DETROIT – Now hiring in Detroit: scads of software developers and programmers.
General Motors is moving past layoffs and the Motor City’s rusty, low-tech image. It’s setting out on its own to develop software and invent the most advanced gizmos for your car.
The nation’s biggest automaker plans to hire up to 10,000 computer professionals in the next three to five years as it tries to lead the auto industry with cutting-edge technology.
It’s a bold and expensive move, counter to the industry’s history of buying software and other electronic applications from outside companies. Experts say it’s also the start of a trend as manufacturers realize that software is among the few things that will set them apart from competitors.
“The companies that build the software themselves in general are going to have an advantage,” says David Kirkpatrick, author of a book about Facebook and CEO of Techonomy Media Inc., a New York firm that specializes in setting up technology conferences. “If you outsource the development of software in particular to others, you can risk … your own ability to compete in the future.”
General Motors Co. isn’t alone in trying to move more technology development under its roof. But the plans of its biggest competitor, Ford Motor Co., aren’t nearly as ambitious.
GM’s aims to bring 90 percent of its computer technology work into the company by recruiting workers to four new information technology centers around the nation. Ford recently joined GM, BMW AG and Renault-Nissan in opening a technology office in California’s Silicon Valley, although it’s staffed by only about 15 people.
GM’s first “Information Technology Innovation Center” was announced last month in Austin, Texas, with plans to hire 500 programmers and software experts. And Monday the carmaker unveiled plans to hire 1,500 more at a second computer center in Warren, Mich., on the campus of its big tech center. GM already has product designers, engineers and other technical experts at the site, including the team that created the Chevrolet Volt electric car.
The other two sites haven’t been revealed.
Staff at the centers will try to stay on top of software trends. They’ll develop the latest ways to link smartphones with cars or control a vehicle’s heating and air conditioning with voice commands. They’ll also be counted on to invent technology that no one’s thought of yet. And GM also sees long-term cost savings when the centers are fully in operation.
“We’re currently seeking the next generation of game-changers to help us usher in a new age of automotive innovation,” says GM Chief Information Officer Randy Mott, who was Hewlett-Packard’s CIO until he joined GM in February.
Although there are shortages of programmers and software engineers in some parts of the country, GM should be able to recruit enough talent by setting up shop in four different regions, experts say. With the tech-hub of Austin and GM’s home base in Detroit already covered, the most likely locations for the next two centers are on the West Coast, experts say.
GM says it will offer competitive wages and benefits to pull in recent college graduates and experienced information technology professionals. The company’s iconic brand status will help attract people, experts say.