Living/Working December 3, 2021


December 3, 2021

Twitter tapping B.C. talent as multinationals ramp up hiring spree

Expansion comes as other international firms draw bead on Vancouver

Twitter, which is hiring 80 workers in Canada, has a physical office in Toronto (pictured) while its 30-person Vancouver team operates remotely | Submitted

Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) co-founder Jack Dorsey caught observers off guard this week with his sudden departure as CEO of the social media giant.

For now, the San Francisco-based tech company tallying more than 200 million daily active users isn’t banking on any such attrition from its emerging Vancouver engineering team.

Twitter revealed plans in March to ramp up Canadian hiring after initially launching a Toronto office in 2013. Since the start of the year, the Vancouver team has tripled to 30 employees from about 10.

While the West Coast hiring spree doesn’t quite match the scale of efforts by other U.S. tech giants like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) and Inc. (Nasdaq:AMZN), Twitter’s move reflects increasing demand for local tech labour stemming from multinationals.

“We are a much smaller company when compared to Amazon, but our … [reputation] is fairly widely known,” said staff software engineer Hanson Ho, who serves as tech lead for the Vancouver team.

“The ability for us to come in here and make some real meaningful impact is much higher. We are less of a cog in a big wheel than some of the other companies where their engineering staff would be 20,000.”

Vancouver has drawn 12,900 new workers into the local technology sector over the past two years, according to an October CBRE Group Inc. report.

That’s the third-fastest rate of growth (20.9%) among 30 cities measured by the real estate services firm in 2019 and 2020. Vancouver trails only No. 1 Toronto (increase of 40,200 jobs) and No. 2 Seattle (38,559 jobs), which registered 26.4% and 21.9% growth respectively during that same period.

And hiring appears to be ramping up in 2021 as the mass vaccination campaign takes hold and the economy further reopens.

Microsoft revealed in March it was adding 500 workers to its Vancouver roster this year, bringing the local head count to 1,700 people.

Amazon’s hiring efforts appear even more ambitious. The tech giant announced plans last fall to add 3,000 workers to its Amazon Web Services facilities in Vancouver as it committed to leasing an additional 680,000 square feet of the old Canada Post building on West Georgia Street. It followed up this past June with plans to hire 1,800 workers to be split between Vancouver and Toronto.

Amazon currently has 3,500 tech workers on its roster in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, tech firm Dialectica Ltd. of London, England, said in November it would hire 100 workers in Vancouver over the next three years, and Miami-based Kaseya Ltd. committed in September to hiring 75 workers by the end of next year.

Leading up to March 2020, tech companies such as Tipalti Inc., Grammarly Inc. and Brex Inc. announced expansion plans within a few months of each other. That pace soon dropped off during the COVID-19 crisis, and Ottawa-based Shopify Inc. (TSX:SHOP) cancelled plans for a 1,000-worker, 70,000-square-foot office at Four Bentall Centre on Dunsmuir Street.

But Tristan Jung, a senior engineering manager who leads Twitter’s Toronto team, said the recent hiring push comes as the company seeks to further “decentralize” itself from its headquarters.

“As we looked at how we wanted to expand our expertise and our engineering group, we saw that there were a lot of different opportunities within Canada across the country in terms of where to hire this talent,” he said. “Vancouver also has a strong kind of presence in terms of the schools and the folks who are within that field. So we thought we would be able to kind of tap into these candidates and make sure that we’re able to attract them and retain them within Twitter.”

Labour costs, meanwhile, remain relatively low compared with Vancouver’s new National Hockey League rival down the I-5, according to CBRE. The average annual wage paid to a local software engineer stands at US$97,718 compared with US$134,430 in Seattle.

Twitter’s offices in Toronto are home to most of the company’s 200-person head count in Canada.

Jung said there are no immediate plans to open an office in Vancouver.

Instead, those who fall under the team’s Vancouver umbrella work remotely and meet in person occasionally while collaborating with colleagues as far away as Singapore on features such as push notifications or fine-tuning the platform for cracking down on spam and abuse.

Colliers International Canada executive vice-president Colin Scarlett, citing data from his real estate firm, said the tech sector is currently driving 62% of demand for downtown Vancouver real estate.

“People finally have just decided, ‘You know what? We just can’t operate our business like this. We have to start thinking for the long term.’ And some of this demand is pent-up demand but a lot of it is new,” he told BIV in September. •


Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun proves his depth in flood crisis

The phone rings at 7:30. Feels early, but Henry Braun has been up since 2.

Three weeks into a touch-and-go natural disaster, the mayor of Abbotsford this morning has calm in his voice – even more composure than has been his hallmark reassurance, his distinctive clarity attracting national acclaim ever since the skies emptied, the waters rose and his city was endangered.

