Heavy demand for IT among DC defense contractors

But many grads are leaving DC for cutting-edge opportunities in other places. Major companies have hundreds of open positions.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

The government, federal contractors, even start-ups are hiring IT pros and those just graduating at an impressive rate, The Washington Post reports. If you have an comp sci degree and can pass clearance, you can pretty much write your own ticket these days.

A study by the Greater Washington Initiative shows that since 1999 Washington's information technology workforce has grown, on average, 8 percent a year -- three times the national rate. Most of those jobs have been in computer programming and systems design. The bursting of the dot-com bubble put a crimp in growth, but industry experts say this region recovered and expanded because of the post-Sept. 11 government contracting boom. Today, the study says, 10 percent of the nation's IT workers -- about 202,500 people -- are in the metropolitan Washington area. That includes software engineers, network analysts and database administrators.

Since it takes so long to get clearances - as long as two years - people who already have their clearances through student internships or previous jobs have a clear advantage.

"Some companies say they don't have work for me," sadi Michael Gagnon, who is graduating from George Mason University with a 4.0 average in computer science. "But then they say, 'Wait a minute -- do you have a clearance?' "

Gagnon says he will probably pass up several job offers in software development to pursue a graduate degree at MIT while working in a nonprofit research lab. Many of his peers are making similar decisions to leave the Washington area.

"I don't think people like me will stay here if they aren't offered as stimulating opportunities as there are elsewhere," he said. "It seems everyone here does consulting, and that's just not for me right now."

So defense contractors and DC-based national companies continue to struggle to fill their less-than-cutting-edge jobs.

Kathleen Smith of ClearedJobs.net, which helps firms find workers with security clearances, said: "Some people only want to work on the next hot thing. In this town, your cachet is dependent on which new, cutting-edge, exciting project you are working."
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