Union Pacific Opens Austin Software Development Center - InformationWeek
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Union Pacific Opens Austin Software Development Center

CIO Lynden Tennison goes where the talent is to build his development team.

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In search of IT talent, Union Pacific, the U.S.'s largest railroad, is opening a software development center in Austin, Texas, that could employ up to 40 people. Union Pacific increasingly depends on tech talent for everything from developing analytics software to running one of the largest privately owned telecom operations.

But the railroad also faces the challenge of how to recruit tech hot shots into an industry and location that aren't top of mind for technologists. Union Pacific has centered its IT operations at its headquarters in Omaha, Neb. While Union Pacific has extensive internship and other outreach programs, Omaha is one of those "great place to raise a family" cities that can be tough to initially attract new talent. CIO Lynden Tennison says Union Pacific has been recruiting from Texas universities, but many candidates would prefer to live in Austin.

More companies in heavy industry and manufacturing will face a tech talent crunch as they increasingly become dependent on software and data analytics to run their companies or to embed software as part of their products.

[ The next great technology problems are out there in rail yards, power plants and farm fields. To drive tech innovation, Silicon Valley Needs To Get Out More. ]

General Motors recently opened an Austin office that could employ up to 500 people in software development and other IT specialties. CIO Randy Mott is opening four such development centers around the U.S., in locations chosen specifically for the IT talent there. Ford and GE opened Silicon Valley offices in the past year.

Union Pacific has a lot to offer a technologist. The railroad does considerable custom development of software used in areas such as predictive analytics to anticipate equipment failures and to optimize logistics on its 32,000 miles of track. The company also develops a lot of the software-plus-hardware systems that are needed onboard to operate a train.

Union Pacific also is working on a lot of the same automation problems applied to trains that Google is researching for the self-driving car. For railroads, it's part of a Congressional mandate (called Positive Train Control) to use technology to prevent accidents such as train collisions.

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