In May, the city of Austin announced it was launching a tech fellowship program. The idea was to tap into the vast reservoir of tech talent in the region and recruit some of those tech workers for city projects, such as building a better online permitting system.
I admit -- I was skeptical about this entire idea.
After all, the tech industry is renowned for its glamorous perks, from free catered lunches to on-site gyms and benefits like unlimited vacation.
And on top of all this, the tech industry offers some of the highest wages of any industry in Austin.
City workers, on the other hand, have almost no perks.
City offices, for the most part, are dreary plain-Jane affairs, with minimal decor, no amenities and the food choices involve debating between diet soda or a granola bar from the vending machine.
There is a generous city pension system, and potentially more stable, reliable hours. But the tech fellows wouldn't have access to most benefits, such as the pension or paid time off, because they are temporary workers.
And there's significant culture clash between private for-profit tech companies, focused on driving efficiencies, and the slower-paced nature of city government.
I wondered, would anyone with any significant experience in the tech industry really bother to apply for this program?
After the fellowship deadline came and went, I decided to test my skepticism.
I submitted an open records request to the city and asked for copies of the applications for everyone who applied for the fellowship.
A few weeks later, I had a CD in my hand with copies of all 95 applications, which consisted of a total of 1,612 pages.
This was a rare opportunity for a journalist to look at pile of resumes for any sort of tech job. Private companies that employ the vast majority of tech workers are under no obligation to disclose this type of information.
With the help of Cody Winchester from our data team, I spent days wading through the applications and reading resumes.
To protect the privacy of these applicants, I am not going to reveal names or other personal identifying information.
Here are some of my conclusions:
The fellowship applicants tend to be new to the tech industry. The city doesn't make it easy to tell an applicant's age. That's purposeful, to guard against age discrimination.
So to gauge years of experience in the industry, we looked at graduation years on resumes.
Of the 72 applicants that disclosed what year they received their most recent degree or diploma, 50 percent had graduated within the past four years and 80 percent had graduated within the past 10 years.
(One flaw in this analysis: This doesn't account for the recent graduates of coding schools such as General Assembly, who may have graduated from college a decade ago but recently transitioned into tech.)
The relative inexperience of the fellowship applicants isn't surprising, given that the city of Austin described this as a program for temporary hires, with annual salary ranges from $67,537 to $85,987 for full-time work, and aimed at people with at least three years of experience.
There were some interesting career transitions to tech. Several people had gotten a master's degree in clinical psychology before switching to tech jobs. There were a handful of journalists-turned-tech workers in this applicant pool. And a former TV producer.
Many applicants had recently lost their jobs, or had ended contract work. First, I'm not sure it is so unusual for any job posting to get hit with a number of applicants from people who were recently laid off. It's the nature of the beast - those are the people most motivated to look for a new job. And in the tech industry, it's pretty common to hire contract workers or conduct layoffs during down cycles.
Out of the 95 applicants, at least 18 were currently out of work, or about to be when a contract expired. That's about 19 percent. The actual number is probably closer to 25 percent or more because it was difficult to suss out who was really unemployed versus working freelance.
There were some experienced, skilled people who applied, to my surprise. I wouldn't say this group of applicants was the cream of the local tech crop, but there were some impressive people who applied.
There were folks who graduated with degrees from top-tier schools, such as Harvard, Stanford and Cornell universities. One woman had nearly the perfect resume: an urban studies major at a highly respected school who is currently working as a user experience designer.
Some applicants had at least a dozen years of tech experience, though some of these people had reached management-level status and I wasn't sure they were an ideal fit for a program that seemed geared toward roll-up-the-sleeves technical work.
People applied from tech companies large and small throughout Austin. There were employees from Dell, Planview, IBM and Visa who applied. The vast majority of applicants came from smaller companies or startups.
And there were five people with doctorate degrees -- including one in neuroscience -- who applied and 40 people with master's degrees.
More men than women applied. For good reasons, the city doesn't focus on gender in its application process. So I can only tell you that of the 95 applicants, 32 had traditionally female names. That's about 34 percent of the applicant pool.
This of course is not unusual for the tech industry overall, which is about 70 percent male on average.
The mission-driven nature of working for a city government is appealing. My cynicism in tech was perhaps misplaced -- there were plenty of applicants who said they were sick and tired of the corporate grind and ready to work for a civic-minded organization.
For instance, an applicant who works at data hosting company Rackspace was surprisingly straightforward: "I have a cushy corporate job," the applicant said. "I just don't give a damn about managed IT infrastructure. I see my life's purpose as using design thinking and methodology to solve high-impact problems for those who need it most. I won't rest until I get there."
Several applicants said they were willing to take pay cuts for the job, including people who currently earned six-figure salaries.
(Although some of those people were currently living in more expensive cities or had recently been laid off.)
People say hilarious and refreshingly honest things when applying for jobs. One applicant listed the reason for leaving a previous job as "left to complete an historic Spanish pilgrimage." Another person explained departing from a company this way: "After four months of working with team of 11 people, realized owner of company was not planning on paying for our services."
Other people were surprisingly honest about issues such as burnout, and being asked to "fudge the numbers" at a company. A former Dell worker talked about wanting to do work that was "more meaningful" than "crunching through routine e-commerce websites."
But I think my all-time favorite response to the question of "why do you want this job?" is this one: "I can't say that working for the city of Austin is something that I've always wanted to do."
Nobody does one-page resumes anymore. Is this a thing? Or just the tech industry? Even recent college graduates were doing two-page resumes. I found a five-page resume and thought that was ridiculous, until I found a seven-page resume in the pile.
In researching this story, I reached out to the city to find out what happened with this program.
The city had in fact quietly hired nine tech workers last month, and still planned to hire two more tech fellows.
These 11 people will work on a project-by-project basis, said city spokeswoman Patricia Fraga, and the first projects will be finished in December or January.
After reading 95 applications and resumes, I understood that there is an appeal to working for the city of Austin that I didn't appreciate before.
That often-mocked and over-used statement about "making the world a better place" is actually something some tech workers believe in.
And never, ever underestimate the appeal of Austin in recruiting.
Almost everyone professed their love of our city in their application. Sixteen people applied from outside of Austin, from cities such as Cincinnati, Palo Alto, Boston or Seattle.
Applicant No. 87 probably said it best:
"While I am not a resident of Austin, I do want to move there because the times I have visited I found that I really enjoyed being there and didn't really want to return back home."