreneurism, of independence, of people who want to strike out and take risks. Not necessarily in the tech arena, but Micron has left a legacy in this Valley. The state has a long legacy of independent frontiersmen willing to go out and do something different to try to make things better. Thats really, really good.
We also have an incredible quality of life. And sometimes we think of that term in terms of the physical attributes of the environment we live in. If youve ever spent any time on the freeways in Silicon Valley or in Seattle, Im not talking about the physical environment in terms of standard of living. Im talking about not spending 2 hours of your life every day sitting on asphalt.
... AND THE BAD
There really is only one thing that keeps most of us in the tech sector up at night. We have a serious drought in the tech industry. If I told a room full of people who were in agriculture to go out and try to get 10 percent more crops harvested this year than last year, but were only going to give you 50 percent of the water you need, I dont think it would be a whole long discussion on how thats probably not going to work.
Why should you guys care? We live in a digital economy, and if youre going to compete in a digital economy, its pretty important to have people who can manipulate the digits. You know, Simplot announced that they (are) going to shut down three plants and build a new one. Predominantly because the older ones had gotten old, but the new one is actually going to produce higher volume than the other three, but the combined employees of the three was a thousand, and the new one is going to hire probably about 250. And a lot of those people are going to have to be very technical, because its a highly automated plant.
So when we talk about the tech ecosystem, I dont think were just talking about a couple software guys. And oh, by the way, research shows that there are 400 software companies in this Valley right now. And I think the interest of everybody in this room should be high.
IDAHOS EDUCATION PROBLEM
Average annual computer science graduates from Boise State University? Roughly 22 graduates a year. U of Is numbers are slightly south of those. BSUs computer science department is bigger than the University of Idahos.
There is a huge gap that we are dealing with, and the tech industry deals with it most acutely. But if you are planning on launching a new retail venture, youre probably going to run into this issue. If youre trying to do some agriculture innovation, around your supply chain, around how you process things, youre probably going to run into this issue.
WORK THATS HARD TO ENVISION
I pulled the top 15 highest-earning bachelors degrees you could get in the United States. Twelve of the 15 are engineering jobs. An engineer starts right out of school, $83,000 a year. Communications degrees, English degrees, foreign language degrees typically start out at $35,000 a year. ... Boise State typically, every CS graduate they have, all 22 of them, have a job before they graduate. Some of them have multiple job offers before they start their senior year.
I think weve really got to work on the motivation part. People need to know what it means to not get a degree, and theyve got to know what one looks like when were done.
I mean, you can see a surgeon, right? I turn on the TV, I see a surgeon in an ER drama. When do you ever see a photo of a software engineer doing what he does? Its very, very boring. On the surface. Inside, its cool.