Rotterdam's Tech Scene: Local talent shortage and opportunities for developers
Developer Careers Stefan Kingham
While it may get less attention than the capital city Amsterdam, Rotterdam shows promising potential to be the next innovative and technology hub of the Netherlands. Internationally known as the “gateway to Europe”, Rotterdam has grown considerably over the last few years and its tech scene is rapidly gaining traction and momentum - to the extent that it’s been given the nickname of “Boston of the Netherlands”.
The founders of local startups, including Helloprint, as well as coworking space 42workspace, recently created the “WeTechRotterdam” initiative to further develop the local ecosystem and organizations such as the Cambridge Innovation Center and the Erasmus Center for Entrepreneurship are empowering local entrepreneurial talents to turn their ideas into actual businesses.
Rotterdam is an increasingly attractive destination for Dutch and foreign developers (and other tech professionals) alike, so we sat down with a range of managers, recruiters and CTOs to get a better understanding of the local tech market and determine what makes Rotterdam such an interesting option for developers.
High demand for tech workers in Rotterdam
Rotterdam is becoming an increasingly popular destination for working expats and native Dutch alike. From 2007 to 2017, the population of Rotterdam grew from 584,058 to 634,660, a growth rate approaching nearly 10%. Yet despite this increase, Rotterdam (as well as other major cities in the Netherlands) is actually suffering from a huge tech talent shortage. In actual fact, the demand for junior tech talent in the Netherlands doubled in 2017 and it’s believed that there are approximately 26 job openings per available junior tech worker.
Consequently, in an effort to fill the gap between the supply and demand for tech talents, companies are increasingly relying on new local grads and expat tech workers. Giuseppe Maggiore, the CTO of Hoppinger, has definitely observed this phenomenon. He says “There is a huge amount of expats in Rotterdam, and companies are switching more and more towards non-Dutch speaking developers.”
But that’s not to say Dutch developers aren’t in demand. Far from it. Erik van Aalzum of Jedlix chimes in “We see that more companies are looking towards changing to English as the main language as a result of the shortage of Dutch developers in the market… It is easy, cheap, and accessible to relocate to Rotterdam.”
And seeing as Martijn van Citteren of Coolblue believes that “after an extensive selection process in which the last step is a visit to our office and a tour of Rotterdam, it is easy to convince an international candidate that Rotterdam is a great city to work and live as Rotterdam sells itself”, you can understand why more and more companies have switched their focus to expat workers in the face of this local talent shortage.
Access to top tech talent in Rotterdam
As you’ve most probably understood by now, there’s a shortage of available tech talent in Rotterdam. This means that the few available candidates on the market are very hot property and startups struggle to compete with the big-spending, internationally recognized corporates and larger companies they’re up against.
Kartika Sidabutar, the Marketing Manager at YES!Delft, elaborates, “Loads of startups here do not have a lot of money, so they are skeptical of paying recruitment bureaus and agencies. The biggest source [of employees] is from referrals and networks.” Frits Klok of TiledMedia also agrees, “It is difficult to find the right candidates for open positions. As a start-up it is more difficult to get exposure towards the right candidates, when going up against bigger consumer-facing companies with more extensive campaigns and brand identity. Companies that have significant amounts of money do not have any problems creating exposure.”
YES!Delft - Source: www.wetechrotterdam.com
Erik van Aalzum and Adriaan Mutter of Jedlix think there is access to international talent in Rotterdam, but lament the lack of local candidates. “What I think is missing in Rotterdam is a technical university as they have in Delft or Eindhoven. There is no pipeline of young, high potential students in Rotterdam.” But while that would provide Rotterdam with a larger pool of local tech talent, it wouldn’t necessarily stop bigger companies from being first in line and having their pick of the top talent.
Maaike Burgeat & Vincent Grente, who respectively work in tech recruitment and as the COO of Lunatech Labs, are all too familiar with this dilemma. “Lunatech is having difficulties at the moment. We’re in contact with schools to provide us with internships and part-time/summer work students, but many of these students are snatched away by bigger firms as soon as they graduate.”
Access to tech talent in Rotterdam is scarce, but in spite of these difficulties, Rotterdam-based companies continue to make substantial efforts to attract the developers they so desperately seek.
How Rotterdam-based companies are trying to attract more developers
To help attract developers, companies in Rotterdam are increasingly looking to provide attractive working environments with nice perks and fun company culture. Martijn van Citteren of Coolblue states, “Company culture has a very central role in our organization. From the moment Coolblue started, we have been nurturing several core values: open surroundings, flexibility, communication, and motivation through responsibilities and empowerment.” Michael Heerkens, the CTO of Helloprint, chimes in, “Culture for developers is significant nowadays. We offer freedom, responsibility, and empowerment while avoiding restrictions: work when you want as long as you achieve the desired results. Performance is key. Results are what counts.”
