Eugene may be the next tech haven.
Imagine you’re in Tolkien’s Shire, with its rolling green hills, tall trees, crystal blue lakes, and blossoming plant life. That’s what Cale Bruckner saw while he was coming off the freeway into Eugene one night in July 2012, except it was real, with more offices and fluorescent lighting. And instead of people putting quill to parchment to write about their perilous journeys through Middle-Earth, these offices were filled with people putting hand to keyboard working away on a different kind of magic: computer programming, software development, or biotech engineering.
“We can all be quite Hobbit-like when we’re busy, or when the weather is bad,” Bruckner says. “We’ll lock ourselves inside with our tea, not to be seen for hours.”
Bruckner is the Vice President of Concentric Sky, a web, mobile, and enterprise development firm based in Eugene. On that night in 2012, Bruckner was returning home from an extended business trip in Northern California’s Silicon Valley when he was struck with an idea.
“Having graduated from the University of Oregon, I’m always hearing about all of these students who are struggling to find jobs after graduation,” Bruckner says. “I thought to myself, ‘I can do something about that.’”
Previously, he’s worked on and designed apps for the Encyclopedia Britannica, National Geographic, and the United Nations. Recently, he decided to put his work to use to help students entering the job market.
With the help from his development team at Concentric Sky, Bruckner launched the website Silicon Shire at siliconshire.org, serving as a business directory that lists all of Eugene and Springfield’s tech-related companies, including ones that specialize in hardware and software development, gaming, biotech, and micro-brewing. Designed around a map of the area, visitors can pinpoint the exact locations of these companies and even find which ones are hiring. With technology spreading at the rate that it is these days, finding tech companies that are hiring shouldn’t be much of a challenge.
“The Silicon Valley is crazy busy in terms of technology,” Bruckner says. “Eugene has the potential to do even better. This community offers such a great quality of life. You can afford to buy a home and your commute time is relatively low. If we can get some tech-savvy minds to stay and invest in this area then our Silicon Shire will prosper.”
Bruckner often assists students around the area, from the University of Oregon and Lane County Community College, in finding tech-related occupations and entering the job market after graduation. He thinks of the Silicon Shire website as another way to help students.
Karen Estlund, the Head of the Digital Scholarship Center in the University of Oregon’s Knight Library, also understands the difficulties that students face in entering the job market after college and does her fair share to help as well.
The Digital Scholarship Center provides a wide range of services, from designing and developing digital research tools, to training and assisting students, faculty, and others who need help preparing online, digital course materials, and other multimedia presentations, to hiring students who are looking to gain experience in the web development industry. Estlund and the Digital Scholarship team have even developed websites and online learning simulations and quizzes.
“I see our center as a stepping stone for students looking to try their hand at web design and development,” Estlund says. “We provide a comfortable learning environment, as well as excellent experience.”
The crew at the Digital Scholarship Center takes on roughly two to three projects every year, with about ten smaller projects in between. Students who work here can gain experience by providing blogging services for campus, as well as designing online computer programs for instructional and classroom use. Students’ majors can range anywhere from business to computer science, but one thing is for certain: everyone shares a strong passion for technology.
However, much like Bruckner, Estlund recognizes a problem amongst students looking to gain this experience.
“We have vacancies in our student positions because there’s just so much competition amongst all of these tech and software companies in the area,” Estlund says.
She sees this as both a blessing and a curse. The amount of competition means that technology is thriving, but that simply makes jobs harder to come by for some students.
“I think Eugene is appealing for small businesses,” Estlund says. “The overhead is low, and the rent is far less expensive than it is in the Silicon Valley. You can move here and try new ideas. Not to mention both of the major universities here have top notch computer science programs.”
Estlund hopes that the Digital Scholarship Center, along with Bruckner’s Silicon Shire, will not only help students, but allow Eugene’s tech industries to thrive.
And thriving is exactly what is starting to happen, thanks to the Silicon Shire.
When Bruckner and his development team at Concentric Sky first launched the website back in 2012, only 60 tech and software companies were listed on the website’s interactive map. In less than three years, that number has grown to more than 200.
Silicon Shire’s design is sleek and simple to use, which makes finding a job all the easier. Suppose that you’re a digital arts student who is about to graduate the University of Oregon and are looking to make a career in the video game industry. With just a few clicks on the Silicon Shire website, you’ll know that there are six video game developers in the Eugene and Springfield area. Not only that, but you’ll be provided with their addresses, the numbers of employees, and links to their websites.
Bruckner checks up on the website on a quarterly basis in order to update its information on the companies that are listed. After that, he lets the website perpetuate its own success.
“I’ve already heard from a lot of students thanking me for the Silicon Shire,” Bruckner says. “It’s always so great to hear. It started out as just an idea – I threw it out there and let the community decide what to do with it. I’m glad that we are able to help so many people, and I can’t wait to see how much more our community will grow.”