Portland High Tech Groups are Portland Software’s Own Worst Enemies

I had really hoped to be able to share the entire conversation with you, and fortunately I have gotten permission to do so!

I’m reposting Mark Lawler‘s original post to a LinkedIn forum with his permission below. Tomorrow, I’ll post my response. I welcome constructive comments and want to keep this an open forum for discussion.

But a warning: Some people have had a very emotional reaction to Mark’s words, including myself. I very much want to hear people’s thoughts and responses. However, please think for a moment before you post, and keep your comments to things that you would say to Mark were you to meet him in person.

He also wanted to provide some context for his comments:

I do ask that you be an honest broker in rehosting this under the following context (you can quote below):

  • Groups and individuals leading these groups honoring commitments; our word should really be our bond
  • That even though we have many wonderful diverse communities in PDX we do seem to sometimes dive down in to technical and business model “religious” wars
  • There are real stereotypes attributed to Portland and Portland’s high-tech scene that doesn’t do us any favors
  • Perhaps working collaboratively on an event or two a year and drawing press attention through a critical mass wouldn’t be a bad thing (there is some of this going on and it is a good thing)
  • There is real economic value in the bigger picture for all of us in this industry if we can do this to help promote the Silicon Forest

And here is Mark’s original post:

Portland High Tech Groups Are Portland Software’s Own Worst Enemies
By Mark Lawler

Portland has a very vibrant software community. It is one that is quite diverse and covers the entire technology spectrum and represents nearly every business model imaginable. With this diversity comes the desire for each of us to associate with various groups and communities that better represent our interests and sometimes our own ways of thinking. That said, Portland also has a cancer, and that illness manifests itself in how these groups just cannot seem to work together for the common good. The cause? Perhaps it is the strong desire for each of these groups to maintain its own individuality, autonomy, brand identity. Perhaps it is the entrepreneurial pull to forge one’s own ground and to be different from what is already out there. However, it is this bifurcation and standoffishness between the various high tech groups in Portland that is holding us back as we watch the Silicon Forest as a whole slowly decay.

I was just in a meeting last Thursday with Skip Newberry, the Economic Development Policy Advisor for the Office of the Mayor of Portland. With me were key members of some local high tech groups that put on local events to benefit their individual segments of the Portland high-tech community. Our pitch to the Mayor’s Office was simple: It is through all of us working together as a unified front that Portland will be able to combat some of its more silly, yet detrimental stereotypes regarding its software community and industry. That together we could combat the incorrect notions that developers in Portland suffer from “Portland Lazy” disease or that Portland doesn’t have a very rich pool of high-tech talent for companies to leverage. In a unified front four groups were working together to have a mega event in May where they were pooling interests and resources to help Portland in its quest to get itself and the Silicon Forest back on the national radar. We were asking the Mayor’s office if they would be willing to attend the event and use one of the sessions to highlight Portland’s Economic Development plan for the local software industry to the attendees that were interested in learning more about it and sharing their own thoughts while at the same time highlight how we are all working together. During this discussion we talked about Portland’s historic past of having various technical communities and groups working against each other and fighting various technical and business model “religious” wars and how this one event in May was very significant in showing that we could all work together.

You can only imagine my surprise when I learned the very next day that the board of directors for the one of the groups had met Thursday night, that same night that one of their board members had attended this meeting with the Mayor’s office with the rest of us, and decided to pull out of the event.

Now I’m not going to speculate as to why they decided to do it. We all have our reasons for changing our minds. However, I am going to comment on is how this action, just in the very nature of its timing and its impact, is exactly what is wrong with the Portland software community. I love Portland and Portland software. With the time that I spend as a volunteer I work every day to help promote and grow this industry. I pine over the return to the heyday of the Silicon Forest and work hard through the success of the companies I work for and the great products I deliver along with these volunteer efforts to claw our way back.

I have just two questions… Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t we all drop the inane focus on our individual charters, beliefs and the stubborn demands of individuality to try to work together for the common good of Portland Software and the growth of the industry in Oregon? I ask everybody in high tech sweep away the individual chips on our shoulders and to come together to rally for this common good. If we don’t work together we will go the way of the tanners, textile, shipbuilding, and forestry workers before us. I find that result both uninteresting and unacceptable…

You can contact Mark at: @mark_lawler; http://www.linkedin.com/in/marklawler)

2 thoughts on Portland High Tech Groups are Portland Software’s Own Worst Enemies

Comments are closed.

  1. First thank you again to @selenamarie for continuing this conversation. Also a big thank you goes to @mark_lawler for starting this conversation and sharing your view.

    Mark, I don’t think we’ve met, but I can tell that you are passionate and have a very different perspective of the community then I do. I appreciate your efforts to get the mayors office more involved in our community. While I feel that more involvement is not always a good thing, I do see the benefit in this case.

    As for all of us coming together to share a single vision, I would love to see it happen, but I don’t think that is a fair expectation. There are many individuals, that are part of many different groups, that all have different expectations. Being able to reconcile these down to a single mission statement for the entire community is not going to fairly represent everyone. Yes there are likely to be lots that we can all agree on, but there are going to be things that some individuals or groups will not be able to compromise on, and I think that is fair to allow.

    For a quick current events example, lets take a look at the health care debate, even when both sides realize that something needs to be done, the actions that need to be taken to get there are not agreed on by all parties. I feel that your post takes the stance that because everyone in the community is in the community that we should intrinsically have some course of action to the same goal.

    For me I am a member of a few groups, I assist in organizing one, and I used to run another. I’ve given talks, I conceder my self involved, but I’ve never run for LoT, so I might be missing out on some global community planning. But if we are to have this single community mission statement, some path to a greater place, where is the outreach to me? I’ve been involved in conversations with other members of the community about what we think that the future should look like, but they all happen in the context of the groups that I belong. This conversation here on selena’s blog is the closest thing that I can remember that comes close to even starting the process of a shared community view, and this is not likely to be the correct forum for getting everyone involved.

    So to that end, I completely agree with your concept that we can do better, because I feel that we can. Though for this to work we do need to all come together, but because we are all are currently autonomous units, that needs to be understood and respected. This community is a biological system, and the only reason that any self supporting system will break its current method of success is if there is a perceived benefit to change. So how would this shared goal help my groups? I have to be sold, I like what I have now, what’s in it for me?

    Again thank you @mark_lawler for sharing your opinions, and allowing @selenamarie to repost here for the rest to join in the conversation. I do feel that even though we might not see eye to eye, that this is important.

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