Lunatech are taking things even further by supporting the professional development of their tech workers through further training and education and offering extra incentives such as salary top-ups based on company performance as well as free tickets to attend local tech conferences and meetups.
Rotterdam - Source: www.itinari.com
But as well as taking clear actions to become more attractive to potential talents, such as those mentioned above, companies are also trying to get closer to their ideal candidates in an attempt to catch their attention early on. Giuseppe from Hoppinger claims that “if you have access to a school or university, you have an advantage” and Tim from YipYip agrees that “companies have to be more proactive and make better use of their networks”.
Overall it certainly appears as if offering extra incentives and focusing on sourcing students straight from campus are the two methods companies privilege when attempting to attract more developers.
Opportunities for tech workers in Rotterdam
While the high demand for tech workers and shortage of local talent in Rotterdam may cause companies all sorts of recruitment headaches, it’s obviously great news for locals or expats who are looking to find a tech job in the city.
Sterksen claims that 5 out of 6 tech job openings that are listed in the Randstad area are not filled. The demand for software developers and data scientists is particularly significant and average salaries for junior positions in these fields are starting at €35,000, among the highest in all of Europe.
And if great wages and a ton of open job offers to choose from wasn’t appealing enough for developers, it just so happens that Rotterdam specializes in various lesser-known economic sectors such as Clean Tech, Energy and Agro-Food and is home to some of the country’s most exciting startups including Dutch online retailers Coolblue, Europe’s fastest growing print platform Helloprint and medical AI startup Quantib.
As a side note, Jorrit Glastra, CTO at Quantib, claims “there aren’t that many companies out there that are actually building a product with AI, most just provide AI solutions that help other businesses.” The opportunity to work on cutting edge technology is what brings many tech professionals to Rotterdam and innovative companies such as Quantib are a big part of why Rotterdam is becoming such an important European tech hub.
What’s more, seeing as Rotterdam and The Hague joined forces in 2015 to form a new metropolitan area, nothing’s holding you back from living in Rotterdam and working in The Hague or vice-versa. This could be of particular interest to cyber security specialists due to the fact that The Hague has established itself as the largest safety and security cluster in Europe.
Community initiatives for tech workers in Rotterdam
You don’t just have to just stick with your company in Rotterdam. There are plenty of opportunities for self-growth, networking, and learning, although the consensus among our interviewees is that there’s plenty of room for more.
Giuseppe from Hoppinger keeps busy, “We host at least 1 Tech Talk each month and really focus on adding value and relevance. We get around 50-75 developers interested in attending and have to put some on waiting lists. I know some other organisations that try to host these events as well, but sometimes there isn’t enough traction.” Frits Klok from TiledMedia is also positive about the future, “There are more and more hubs popping up that were degraded, empty buildings and areas before. Areas such as Van Nelle Fabriek, “Goudse Straat,” and Industriegebouw now have hip hang out places for developers and tech enthusiasts. Meetings and meetups are held there, but we’d love to have more visitors!”
Pixelbar.nl - Source: @pixelbar010
Maaike and Vincent from Lunatech Labs also regret the lack of attendees at local tech events and believe that “by organizing events involving tech professionals from Rotterdam, The Hague and Delft, the local community scene could be even more prominent than that of Amsterdam.”
According to the 2017 State of European Tech report, the Netherlands was ranked 5th behind the U.K., Germany, France, and Spain with 58,176 active members in tech meetup groups, over 50% more than 6th place Poland. There are also frequent TEDx Talks, designed to help communities, organizations, and individuals spark conversation and connection at the local level, as well as less mainstream initiatives including Pixelbar.nl, a so-called “hackerspace” founded by techies in Rotterdam and CoderDojo, a volunteer-led organization that teaches children to code.
What does the future hold for Rotterdam?
Dutch innovation hub
Erik van Aalzum of Jedlix explains that “Amsterdam is the international hub in the Netherlands and Eindhoven has already been established as the ‘tech-area’ for a long time, but Rotterdam is becoming more innovation-minded.” Tech and startup hubs are popping up everywhere, and the city and province are working together to put Rotterdam on the map and exploit all its strengths. Birgit Vene from Offcourse.io agrees that *“The municipality is really doing a lot of things, education wise as well, as they want to get more technically focused. If you are doing something together with the municipality, you are doing very well for yourself. Rotterdam wants to be the city of the future with complete neighbourhoods of smart houses for example.”
Organizations like WeTechRotterdam are trying to establish government-backed initiatives to improve the tech scene as well. As Fred Bartels from WeTechRotterdam explains, “Tech companies in Rotterdam, be they established or brand-new, could really benefit from a shared platform via which to collaborate, match-make, and support one another. It’s all about sharing knowledge and effort in a joint campaign to promote Rotterdam as a leading tech hub in which to work and live.”
