Academics, Campus wide, College of Science and Mathematics, Computer Science

Silicon Harbor: local opportunities for CSU grads

By Emma Slaven | March 1, 2021
Computer parts on a table with a mans hands removing parts.

Familiar with Silicon Valley? No, not the television series, though that is what it’s based on. Silicon Valley refers to a region in southern San Francisco that serves as a global center for innovative technology and a leading hub for high-tech development. Its birth came from the development of the silicon-based integrated circuit—the first of many other technologies, such as the microprocessor, microcomputer, and MOS transistors. 

California has always been, and continues to be, a hub for the hustle and bustle of developing companies, but 2,740 miles away, Charleston, South Carolina, introduces the same high-tech mindset with a more affordable, lifestyle-friendly setting: Silicon Harbor.

Over the past five to 10 years, Charleston has received the title, Silicon Harbor—a nod that points to the city’s bright minds and rising tech companies. But how does this historic, Southern city compare to San Francisco’s fast-paced lifestyle? Besides the allure of Charleston’s affordability, laid-back lifestyle, and its efforts in reconstruction building, the statistics speak for themselves: 

  • Charleston houses over 250 tech companies
  • The city is the No. 1 mid-sized U.S. metro area for IT job growth
  • Tech jobs comprise around 3% of total jobs in the region
  • Tech companies account for 5% of Charleston’s total payroll

If a company were to put out a help wanted ad for a software engineer 15 years ago, there may have been a few stray candidates and a long search for the right hire. But as the digital age progresses, Charleston entrepreneurs are receiving more interest in the tech sector from those in and around the city. Even the pandemic couldn’t slow local tech startups down: while the hospital industry and hotels struggled at 30% capacity during the height of quarantine, tech businesses in Charleston stayed thriving due to the accessibility of the internet and undeterred determination. 

The mothership of Silicon Harbor’s tech scene is the Charleston Digital Corridor (CDC), which launched in 2001 but grew exponentially as Charleston became a metropolis for tourism, retail, restaurants, etc. It is a nonprofit corporation that diversifies the city’s economy by promoting and expanding the most innovative tech products within the Charleston Metro region. CDC members consist of local entrepreneurs, tech startups, and investors who work for major companies like Google and Blackbaud. Each year, the CDC releases an Annual Report and Annual Wage and Job Growth Survey that showcases how the Charleston tech hub grows and accomplishes their mission of pursuing and expanding the region’s tech economy. 

Just last month, the CDC released its 2020 Annual Report. The biggest takeaways? For starters, CDC members have raised a total capital of almost $2 billion since 2010 through grants, acquisitions, and mergers. These innovative tech workers show no signs of slowing down; in fact, they are doing just the opposite. The Annual Report featured several regional tech companies, including CharlestonWorks, who are actively growing and need new hires. 

The Annual Wage and Job Growth Survey included the average annual wage for tech companies in the Charleston area: a whopping $91,183, which is almost double the city’s average wage of $47,800. On top of it all, the Wage Survey showed that 57% of local companies added numerous jobs in 2020, and 100% are seeking new hires in 2021. Because these jobs are completely tech savvy and assume online experience, the pandemic hasn’t been a problem for those in the up-and-coming tech sector of Charleston.

However, the Charleston Digital Corridor is making plans for the hopeful transition from online to back in the office. Their new building, The Charleston Tech Center, is set to open its doors by the beginning of March. Its second floor will be home to Flagship—a 15,000-square-foot working space that will function as the CDC’s headquarters. Future developments plan to make the ground floor a retail and restaurant area for local feet to step in and see what the tech industry is doing in the area. 

The technical sector in Charleston continues to thrive along with the demand for qualified tech industry workers. Though it shows no signs of slowing down, now is also the perfect time to earn a graduate degree in an area with such a significant demand for employees. At Charleston Southern University, the opportunities are endless in obtaining degrees such as computer science or cybersecurity—which was added as a major in 2018. These programs are adept in classroom experience, internships, and employment opportunities after graduation. 

“We educate and develop Christian computer science and cybersecurity professionals,” said Valerie Sessions, affiliate professor of computer science. “That’s our job; we feed the huge market here in Charleston.”

CSU students in computer science and cybersecurity find satisfying work right out of college, partly due to living in the heart of Silicon Harbor. The university also sponsors clubs where students can get a feel for the local tech sector, along with senior projects that take them into areas they are interested in. Take it from Caliyah Kappel, a recent alumnus who graduated in May 2019 with a cybersecurity degree—only one year after the field became an official major at CSU. 

“I am currently employed by Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic in Charleston,” said Kappel. “CSU prepared me by providing in-depth discussions from professors who have worked in several different computer science positions. I am thankful and better equipped in the field because of them.”

Although CSU usually partakes in STEM fairs, they are not open at the moment due to COVID-19. This year, however, NASA and Charleston County are teaming up to introduce a virtual Countdown to Success Supplier Summit with Supplier Matchmaking Sessions. You can register here to meet with small business specialists from NASA facilities all around the country from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 3. 

Need a more inclusive outlet to express your love for technology? Join the Charleston Women in Tech! Follow their Instagram for more information on their monthly Tech Talks. The next meeting on March 24 will feature the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration speaking about the ways that data analysis and application development work.

Interested in becoming an employee of the great Silicon Harbor? Check out CSU’s department websites for computer science or cybersecurity to learn more about the programs and opportunities available to you.

Emma Slaven is a senior English writing major and an intern for Marketing & Communication.

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