Twitter Vancouver office | BCBusiness

Twitter Vancouver office | BCBusiness
Twitter announced earlier this year that it planned to open a "global centre of excellence" in Vancouver.

U.S. tech giants landing in Vancouver aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

In March Facebook announced plans to set up shop in Vancouver. The world’s largest social network sought up to 150 staff, mostly software-engineer graduates, to work at its new office, which will serve as a boot camp to train potential full-time employees. Less than three months later, social-media heavyweight Twitter revealed similar plans by posting job listings for its “centre of excellence” to be housed in Vancouver. Both announcements sent waves through the city’s technology community, but will Vancouver truly feel any positive ripple effects from these quasi-offices?

The presence of top-tier tech companies “will lead to a more competitive hiring environment and attract more top talent to move to Vancouver, which is great for the whole startup ecosystem,” says local investor and entrepreneur Boris Mann. He adds, however, that “nothing is a substitute for having homegrown anchor companies headquartered here.” Others have been less kind. Ian Bell, the founder of Tingle and RosterBot, says, “Twitter will not develop talent and experience that stays here, it will not be a net contributor to the growth of technology as an industry in B.C. and none of the profits generated will be reinvested here... It is a leech.”

Facebook has suggested a lifespan of just one year for its 20,000-square-foot office, but Techvibes reported in May that the company signed a three-year lease for the space in Coal Harbour. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to keep workers here long-term. The Facebook temporary office’s projected one-year timeline aligns with how long it takes for a skilled immigrant worker to get a permit to work full-time in the U.S.

Twitter, meanwhile, hasn’t offered a timeline, but claims its centre will be “world class” (as per its job listings), evidenced by the fact it’s only interested in hiring developers with a degree from a top-100 university, as ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, of which there is one in B.C. (UBC). This could work against Vancouver: if Twitter moves its freshly hired developers south, our best workers would be sucked away.

Of course, these temporary offices could be mere stepping stones, and once U.S. giants get a taste of Vancouver’s talent, they’ll realize it’s easier to house permanent offices here. We know Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shown interest in our fine city: in October 2011 he paid a mysterious visit to Vancouver. His famous mug and hoodie were photographed when he casually ordered a Japadog, but he was also spotted at UBC, among other places. Rumours swirled that the young billionaire was buying reclusive waterfront property or acquiring a local startup such as HootSuite. In hindsight, Zuckerberg’s trip to UBC was likely the most significant component of his visit, scoping out the school and its students.

There are also positive theories—though fewer of them—surrounding U.S. tech giants opening offices here: Igor Faletski, CEO of Gastown’s Mobify, is convinced they aren’t leeches, but are magnets. With the opportunity to work for these giants, Faletski believes talent from across Canada and the globe will flock to B.C., perhaps choosing Vancouver over Silicon Valley in the process. Still, even Faletski can’t ignore the possible downsides. “It will be more difficult for startups to hire new graduates from top universities and median salaries are likely to go up as well,” he says, referring to the well-known fact that Facebook and Twitter often pay software engineers in excess of $100,000.

You won’t hear many tech pundits admit this, but the effects of Facebook and Twitter landing in Vancouver are impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. Nothing is free, and the price we pay for the presence of these U.S. tech giants in B.C. may be higher than we bargained for.

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of