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For these tech grads, the job choice is theirs

Wentworth data tell tale of hiring

Jonathan Brucato, Brad Powers, Lauren Viera, and Joe Ristaino are set to graduate from Wentworth Institute of Technology. Jonathan Brucato, Brad Powers, Lauren Viera, and Joe Ristaino are set to graduate from Wentworth Institute of Technology. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / April 19, 2011

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Joe Ristaino just did something that would have been unimaginable a year or two ago: He turned down a job offer.

In August, Ristaino, 21, will graduate from Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology with what’s become a golden key to a high-paying starter job: a bachelor’s degree in computer networking.

EMC Corp., the giant data storage company in Hopkinton where he had interned, liked him enough to offer a full-time job. But he declined, instead taking a position with data networking titan Cisco Systems Inc., another company where he’d interned, that included a move to the warmer climate of North Carolina and a starting salary of $72,600, not counting benefits.

“I’ve basically got my dream job, and I couldn’t be happier,’’ Ristaino said.

For many Wentworth students, finding a good, well-paying first job is proving to be a lot easier than it was a couple of years ago. As the US economic recovery appears to gather steam, a new survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies expect to hire 19 percent more college graduates this year than in 2010, the biggest one-year increase since 2007. And most of those new jobs are concentrated in Wentworth’s sweet spot: engineering and computer science.

About 90 percent of Wentworth’s students have a job, or are in graduate school, within six months of graduation.

“We’re seeing a lot of hope and a lot of changes since the recession in most of the disciplines our students go into,’’ said Gregory Denon, Wentworth’s director of career services. In Ristaino’s specialty of computer networking, “we have more jobs than we have graduating students,’’ Denon said.

More than 130 companies showed up to recruit students at Wentworth’s annual career fair last month, 40 more than in 2010. And employers have posted 408 jobs on the college career website, compared to 182 last year.

The surge is strong at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, know for its engineering programs. “We definitely have seen recruiting pick up this year,’’ said Melanie Parker, MIT’s executive director of career services. The university’s spring job fair last week was packed, with recruiters from 35 would-be employers; another 30 companies were turned away for lack of space.

There’s intense demand for top students from top schools — and those students “are definitely in the driver’s seat right now,’’ said Scott Dunlop, founder of the Bivium Group, a Belmont company that recruits workers for high-tech firms. “There’s definitely some significant bidding wars out there, but I wouldn’t say it’s as crazy and over the top as it is on the West Coast.’’

Yet in Massachusetts, “it’s certainly heading in that direction, for the best of the best,’’ he said.

In especially high demand are software developers who write apps, programs that perform specific tasks, for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. “It has always been super difficult for us to find qualified mobile developers,’’ said Christos Kombouras, head of sales at MobiLaurus, a 13-person Boston company that produces custom mobile software for restaurants and other businesses. “We are looking to double our team this year.’’

MobiLaurus, which did some recruiting at the MIT career fair, offers starting salaries of $65,000 to $75,000 to recent graduates, as well as grants of company stock. But the company must contend for top-notch candidates against other firms. “We were able to snatch one away from a larger company,’’ Kombouras said, but it was a break-even deal: A MobiLaurus employee was poached by a competitor.

TripAdvisor LLC, an online travel service based in Newton, also visited the MIT fair in search of mobile software talent. “People who have those areas on their resumes are incredibly in demand,’’ said Adam Medros, TripAdvisor’s vice president of global product.

Medros said his company offers a few perks to entice new hires, such as free lunch three times a week and Friday afternoon happy hours with free beer. But he mainly relies on competitive salaries, and TripAdvisor’s stature as a successful travel website with millions of customers. “If you come here,’’ said Medros, “you’re going to build something that people are going to use.’’

There’s also plenty of demand for workers in other engineering fields. Ray Weatherby, director of imaging at medical device maker ConforMIS Inc. in Burlington, came to Wentworth in search of computer-aided design engineers to work on the company’s line of replacement knee joints. He’s got a couple of Wentworth students in his sights. “We haven’t officially hired any of them yet, but that’s simply because they haven’t yet graduated,’’ he said.

Wentworth offers degrees in many other engineering disciplines, including civil engineering and other construction-related disciplines. But Denon said demand for those kinds of engineers is not nearly as hot as in the technology fields.

In times like these, technology skills can translate into a good living for the right graduates. Like many students, Ristaino has other interests; he plays drums, and sometimes wishes he could make a career in music. But the chancy life of a musician can’t measure up against those steady and sizable checks from Cisco.

“I like drumming, and I like being in a band,’’ said Ristaino, “but when it comes down to it, I pride myself on having a solid career.’’

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.