Affirma opened an office in Fayetteville in July and has already outgrown the space, according to founder Mark Mason. The company is adding a new office in the UARK complex at 641 W. Dickson St. in Fayetteville, close to the existing office.
Mason said he chose Northwest Arkansas as the place where he would grow his machine learning lab and also ramp up hiring for software engineers through an apprenticeship program the company is conducting with the help of Arkansas Center for Data Sciences in Little Rock.
He said the caliber of software engineering talent he has been able to source locally is stellar. He said working with the University of Arkansas to place interns has worked out great as he has been able to employ them upon graduation. He has added a local recruiter and plans to make 3 to 5 new hires each semester. He plans to employ 100 or more technology professionals in the region over the next five to six years.
“With this new space we hope to be adding more than 10 new positions each year and we are also looking for talent outside the traditional university setting,” Mason said.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Affirma was founded in 2001 and has grown revenues to about $50 million, nearly doubling revenue since 2016. The company consistently ranks among the top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine.
Beginning in April, and in cooperation with the Arkansas Center of Data Sciences, Affirma will begin recruiting through an apprenticeship program.
“We know there are people who have not formally studied data science that can do the work. We hope this will create another talent pipeline for us as we continue to grow the business in Northwest Arkansas,” Mason said.
He said apprenticeships would be paid positions with full company benefits. He said it would take between 18 months and 3 years for them to become a software architect. But there would be incentives and pay raises along the way as the candidates learn the trade. The primary focus of these apprentice positions would be to service clients who use the Microsoft Sharepoint system.
“I just don’t believe Seattle is the best place for me to grow a diverse national engineering center. With intense competition and high cost of living it’s getting tougher and tougher for me to find the quality recruits I need. We love that Northwest Arkansas is centrally located in the U.S. and also has a nice quality of life aspect with good schools, cultural amenities and lower cost of living,” Mason said.
Affirma is growing its business and has spread roots to Romania, Ireland and India with offices in Los Angeles and Reno. The company employs roughly 475 people with half being software engineers and the other half working in the company’s business process outsourcing program.
“We love this area so much that we are moving our new machine learning unit to Fayetteville. The unit is small with three engineers at this time, but believe it will be one of the fastest-growing segments of the business in the next few years,” Mason said.
He said this small unit is already working on multiple artificial intelligence machine learning projects for clients and helping them sort massive amounts of data into meaningful insights.
Ironically, Mason said Affirma does not have a single client in Arkansas, yet, though it does business with Microsoft and dozens of other multinational companies serving the health, pharmaceutical, retail distribution and other business sectors.
Mason said one of the biggest surprises he has experienced since investing in Northwest Arkansas is the overwhelming support from everyone he meets.
“Everyone seems to want me to succeed. I am looking forward to meeting more folks in the tech community in the two counties and seeing how Affirma can plugin locally,” Mason said.