The waters were at last receding. The measures taken further mitigate what was horrible but posed even more profound threat. “No fatalities,” he notes.

For 68 of his 71 years, Braun has lived in a community that became a city we nearly lost under record rainfall in November – 540 millimetres, close to two feet – and the adjacent surges. It will take many months to regroup, many years for a fuller recovery, and only time will tell if the many lessons of the massive floods will be abided.

From a distance, the carriage of this ranching businessman-cum-public official has offered a seminar in leadership crisis management with so many principles to study it is difficult to know where to start.

For one, he has a disarming immediate candour, a man of Mennonite faith imbued with humility and belief and no small vulnerability.

“Someone once told me not to let your head get too big or it will float away.”

That openness doesn’t take long to surface in conversation. Sure, he can stand tall each day at news conferences to talk about the fight against nature’s wrath, but his voice quavers when he recalls getting out of the shower one morning early in the siege, dropping to his knees in prayer, and pleading, “Lord, I don’t know what to do.”

He has built his credibility by understanding the contours of Abbotsford inside out, just as he did in starting at the bottom “as the boss’ kid” earning no automatic advantage in his father’s business, told he would learn as he moved up whether it would be for him – a business (Pacific Northern Railway Corp.) he would later run, expand and eventually sell and return to his purebred Herefords on the farm.

In office, even before it, he spent a lot of time learning about the city’s infrastructure. His geekish curiosity proved prescient. He was no stranger to the Barrowtown pump station, the only way to drain the Sumas Prairie into the Fraser River, when floods threatened it in recent weeks. He didn’t have to be told the station had to be reinforced – volunteers and the Armed Forces descended – or all would be lost.

He understands the value of relationships, a political conservative who years ago as a city councillor spotted John Horgan sitting in a corner at a conference and decided to befriend someone he thought might be going places. What he paid forward has paid back.

“You have to build trust in your relationships in good times so people are there when you need them.”

He has long known, well before he sought office, that one’s responsibilities extend to supporting a community. When the mayor called, he’d join a task force or help with a study or furnish insight.

“I’ve always felt I had a duty.”

He peppers his explanations of his tasks with ceaseless credit to others administering the city’s $260 million budget. I tell him that his praise of his city manager, Peter Sparanese, might provoke a request for a raise. He says he’ll leave that inference to me to write about or not, but gently notes that his team isn’t there for the money but for the opportunity to serve.

“I have learned to appreciate that in people.”

And the two-term mayor who insists he was never a natural communicator – “I almost didn’t run as a councillor because I knew I was going to have to be a public speaker” – is now a virtuoso in the craft. He understands the value of getting out ahead of an issue with his community and his staff, “to be honest with them,” recognizing reasonably that there is such a thing as too much information. “I could go on for hours.”

Like most any leader, there is what Braun describes as an earlier “dark side” backstory of power and position consuming the persona. He can point to an epiphany in September 1988, and the new man who emerged “had to go back and apologize” to many whose friendships he’d risked.

Like most any leader, too, he glories his life partner, Velma, their 50th anniversary only in April, with a line heard often and in this instance meant clearly: “If it wasn’t for her, I couldn’t do this.” He has lost 11 pounds in 19 days, but she told him he could use losing 20. That’s what partners are for: to hear about the day’s curveball, talk about what can be done and not be taken too seriously.

There are few diversions to the disciplined life: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy weeknights to get away from the news for a bit, Tim McGraw’s Be Humble and Be Kind and Rosemary Siemens’ Closer to Thee My God to play when the moment requires, then back again of course to Scripture and its solace.

His discipline now delivers him to the next purpose of reclamation and rebuilding.

“We have the best soils in Canada,” he says, but speaks sorrowfully of the social and economic setback these floods will impose.

The blueberry farms, in particular, will be four or five years from producing, so it will be the task of governments to have the backs of their citizens – and, for that matter, of Abbotsford writ large, which will lack the tax base to pay for anything approaching the 10-figure damage. It will also be time, at last, to spend on infrastructure. The flood threat was no secret or surprise.

“We have understood this for 30 years.”

He has not decided whether to run again next fall. He will give it until April or May. He is sanguine about his rock, er, country star status; in politics, the knives always come out, so there is no need to unsheathe them early. Meantime, in chaos that would buckle many leaders, Braun feels upheld by a “peace that surpasses all understanding.” •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



Vancouver craft fair featuring local artists, designers going online for second year

It's time for the Toque Craft Fair again

The Western Front's winter craft fair is going digital again this year | Marko Geber/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The Toque Craft Fair, normally held in person, is once again headed to a digital marketplace.

It's the second year in a row the craft fair has gone digital after the pandemic pushed it online in 2020.

