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We speak mumbo jumbo.
A Q&A with Astra's Founder

How did you get into the IT Staffing Business?
After graduating with a computer science degree, I was hired as a consultant with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). I developed pipeline simulation and refinery management software for Oil & Gas clients in Texas and Oklahoma. After that I worked for a couple of Fortune 500 companies as a software developer and project manager. When I finished up a natural gas electronic trading system, I was approached with a contract opportunity to work with a pipeline company in Tulsa. Apparently I did a good enough job that I had several companies asking for my help. I knew lots of other good IT people, so I set them up with some of these clients. That was really the beginning of my career in the IT staffing business.

Why specialize in IT, why not staff accountants and administrative assistants?
First of all, I’ve been in the IT world my entire career. I understand the industry, the technologies and the people. I feel that we can represent IT professionals better than any other company given my understanding of our client’s needs and our people’s capabilities. I cannot say the same thing about the accounting or finance industry. By specializing in IT, we are able to serve our clients and our candidates better than they would be served by a less focused company. Our clients notice this difference. On several occasions I’ve been told that our candidates are better matches than those submitted by other companies. This results in a higher placement rate, less irrelevant interviews, and less time wasted by clients and candidates.

How has offshoring affected the IT Staffing Market?
A few companies have reduced US staff to move their IT offshore. Many of the huge software companies such as Oracle and Microsoft have significant offshore presences. But overall the trend towards offshoring has gone down in 2007 and 2008. Offshore Outsourcing as a percentage of IT budget’s has been hovering around three to five percent. Many companies have tried it and found that the time difference is not advantageous and that language barriers are also difficult. Add this to the fact that the large Indian firms experience a lot of employee turnover, and offshoring becomes less and less attractive. To date we have not seen a significant impact on the IT staffing market.

Any advice for contracting versus going full time?
A lot of it depends on the individual. I’ve been an employee and a contractor. As an employee, you will typically have more job stability and the opportunity to be part of “something bigger”. If you have management aspirations, you can also work your way up the corporate ladder. As a contractor, you typically have more control over your time, but you don’t necessarily get the benefits that your employee counterparts do. Also as a contractor, you need to be paid a healthy wage since there may be gaps between assignments. Contractors need to be more tolerant of risk, but if they stay busy they should make very good money. We work hard to pay our contract personnel well above the market rates due to these factors.

How do you stay up to date with technology?
By keeping my hands dirty. I still work with some of our clients helping them develop .NET applications, and implement Open Source technologies. I actually built the phone system we use at our office using Open Source Telephony software running on Linux. I was talking to the CIO of one of our clients about the phone system I built. He asked me if I could extend the functionality to work as an IVR for a bank. I was able to build the IVR using php on the backend talking to an Oracle database and using sockets to talk to a server application. I love doing this type of work. Some people enjoy solving cross-word puzzles, and some of us enjoy solving software puzzles. I think I will always be working on something new.

Is it tough to compete in such a cluttered staffing market?
Well it does seem like another staffing company starts up every other day. Just the same we continue to grow each year. I attribute this to our focus and expertise in our area of specialization. The “we staff everything” shops have a hard time matching up with us in our field. Just the same we don’t let our guard down. Staying focused on our commitment to our clients and candidates should allow us to continue to do well.

If I am an IT professional looking for a new position, why should I work with a staffing company?
The benefits of working with a staffing company are numerous; we are motivated to get the person a job, we don’t charge the candidate a fee, and we don’t get paid unless they get a position. Good staffing companies will know who is hiring; understand the company culture, pay ranges, benefits, etc. Candidates should check out the reputation of the staffing company they choose to work with. Some companies will submit candidates without first conferring with them; others are known for enticing candidates with rates they have no intention to pay. Most staffing companies don’t follow these practices, but a candidate should definitely do their homework.

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