Technology start-ups in Hong Kong still hamstrung by shortage of skilled developers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 7:40pm


A shortage of experienced web developers in Hong Kong is holding back the city’s technology start-ups, founders say as potential recruits lack the knowledge needed to help companies build their products.

An already small talent pool and competition from prestigious big names mean the city’s start-ups have a difficult time finding suitable programmers to build their websites and apps.

“To get people who want to work for start-ups is a struggle, and then you’re already at a limited pool,” said private tutoring start-up founder Mark Wang.

“Then to get people with the right skill sets, for example developers [is also a challenge],” added Wang, the founder of Tutor Spotter, which matches students and teachers in Hong Kong.

“But because this is all new for Hong Kong, for a developer to have built a product, to have managed high level development is very, very lacking.” 

Wang said a shortage of suitable developers in Asia pushed him to teach himself to learn how to code, a skill he used to build a large part of Tutor Spotter.

As Hong Kong’s start-up ecosystem is still young, companies find it harder to locate and attract experienced programmers than they would in the United States, according to Karena Belin. Belin is the co-founder of start-up showcase WHub, a service designed to help build such a community.

“We had a start-up from the US coming over here and looking for their local team and they asked us if it would be easy to find a senior web developer,” she said.

“We told them ‘Well, it’s a little bit more difficult to find people that have four or five years experience in web development’ and they said ‘I’m looking for more like 10 to 20 years.’”

Start-ups in Hong Kong are looking for more than 80 web developers through W Hub’s jobs board, or over 40 percent of the total vacancies advertised on the platform.

Legal services start-up Dragon Law is among the city’s fledgling tech firms that have opted to outsource to other Asian countries where they can find employees with the necessary experience and at a cheaper rate.

Dragon Law now has five programmers in Nepal after an employee previously based in New Zealand relocated to the Himalayan nation.

“It is not impossible [to hire programmers in Hong Kong] but we have half our team scattered all over the world – two in New Zealand, five in Nepal,” said Emmanuel Pitsilis, a board director and angel investor in Dragon Law,.

“Nepal is a great place, perfect English speakers, very hard working, great talent.”

Charles Mok, a former internet entrepreneur and lawmaker representing the information technology sector, said the issue was representative of the city’s labour shortages across industries.

“Start-ups especially need these skills as oftentimes they need to develop apps and use the latest tech, but they are also competing with established corporations looking for the same talents and there's not enough overall,” Mok said.

He suggested the government step up efforts to retrain the workforce with the necessary skills through funding sources such as the SME Training Fund or the Continuing Education Fund.

Private computer programming courses are helping to plug the city’s talent gap, with 95 per cent of the graduates from General Assembly’s 12-week Web Developer Immersive course finding jobs in start-ups or other firms within three months of graduating.

General Assembly’s Hong Kong city director Nandita Vyas said local interest in coding is growing, another positive sign.

“I'd love to see the industry here nurture developers to be a creative and integral part of strategic product development, rather than think of coding as just a task that can be outsourced,” Nyas said. 

“The more we value the expertise they add to the team, the more attractive Hong Kong will be for top developers.”