“Vendors and visitors responded very enthusiastically to Toque Craft Fair being online last year," says coordinator Meghan Latta in a press release. "Having the event online has made it possible to extend the time the fair runs, and to support online purchasing from the comfort of one’s home through an easy-to-navigate website and a no-fuss pickup after the fair has ended."

With some people still feeling uneasy about the idea of shopping in person, the decision was made to return to the digital model.

It'll feature 30 B.C.-based artists and designers over five days, from Wednesday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 5.

While shopping and purchasing will take place virtually, customers will have to pick items up at Western Front, the artist-run not-for-profit centre behind Toque.

"Since the early 1970s, Western Front has held a winter holiday craft fair for local artists and designers to showcase and sell handmade goods, and as a fundraiser for Western Front’s artistic program," says Latta in the release.

Partial proceeds from sales during the Toque Craft Fair go towards artistic programs at the centre.


Tickets for Vancouver's run of blockbuster musical Hamilton go on sale next week

Fans looking for tickets might want to save these links

Hamilton will be playing in Vancouver May 24 to June 19, 2022 | Joan Marcus / Hamilton And Peggy National Tour

For fans of historical musicals Dec. 9 is the date to mark on the calendar.

That's when tickets for the massive blockbuster production of Hamilton go on sale for the Vancouver run of shows, which take place from May 24 to June 19, 2022 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Tickets will range, with most running from $69 to $209. Some premium tickets will go for $249. People can buy a maximum of nine tickets.

There's also going to be a lottery for $10 tickets; each performance will have 40 such tickets (details for that will be released closer to the date of the performances).

While tickets will be on sale Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. via Ticket Master, there will be a presale for American Express Cardmembers on Dec. 6 and 7.

Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America's 'founding fathers.' Its various casts have won a variety of awards, including 10 Tonys, a Pulitzer, a Grammy, and an Emmy.

Tickets will be on sale at 10 a.m. on the Broadway Across Canada website, the Ticket Master site or via phone at 1-855-985-5000.




Massive photo collection from historic Vancouver photographer donated to city

Images offer glimpses into the lives of Vancouver residents from the first half of the 20th century

A portrait of Vancouver photographer Yucho Chow in 1945. Yucho Chow / City of Vancouver Archives 2021-034.579

A massive collection of photos from Vancouver's history spanning four decades has been donated to the city's archives.

The collection is the work of Yucho Chow, one of the earliest photographers in Vancouver. As such, the variety of photos in the archive is broad, ranging from family portraits to notable events to celebrity sightings.

"The collection grew out of the work of curator Catherine Clement, who began researching photographer Yucho Chow in 2011," writes the City of Vancouver Archives on their website.

Chow arrived in Canada in 1902 in his mid-20s after growing up in China, paying the Head Tax to move to the young country.

He established his studio at 68 West Hastings Street (now an empty lot in Gastown) and brought in a range of customers, including many newcomers to Canada. The studio bounced around a little in Chinatown, and was eventually passed to Chow's sons Peter and Phillip when he passed in 1949. They ran it until 1986 when they retired.


Ching Won Ching Won Music Society inThe 1939 after they won an award for helping Chinese war refugees. They participated in a fundraiser that raised $25,000. Yucho Chow / City of Vancouver Archives 2021-034.085


"Chow welcomed clients from any background, and as such, his work documents diverse communities that have traditionally been excluded from dominant narratives of Vancouver’s history," notes the archive.

Chow's work was lost when the negatives were destroyed when the business closed, but Clement was able to reassemble a huge collection of his work. She went on to hold an exhibition of his work in 2019 and published a book of his photos in 2020; it just won the 2020 City of Vancouver Book Award.

"The donation of the Yucho Chow Community Archive collection is a significant contribution to filling in gaps in the Archives’ holdings and supporting a richer, more diverse, and more accurate reflection of Vancouver’s history and people," notes the archive.


What are we reading? December 2, 2021

Brooke Anderson Photography/Getty Images

Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web.


Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor

This story by Tyler Olsen of the Fraser Valley Current details the history of Sumas Prairie, shedding light on the flood crisis in the region. Ditto his piece on the Nooksack River. – Fraser Valley Current


The bad news about the supply chain trouble now short-circuiting world commerce is that it has never been this bad, according to this Q&A between three business columnists and an economist. The good news is that the problem appears to have already peaked and may be on the mend. – Bloomberg


Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

If you don't have time to stroll through the past 4.6 billion years of life on Earth, here's a Next Big Idea Club distillation of some of the highlights from A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth.


While you’re in your local solar system, you might also want to have a look at what could be the next big breakthrough in solar power generation courtesy of University of Cambridge researchers.


COVID vaccines, folding phones, supersonic hair dryers, wireless speakers with 3D audio, guitar amps that fit on key chains, amphibious motorboats, robo-vacuum cleaners among the list of 2021's top 100 greatest inventions, according to Popular Science