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Jul. 7, 2014 8:02 am

How Aol/Ad.com brought 21 new hires to Baltimore in 2 years

How do you get software engineers to move to Baltimore? Aol/Advertising.com's technical recruiter, Paris Pittman, shares her secrets.

Advertising.com out-of-Baltimore recruits from the last two years. (Photo courtesy of Advertising.com)

Full disclosure: Aol/Advertising.com has been a sponsor of Baltimore Innovation Week, which Technical.ly Baltimore organizes.
Much of the attention surrounding tech businesses centers on the startup phase. The entrepreneurial narrative dominates the conversation, and once these young companies grow into stability, we seem to forget them.

But in tech communities around the country, it’s these more established businesses that serve as anchors, generating wealth, hosting events and speaking at them, serving as flagships, hiring and recruiting talent.

Just ask Paris Pittman, the senior technical recruiter for Aol’s Advertising.com division. During the last three years, she’s become a fixture of the Baltimore tech scene — sipping Natty Bohs at meetups and reserving the flexible multi-purpose room at her Baltimore offices on the Under Armour campus.

“Never in a suit,” she says, sporting a subtle nose ring, T-shirt and jeans in a conference room overlooking the Harbor.

In the last two years, since she took more of a leadership role, Pittman has been part of attracting and relocating 21 people to Baltimore — 19 in engineering alone. More than 200 people work for Aol at its Tide Point location, and nearly 150 of them are in technical or near technical roles (such as design). It’s a different feel than the volunteer layoffs from 2009.

Pittman takes issue with the negative connotations surrounding recruiting — largely derived from agencies that parachute in young associates to pester potential hires with spammy emails or out-of-place corporate recruiters who don’t know the subject matter.

Pittman — herself having briefly pursued a technical career — instead sees herself as a community leader, who sees her recruiting for Aol as being on the front lines of growing Baltimore’s class of knowledge workers.

Once she finds or connects with a prospective candidate from outside of Baltimore, Pittman says she almost always sells the job first, before the city.

“For engineers, most of our jobs are attractive once you start describing the data and challenges that they face, plus the environment,” she said. “They are usually working on a brand-new platform from scratch, or rewriting one in a more modern way to address issues. Once the hook is set, then I’ll sell Baltimore.”

Here’s how:

  • Know the person — If a candidate broadcasts a hobby or talent that might have Baltimore ties, Pittman will highlight that.
  • Education support — “We pay for the full ride of [advanced degrees],” said Pittman. “This has attracted people who want to do a master’s or PhD program at Hopkins or College Park.”
  • Neighborhood distinction — Pittman will help talk to likely candidates about the places they might live, making them know Baltimore has vibrant neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Canton, Fells Point and Hampden that come with water taxis and ride-sharing to supplement transit and bicycling.
  • Do you like football? — Great. Aol/Advertising.com has a Ravens skybox.

More generally, Pittman will sell Baltimore as she would any great city: by highlighting its quality-of-life assets, like award-winning restaurants, local beer and celebrated arts and music.

Much of her recruiting comes from across the Northeast corridor, and that’s also a major selling point: Baltimore is is extremely accessible to D.C., Philadelphia and New York.

“We also have offices in those locations and are flexible with work from home,” said Pittman. “A lot of our folks can travel to any of our locations in the U.S. and still work and take a vacation.”

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points, says Pittman, is that established corporate anchors in the tech world can’t be ignored. In the end, many of her recruits want to know that Baltimore has other like-minded technologists like them — and she’ll share articles like this and this and this.

“I talk about the growing tech scene, how we are involved in the community and how we don’t want our engineers cooped up,” she said. “We want them out and about, learning and sharing.”

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Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

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