99designs co-founder directly siphoning Aussie IT talent to Silicon Valley



blog Heard the term “Australian brain-drain”? You’re probably not going to see a more blatant attempt at it than this. The Financial Review reports today that Matt Mickiewicz, the co-founder of Australian design marketplace 99designs (he’s since left), is attempting to directly siphon Australian technology talent to Silicon Valley in the US. The newspaper reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“Polish-born Matt Mickiewicz, who left 99designs in 2012 to start job marketplace Hired.com, said he planned to recruit 100 developers from Australia and other countries to work at Airbnb, Square and 13 other technology companies between March and October.”

I’m in two minds about this kind of behaviour. On the one hand, a lot of Australian technologists would like to work in Silicon Valley for hot tech startups. On an individual level, any help they can receive to do so can only be a good thing.

However, on a national level, this kind of activity is clearly negative for Australia’s IT industry in general. It will directly hurt the development of Australia’s still nascent IT startup scene if Mickiewicz’s vision succeeds and our best and brightest abandon Australia and devote all of their energy, brainpower and potential to helping US-based startups instead of working to help Australian companies grow.

A lot of people argue that many Australians working overseas then bring a higher level of experience back home and helping to boost our own industry in turn. But I haven’t really seen any evidence of benefits from that. If anything, those who have made technology-related careers or fortunes in the US tend to stay there. And their youthful energy and passion helps to build those US companies.

Of course, it’s not like Australia hasn’t seen this kind of activity before. In fact, we see it all the time — there are plenty of companies who can assist with Australian technologists transferring to jobs in the US, or Australian companies commencing operations in the US. This is nothing new.

But I guess what really galls me a little about how blatant Mickiewicz’s pitch is. Australia was good to the entrepreneur. 99designs was formed and grown in Melbourne. It’s an Australian success story which is known around the globe. But now Mickiewicz is abandoning the ship — turning around and actively drawing off Australian talent to work in the US. He must know that this kind of activity harms the local ecosystem. It’s possible that, with his initial company having succeeded financially, he doesn’t really care what happens to the Australian IT industry.

But, having witnessed firsthand the painstaking way Australia’s IT startup scene has gotten back to its knees over the past five years (Delimiter 2.0 link), I do care about that industry. And I don’t want to see it crumble again as our best and brightest head to Menlo Park to help Facebook build its latest widget. I’m sure there are enough Americans already to do that kind of thing.

I’d rather see Australians succeed back home and then show the Yanks how it’s done. Not everything has to happen in Silicon Valley. Lots of tech startups succeed first in countries like Israel, with its Tel Aviv hotspot, London, all throughout Germany, Tokyo and other centres. I’d like to see Australia’s capital cities continue to add their own weight to that list.


  1. To be honest though…

    “Why not?” comes to mind. It’s all fine and well to fuss over a local “brain drain” but if the current batch of young new talent isn’t getting any form of support or *cough* “infrastructure” *cough* that would help develop such start ups/talent why would they stay and squander whatever training and knowledge they had?

  2. Sounds good to me. Australia’s recruiters and business runners don’t want the real talent we have because they are simply too stupid to recognize it. Of course you would go overseas to work for any business that is innovative and really does want to put your skills to use. You’ll actually get respect and enjoy your job while you’r at it.

  3. Good businesses run in an ethical fashion that treat their employees right is a very rare thing in this country.
    At the age of 26, I have only now just found a job with a company that treats me as a fallible human being who needs help improving his customer service skills, instead of a robotic slave who has to be perfect right from the first day.

    I’m sick of the intolerant attitude this country has to anyone who is even slightly different, and IT people such as myself are certainly not average, it’s taken a lot of damn hard work at some really awful businesses for me to get where I am. And I never want to do it again.

    So screw Australia, the neo-cons have taken over and politicians in general here are more interested in politicking than they are actually governing this country in a responsible manner, and everyone in a position to actually change this fact is “in on it”, they’re all lying bastards, leave while you still can.

    America is just as bad, but they’re waking up to the idiocy of the Tea Party, which has lost all credibility after the US govt shutdown late last year.

    Me personally, I feel like the whole world has gone neo-con mad, I’m just so fucking tired of people trying to force others to live as they want them to, why can’t we just all get along?

  4. Any Aussie dev who wants to work in the USA, Europe or Asia would be there already or working towards it anyway. I think the key would be enticing them back to Oz once they’ve boosted their skills and experience working overseas – most probably will when they want to “settle down”.

    Sydney and Melbourne might regularly win those “world’s most liveable city” top ten lists published in various magazines, but obviously a lot of young people still find them quite boring compared with the likes of London, New York, San Fran, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc. I’ve met many mid-level to senior migrant IT professionals who heap lavish praise upon the Aussie lifestyle but they always seem to paint this country as somewhere where they can put their feet up at the beach, relax and let their brain cells fry slowly in the sun. Australia tends to attract a lot of the “tired of the world and looking to live a predictable, sheltered life” types, rather than the creative and ambitious risk-takers.

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