We need vision and collaboration

This is my final comment in this thread – in reference to a comment that we should to create a mega event like SXSW… (I have more to say about this idea, actually, because a large group of us discussed the possibility in detail, and why we thought it wouldn’t work.)

I don’t know much about how SXSW is structured inside, but I do know that they are providing a a unified vision for the conference. That has attracted not just more organizing power, but a huge, devoted attendee and presenter pool.

Stepping out on a limb – perhaps the issue here is more that a vision has not been offered which attracts the groups that you want to collaborate with. Collaboration is not the same thing as aggregation.

Portland tech groups collaborate with each other all the time, but they are loose affiliations and focused on what provides the most value for the limited resources we have. I’ll also say that they are joyful connections – based on mutual benefit, friendship and an outcome whose goal is not just a product, but also having fun.

We often have conversations with each other about how we can make things less expensive, smaller and more fun, rather than how we can grow larger.

It’s possible to have this mindset exist within a larger framework that might encompass it all. It just takes time, trust building, and work to find connections that truly benefit the community. The direct, local benefit should be considered first, and maybe involve promotion outside of our community second. Maybe third.

The tech community has regular, free-form events on Thursday nights at the Lucky Lab, and periodic meetings on Saturdays around OS Bridge. I won’t be here this week, but definitely will be next week. 🙂

I’d be happy to talk with you or anyone else how we might create a larger framework.

Whatever it is needs to be something which can be incrementally built up, and I don’t know that a mega event is what we really need.

Space and time to help our neighbors

I wrote the following in response to Mark Lawler’s original post.

Hey Mark,

We’ve never met. I’m not currently on the board of Legion of Tech, but was one of the founding board members.

I currently am chair of the Open Source Bridge conference and am deeply involved in the open source community both in Portland and throughout the world.

It saddens me deeply to read what you’ve written.

As a person who devotes a substantial amount of her time to volunteering in technical communities, and is also a full-time software developer, I know that the volunteers who work on tech events are the life-blood of our community. Without them, and the incredible number of hours they volunteer, we would have no portland tech “scene”, “community” or an environment that new tech companies or startups would consider being part of.

As points of reference around “decay” – Reductive Labs, a VC-funded startup that develops an open source product, moved to Portland *because* of our vibrant, diverse tech scene. Small Society, Raven Zachary’s consultancy, stayed in Portland because he loves it here – and he is a fixture in our community. Urban Airship (VC funded) is made up of Pythonistas and advocates who have been regulars and organizers of user groups like PDX Python and a new-ish Django group. @al3x, a lead developer at Twitter, is moving to Portland from the bay area next month and will be joining Rael Dornfest, who develops the user experience for Twitter. ShopIgniter just got funded and is hiring.

These are just the examples I have off the top of my head – were I to consult the Silicon Florist blog, I’m sure a dozen more would immediately pop out.

When I look at our community, I see productivity, diversity, opportunity and passion. I see acceleration.

Drumming for consolidation seems to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what could be done further to best serve the needs of this community. That’s what these volunteers do – they directly serve the needs of the Portland tech community.

Their goal isn’t to be on a national radar – their goal is to be productive citizens, making the place that they live better. It’s great when others notice, but we work for the gratitude of our neighbors and friends, not national recognition.

And, so, when thinking about the fragmentation, I recommend that you consider whether what you are saying and doing is providing a space and time for people to help their neighbors. Because that’s ultimately what matters to us.

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)

This town needs…

There was a thread in a walled garden recently asking the question: “Why can’t we all just get along?” This was in response to a difficult parting of ways between organizations in Portland trying to run a couple events cooperatively.

Unfortunately, the thread was deleted, so even if you were to join the group at this point, the conversation is lost. Fortunately, I saved a copy and can quote from it in the future as needed!

The situation, as I saw it described, is that some people think of the grass-roots organized groups as obstinate. As unwilling, and possibly opposed, to compromise. The phrase “stubborn demands of individuality” was used to describe the problem the original poster brought up.

In any growing, functional organization or community, there will be conflict. What matters is how we handle that conflict.

I plan on re-posting my original comments here in my blog because I want the thoughts and conversations that were started inside a closed space to come out into the open.

There’s certainly an opportunity in Portland for the many lovely, energetic and productive volunteer groups to pool our talents and resources. Some of that energy has certainly been pooled to produce Open Source Bridge, for which I am enormously grateful.

So, the question in my mind is should we also be doing something else? And if so, what would that something else be?

And by something — I mean just about anything. I’ve never counted, but I’d guess based on the groups and events that I’ve attended that we have well over 1000 volunteers in our technology communities in Portland. Add in the larger professional organizations, and I’m sure we’ve got over 10,000 people in the Portland area (and Vancouver!) whose involvement we could count on.

Let’s hatch a plan.

There’s a push to look outward, and to speak outward. To get “press attention”, which to some, means success. I don’t agree.

We need a different vision. Our communities are ones of people who *do* things. (I’d even go so far to say we have a ‘do-ocracy‘.) We make things, we share them and then we make more things. Certainly there’s room in our communities for people who help us share what we’re doing. But we can’t talk about things we haven’t done.

Anything that enhances our community, must help us do things. Change must make collaboration easier, sharing better and involvement in our communities even more rewarding than it already is.

So, help me. What does success look like to you? What do you wish that you could get out of our technology groups, but don’t?