Geeks In Paradise: On Being A High-Tech Professional In Hawai’i

A commenter on a recent post asked a question I get quite a bit, namely, “What’s the market in Hawai’i for high-tech professionals?” The short answer is that in Honolulu it’s great and that every place else in the state it’s poor. Honolulu’s a million-person city and has banks and industry and a university and would be a great place for a young person whose interests ranged from high tech to ocean sports (if you’re not into the ocean, you probably shouldn’t consider living in Hawai’i).

While some jobs exist everywhere (every resort has its own IT infrastructure needs and here on the Big Island we have the small but sophisticated community associated with the Mauna Kea telescopes), the sister islands (the islands other than Oahu) have very limited industry. So outside of Oahu it’s unlikely that you’ll find a job that happens to match your skills, whatever they are.

If, like me, you deliver your work over the Internet, the infrastructure is fine: electricity and Internet service (I use cable broadband) is reliable and because it’s tropical, rolling out of bed at 5:30 to start work at 6:00 fits with the environment and lifestyle (it’s not cold, you can go for a run before the sun is high, you end work mid-afternoon and have plenty of time to go for a swimm, etc.). Having said that, I have a client who’s on the East Coast and conference calls at 10AM EASTERN are pretty brutal. (We’re 3 hours behind the West Coast during Daylight Savings, 2 hours behind in the Winter.)

I would love to start a high-tech business here. The state has an almost 3rd-world-ish desire to leapfrog its economy past an industrial period and into information, so there are incredible tax breaks (including a 100% tax credit for investment. That’s right: 100% over 5 years. That’s got to make it a little easier to dig up investment, don’t you think?). If I were starting a high-tech business and looking to exploitwork-to-deathmentor a couple smart young programmers, this place has a lot of appeal to those not yet settled.

It’s very expensive to live here. Food is expensive; if you play around with “free shipping” offers you end up waiting 3 weeks; there’s no Fry’s Electronics to fulfill your “I need a dual-socket-940 ATX motherboard” whims, etc. The lack of industry, the distance from the mainland, and the abysmal public education system skews the demographics of college-educated people towards post-collegiate and empty nesters, which honestly is one of the hardest things for Tina and I, who fall in the middle.