A Good Career in Tech Can Happen Here

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, October 2, 2022 as part of the “Raise Your Hand” column in the Insight section.

Zi Jun Liu

By: Zijun Liu
, University of Hawaii-Manoa graduate, Class of 2022.

All it took was a press of a button. Fans began to whirl, and its gentle hum filled the room. It took a press of a button, for light to illuminate the room, as the computer screen came to life. The very same light that begins to fill a newfound passion for technology and its limitless possibilities. But all it takes is a press of a button, to be told you do not have a place in Hawaii.

There is a ubiquitous idea in our community that the rest of the world has marched forward, growing their technology sector while leaving Hawaii behind. Growing up, it was heartbreaking to be told that in order to pursue a career in information technology, I would need to eventually move away from Hawaii. This plagued me throughout my educational career — every step of the way filled with doubt and uncertainty.

But as a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii, a simple Google search yielded surprising results: There are plenty of opportunities to pursue a career in technology locally. Talking with recruiters and hunting for internship opportunities also helped debunk my previously held ideas.

While the pay scale is slightly on the lower end compared to similar cities, it is certainly nowhere near the bottom of the list. Hawaii’s average technology pay scale is in fact similar, if not more, compared to the national average. This has made all the years of growing up with the doubt, the worry, and the looming big move away from home obsolete. So where did this idea of Hawaii being a bad spot for the tech field come from? Common perceptions, however skewed from reality, often contain some nugget of truth. Perhaps Hawaii really was a bad place for the tech industry in the past. But more significantly, the perception of the lack of opportunity is cemented by the high price tag associated with living on the islands. It is no secret that Hawaii has one of the highest costs of living in the nation. While the job opportunities may exist, accounting for the price of actually surviving in Hawaii makes taking local jobs impractical and even sacrificial.

“Addressing the most pressing issues of our state, such as the cost of living, will certainly propel the local tech industry further - and help make living in Hawaii a no-brainer, not a sacrifice.”

— Zi Jun Liu

A single look at the housing market here in Hawaii reveals that an IT professional would find it difficult to afford a home in Hawaii. This creates an easy decision for computer science graduates and graduates of technology-related fields to move to a place with a more affordable cost of living while making the same amount of money.

Addressing the most pressing issues of our state, such as the cost of living, will certainly propel the local tech industry further — and help make living in Hawaii a no-brainer, not a sacrifice. In the meantime, a feature of life in Hawaii that works in our favor is our multigenerational and tight-knit community, which serves as an emotional and perhaps even financial support system for many young people.

Many people truly want a life in Hawaii where they’ve grown up and are willing to make the trade-offs necessary to stay. Employers can help alleviate the problem by proactively advertising internship and job opportunities and building relationships with aspiring tech professionals. Keeping bright young talent in Hawaii will perhaps even help solve some of the bigger issues, such as the housing crisis and exorbitant cost of living.

While the obstacles abound, dispelling the idea that our beautiful islands cannot support our technology professionals, and better advertising the available local pathways are steps in the right direction.

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