WeTechRotterdam Startup Finder - Source: www.wetechrotterdam.com
With all the ongoing hard work and development, it’s easy to get excited about the future of Rotterdam. We can get a sense of optimism and positivity for the future from everyone we interviewed for this project.
Lisette Braakenburg, the Senior Relationships Manager from the Cambridge Innovation Centre, tells us “Rotterdam is definitely evolving as a city. You see it in the capital and investments. The municipality itself and foreign influences are getting involved in pretty much every level.” Giuseppe from Hoppinger continues, “Rotterdam is a city of makers and doers. The perfect compliment to Rotterdam is to be the city of engineers and technology, where real stuff is made. In combination with the maritime and port industry, Rotterdam can make real waves. More and more competition is coming to Rotterdam, bringing substantial content and solutions to the city.”
Erik van Aalzum of Jedlix feels the same way, “20 years ago, nobody wanted to come and live in Rotterdam because it was seen differently. Nowadays, due to the initiatives and the effort the city of Rotterdam has put in, Rotterdam is gaining momentum. Now students, expats, and nationals want to come to Rotterdam because of its personality, architecture, facilities, and events. There are loads of opportunities in the port and maritime industry. Due to a traditional lack of innovation and disruption in those industries, there are significant opportunities to innovate and improve the fields.”
Fred Bartels of WeTechRotterdam also believes Rotterdam has a bright future and hopes to contribute to the city’s economic development. “With the help of the municipality and city, Rotterdam can be significant in Europe. An initiative like WeTechRotterdam is not trying to compete with other organisations and initiatives, but rather trying to create an umbrella that helps connect the existing stakeholders and further develop Rotterdam’s ecosystem.”
Based on the growing demand for tech talent, initiatives and investments, Rotterdam holds a promising future and is becoming increasingly attractive for entrepreneurs. Innovation Quarter, an organization aiming to enhance the economy and employment rates in West Holland, shares,
“In 2017, some 115 foreign companies opened an office or expanded their business in West Holland. These firms are expected to create in excess of 2,300 new jobs and to invest more than half a billion euros in the region. Since 2014, The Hague Business Agency, Rotterdam Partners and Innovation Quarter have been actively collaborating to place the region in the global spotlight and to attract and support foreign companies. This has paid off: over 30% of international companies that set up business in the Netherlands last year chose West Holland, compared to 20% in 2014.”
The continual growth of the region thus indicates the potential for startups to create buzz in Rotterdam. Although the city has been long established for its ports and often referred as the “Gateway to the World,” we can see how this nickname can soon apply to new tech ventures and innovation amongst the startup community.
Much gratitude to everyone who so graciously spent their time to sit down with us and talk about Rotterdam. You can learn more about them and their companies below.
Birgit Vene (Business Developer) - Offcourse.io: The open source platform for crowdsourced learning and knowledge sharing.
Martijn van Citteren (Tech Recruiter) - Coolblue: One of the largest online shops in the Benelux.
Erik van Aalzum (Chief of Product), Adriaan Mutter (IT Architect) - Jedlix: A smart charging application for electric vehicles.
Fred Bartels (Program Manager) - WeTechRotterdam: A non-profit initiative aiming to boost Rotterdam’s tech ecosystem.
Jorrit Glastra (CTO) - Quantib: A Rotterdam based scale-up that provides machine learning radiology software.
Giuseppe Maggiore (CTO) - Hoppinger: A digital agency based in Rotterdam specialising in e-business portals, e-commerce solutions and complete digital transformations.
Frits Klok - TiledMedia: A global frontrunner in flexible, low-latency delivery of extremely high-resolution video content to consumer devices.
Kartika Sidabutar (Marketing Manager) - YES!Delft: A tech incubator that helps entrepreneurs to build and grow leading technology companies.
Lisette Braakenburg (Senior Relationships Manager) - Cambridge Innovation Centre: Acting as a gateway to Europe, CIC Rotterdam expands the existing community of entrepreneurs, investors and established businesses.
Maaike Burgeat (Corporate Recruiter), Vincent Grente (Operations Director) - Lunatech Labs: A Rotterdam-based IT consulting, product research and development company founded in 1993.
Martin Luxemburg (Director) - Erasmus Centre of Entrepreneurship: The leading centre for entrepreneurship in Europe.
Michael Heerkens (CTO) - Helloprint: Europe’s fastest growing online print platform with activities in over 10 European countries.
Tim Nooteboom (Creative Director & Managing Partner) - YipYip: A mobile design and development studio based in Rotterdam.