For Utah Students, A Career In Utah Isn’t Settling

by Kevin Knight, CMO of Experticity.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.

There’s a nationwide party celebrating Utah’s innovative business contributions, but Utahns appear confused as to why they’re even invited. Too many revert to the decades old notion that success resides not within mountain ranges, but in coastal cities. In my time on an advisory board at the Marriott School I’ve found that Utah’s universities — and therefore students — still believe this myth, missing the mecca of economic opportunity right in their backyard.

The nation’s most respected publications take note of Utah. The New Yorker explained “how Utah became the next Silicon Valley.” The Wall Street Journal reported Utah is the sixth-most popular destination for venture capital funding. Forbes listed Provo as the second-best place for business and careers in 2016.

Everyone else sees Utah’s value, so why can’t we shake the “working in Utah” insecurity complex?

Utah’s universities are plagued by the once-true (but now backwards) reasoning that their best and brightest belong in the few cities where financial and career opportunity reside. Although I find it extraordinary that students and advisors miss the depth of opportunity found here today, I empathize.

While in business school at MIT in 2008, a classmate shared that his dream company wasn’t located in Boston, or even out in the Bay Area. His dream company was located in my home state of Utah. Taken aback, it’s then that I realized Utah business had become a bona fide big deal.

It’s why companies like Adobe built a massive campus in Lehi. It’s why, during attendance at an investor’s conference last month in San Francisco, I overheard an executive from a prominent investment bank remark that “Salt Lake City is the next Austin.” And it’s why the Brookings Institution recently honed in on the Wasatch Front’s highly saturated tech workforce.

Kevin Knight, CMO of Experticity

The Brookings report found high concentrations of tech employees are, predictably, located in cities like Seattle. But three of the top fifteen cities included Ogden, Provo, and Salt Lake City. Cities that are proximal to Utah’s major universities.

These universities provide Utah’s most promising companies an incredible talent pool. But I continue to be puzzled by the coaching students receive to look elsewhere for high-trajectory careers. Even now the U of U’s website promotes its MBA program as the stepping stone to a global network — and yet no mention of the vast network found within the state. You almost forget that three billion-dollar companies are headquartered in the same modest office park not ten minutes from BYU’s campus.

Schools must encourage their students to look inside Utah for exciting tech career opportunities. Instead of meaningfully contributing to a fired up local economy, students looking elsewhere risk jumping off the proverbial rocket ship. And for what? The validation of an “outside-Utah” job? As experience has shown me, for those looking from the outside in, Utah tech companies are resume validation.

I grew up in Utah and I, too, sought after the out-of-state bullet-proof resume. I was told my experience with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Pinterest would enable me to write my own ticket.

After nearly a decade at these celebrated companies, I decided last October to see if I couldn’t write that ticket. My search for an exciting opportunity ended with a company called Experticity, headquartered right where the younger me would have least expected. The company I want to work for isn’t in California. It’s in Utah.

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