Like many people around this time of year, you might be thinking about new years’ resolutions, and if you’re a particularly involved member of the Sun Coast, Central Florida, or “Orlampa” tech communities, you may be asking yourself “What can we do to make our little corner of the world better for tech and techies?”
If this sounds like you, you should read this lengthy, but information-rich article, Create more value than you capture: An oral history of Toronto product development. It’s a history of the Toronto tech scene, which grew from a place that you left if you wanted to make your mark in tech into the place to be.
How did Toronto’s tech scene grow from moribund in 2005 to massive in 2017? A good chunk of the answer is pictured above: it was the people who made up Toronto’s tech community. They got organized, started holding gatherings where they could meet and exchange ideas, and that led to them getting together professionally, forming companies, making things, getting involved with city hall, and doing all the little things that make a place a great one for tech.
I lived in Toronto until 2014, and was part of a group of community builders that helped build up the scene. I was merely the scene’s court jester; the true credit goes to David Crow, who is Toronto’s greatest tech evangelist. He deserves a lot of credit for why Toronto’s tech scene is bustling today.
One of our big achievements was DemoCamp, a “show and tell” for local techies where you could present the project you were working on, personal or commercial, to an audience of your peers. There were only a couple of simple rules:
- There’s a time limit (originally 15 minutes, but eventually cut down to 5).
- No slides allowed! The only thing you were allowed to project on the big screen was your software in action.
- You had to take 5 minutes of questions afterward.
The first DemoCamp was attended by a dozen or so people in a startup boardroom in a converted warehouse. Only a couple of years later, DemoCamp grew so much that it was held in theatres and lecture halls that could hold hundreds.
Byte Club, a local YouTube channel at the time, did a piece on DemoCamp which captures what Toronto’s tech scene was like during those days:
We can borrow Toronto’s (and other places’) tricks
Go read Create more value than you capture, and then think about how we can apply the Toronto tech scene’s experience to Tampa Bay and Orlando. We’ve got some of the elements in place already:
- An influx of people, what with the 4th-highest population growth in the U.S..
- Technology companies, both big and small, doing their part to help grow the local tech scene (including the one I work for, Sourcetoad).
- A core of community-minded techies who are willing to do the legwork, and put together events, including the second-largest BarCamp in the country, the PoweredUP Technology Festival, DevFest Florida, the “Hack Hospitality” hackathon, and more.
- Places to gather. We took a big hit in losing the Iron Yard’s fantastic space, but we still have Tampa Bay WaVE’s FirstWaVE Venture Center, the Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, office spaces generously donated by Wolters Kluwer, AgileThought, Microsoft, Valpak, Sourcetoad, and other local heroes.
We also have challenges, not the least of which is that we’re three cities separated by a bay. The local low cost of living is both a blessing and a curse — it keeps expenses down, but it also keeps salaries — especially the kind that keep bright tech talent — down as well. Part of what keeps Toronto’s tech scene cohesive is its transit system, and Tampa’s, to put it kindly, needs work. None of these is insurmountable.
During my time as a tech evangelist with OpenCola, Tucows, Microsoft, Shopify, and GSG from 2000 through 2014, I’ve seen and helped a number of tech scenes cities in Canada and the U.S. take form. Now that I live in Tampa, I’d like to help do the same here. Watch for me in 2018: I’ll be doing my part in the Tampa Bay-and-beyond tech scenes, helping out, spreading the word, and lending my experience wherever I can. I hope that you’ll do the same.