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Regional focus: Mid-Atlantic goes heavy on the technology

Technology jobs in Washington D.C. and Baltimore are more dissimilar than you think.

It's tempting to think of the Mid-Atlantic area encompassing Baltimore and Washington D.C., in monolithic terms. After all, this is an area tied together by its muggy summer weather, a taste for soft shell crabs, and rabid support of sports franchises such as football's Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins. But when it comes to jobs in the technology field, the two areas offer clear distinctions.

Although still dominated by government institutions, Washington D.C., and in particular its Fairfax County suburbs in northern Virginia have become a technology mecca, with firms such as AOL-Time Warner and WorldCom Inc. clogging the Dulles Toll Road. The technology market in the Baltimore area and southern Maryland is somewhat younger and less established. Still, from the so-called Digital Harbor in Baltimore south to Columbia, Md., which now boasts a concentration of fiber optics companies such as Ciena Corp. and Corvis Corp., the technology sector is flourishing, despite the recent economic slowdown. WorldCom Inc. laid off 400 people from its Virginia offices in February and AOL Time-Warner announced at the end of January that it would layoff 300 people in the Washington D.C., area.

"The good to excellent candidates continue to be marketable," says recruiter Mark Tappis, president of Opportunity Search, in Olny, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. "The difference is that they're no longer getting multiple job offers whereas a year ago there might have been a bidding war to get to them."

It's not just jobs that make this area attractive. Baltimore has undergone a renaissance in recent years. The redevelopment of the Inner Harbor has lured not only tourists but also local residents downtown again. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles' new home, Camden Yards, located just next door, has won raves from fans and spawned a whole new approach to the construction of large, fan-friendly stadiums.

Despite the flight of many banking and manufacturing firms in recent years, the Baltimore economy remains strong thanks to the presence of Johns Hopkins University and its related institutions, which are leading recipients of funds from the National Institutes of Health, according to Phillip Singerman, president of the Maryland Technology Development Corp., a quasi-public group that promotes the growth of the technology industry in the area. A number of IT services companies in the area have benefited from NIH contracts.

Baltimore also appeals on other levels as well. The cost of living is somewhat lower than in Washington D.C., which earlier this year was named by The Economist magazine as the 27th most expensive city in the world, not far behind San Francisco and Los Angeles and ahead of Boston and Seattle. The median sale price of a single-family house in Washington D.C., in 1999 was $176,500 versus just $127,400 for Baltimore, according to the Census Bureau.

"Our CEOs say they have no trouble attracting people into the state because the cost of living is much lower than Boston and Silicon Valley," says Singerman. Janet Miller, a recruiter and president of Baltimore-based Computer Management Inc., says that a network engineer with eight years of experience can expect to earn about $65,000 in Baltimore. She says that same engineer would have to earn about $72,000 in Washington to make the pay equivalent, given the higher cost of living.

Baltimore also fares somewhat better in the area of crime. There were 8,825 serious crimes per 100,000 residents in 1998 there compared to nearly 11,000 in Washington D.C., according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for that year.

Traffic is a problem in every metropolitan area but Baltimore commuters say delays are less typical than in Washington D.C., and northern Virginia, places which have become almost synonymous with the words "traffic clogged highway."

If there is one field that unites Baltimore and Washington D.C., it's networking. Firms such as Ciena and Corvis in the Howard County area midway between the two cities have attracted a host of smaller startups to the area as well as London-based Bookham Technology PLC, a maker of silicon wafer components. Bookham opened its North American headquarters in Columbia, Md, earlier this year. Many of the startup firms have cited the proximity to firms such as WorldCom Inc. and PSINet as an advantage of locating there.

The Mid-Atlantic area is outside of the regular storage hubs of Boston, Colorado, and Silicon Valley. Nevertheless several firms have a presence there. OTG Software Inc., with its Xtender line of online data storage and email management tools, is headquartered in Bethesda, Md. Meanwhile, systems integrator ViON Corp., a supplier of storage area networks to government agencies and government contractors, is based downtown in Washington, D.C. Also, Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp. has a pair of offices in northern Virginia after acquiring storage resource management software maker Softworks Inc.

The enormous presence of government agencies also makes the Washington D.C., area attractive to IT services firms, which the government relies on heavily. Booz Allen & Hamilton has a major presence through its office in Rockville, Md. The firm recently announced that it is a prime awardee of a major technology support services contract from the National Institutes of Health that could be worth nearly $20 billion over 10 years and would be spread among several major contractors. Meanwhile, Ajilon, with 15,000 employees internationally, is based in suburban Baltimore while consulting behemoth Cap Gemini Ernst & Young has a Baltimore office, though none in Washington D.C.

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