Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rethinking dev.idaho

I'll never forget the very first discussions about what would eventually become the dev.idaho conference. It was 2010 or 2011, and we were just putting together the ITC software alliance. 

Matt Rissell was the president of the software alliance, and I was the chair of the education committee (I didn't work for Matt at the time. I was still at SAP and had a trip to WhiteCloud in my future). Matt kept saying we needed a "big event". I thought it was a terrible idea. We were a group of volunteers giving everything we had to just make a difference with our small community initiatives. Typical short-sighted engineer response on my part, but I felt we were spread thin already and an event would be an absolute waste of time.

I chose to focus on my committee and abstained from all planning and discussions about the event. This was my first experience with Matt's persuasive personality and his ability to get people around him to step up to a challenge. It was also my first experience with Martin Hambalek's project management and planning capabilities. I would learn over the years that both are incredibly capable and this single event was not an anomaly. 

I attended the first dev.idaho event, which was paired with Tech Cocktail, and I was blown away. The community showed up, the startup showcase was a blast, the speakers were great with awesome stories to tell, Mark Solon dropped some F-bombs and after the event a number of attendees shut down The Modern. It was an experience to say the least!

Over the years, Martin's team has organized multiple events that fill the gap between a developer conference like Boise CodeCamp, and an entrepreneur or business conference.

This year's agenda is a departure from the format used the last couple of years and promises to entertain, educate and motivate like never before. A fantastic keynote from Hadi Partovi of code.org combined with numerous panel discussions from local software peers and a new networking format should make this a brand new experience even for those who have attended the event in the past.

I encourage everyone to attend the redesigned dev.idaho event, contribute to the discussions, network with your peers, and remember why we loved the first event so much.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

I despise Hackfort and dev.idaho, and I will attend EVERY year

When push comes to shove, I despise attending Hackfort and dev.idaho. But I will go EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.


I’m a sucker for people who have an idea, a vision, and execute on it. I love people who DO THINGS versus talk about things. I love people passionate about Boise and software, and even if only a small group of them assemble at these events, I want to be around them and talk to them.


I have no affiliation with Hackfort, but nothing but respect for volunteers who can get four to five hundred software engineers to assemble in a single place at a specific time.


Three themes emerged during discussions at Hackfort today that come up every single time Boise developers and entrepreneurs assemble, and they all drive me freaking crazy:

  1. Lack of funding in Boise
  2. Inability to pull software developers from their “day jobs” to work on a startup
  3. How we stay involved as a community and meet more frequently


Topic number one is BS. If you have a great idea, you can find funding anywhere and develop your product from Idaho. Better yet, bootstrap with a few angel investors (even if they aren’t from Boise) and build something cool. The reality is rather than being short on funding, we are short on innovative ideas. It’s hard to stomach and say out loud, but money is easy to find if your idea is sound. It’s too easy to blame a lack of funding when the reality is we are short on awesome ideas and teams that can execute on them.


Topic number two is also BS, but I understand the frustration. If your idea is compelling, and developers think it will work, they will help you build it. The problem is software engineers today are in high demand, often very well compensated, and they are very likely happily employed. When you offer no salary and limited equity in something that is simply an idea, you shouldn’t be frustrated when they are not chomping at the bit to drop everything and join your new venture. Believe it or not, they are people too, and have families to support. They are by definition risk-averse and analytical type-A personalities. I’m sorry your super-popular and personable high school quarterback friend can’t build out the infrastructure for your new product idea, but that’s the way things go. Offer developers an awesome salary and equity, or expect to be shot down. I’m sorry, but that is reality.


Topic number three should be so simple, but even I struggled today with a simple answer to the question of “how do I get involved or connect with the Boise dev community." The reality is, there are a LOT of software user groups, and a lot of entrepreneur groups meeting regularly in Boise. The Idaho Technology Council has a page listing a ton of meet-up groups (http://www.idahotechcouncil.org/local-places-techies-network). Myself and some friends agree there should be an easy to remember URL to find a list of active groups, and next week we will start something up so in the future we as a community can answer this question with a simple URL. Update: We're starting with a easy URL that redirects to the ITC page for now, and we'll build out a better (and more dynamic) site as we can: gemstate.io


What do we need to do to build Boise’s tech startup community? Simple:


1) Build awesome, compelling products and companies
2) Stay in Boise when you exit the business
3) Stay in Boise and keep building your business (never exit)


Build cool products and services, and if you have a liquidity event, please stay in Boise and build something else. That’s it. We should all be striving for this. It isn’t easy and it won't happen overnight, but until we reach critical mass, nothing is going to change and we will continue to attend events where all we do is fantasize about being the next big “tech hub."

Update: Most of the conversation around this post happened when Jess posted it on Facebook. You can read those comments here.