Defining Success

Coming out of Rick’s excellent presentation on the State of Portland Tech there’s been some discussion of whether this community is succeeding. Aaron Hockley reminds us that there are really multiple communities here, so I want to talk about metrics that make sense, even with this overlapping set of groups we call a community.

First: we have at least two major subgroups looking for different kinds of outcomes. There’s the business-oriented professional technology subset that’s interested in specific economic activity: startups, growing businesses, investment. At the same time there’s a sort of bohemian technologically-mediated social activity taking place among people who define themselves as writers, hackers, and explorers of what technology can do. Positive outcomes for this set involve interaction, new ideas, experimental projects.

I firmly believe that barring significant shortages of labor or monetary capital, or highly dysfunctional governance, communities build what they need. We can have different outcomes in mind and still talk about success in that context. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Can we earn a living? Without food and shelter, everything else is moot.
  • Is there room for new ideas to incubate? I found this comment on Boing Boing relevant:
    Cheap real estate is only part of [bohemian places] — but there have to be (pause to smile) community organizers … — and hospitable places to lounge, not in isolation, but among other bohemians.. to do the silly intense version of next-to-nothing bohemians do. Performing and partying come next, then distributing artifacts (texts, music, art etc).

    Creative activity needs a lot of space to shake things out, and it may not look especially productive at the time.

  • Can we grow into what we want to be? This needs business funding, but also educational opportunities, social support, and the autonomy for each of us to determine where we want to end up. I think this may be the hardest piece to pull off, but essential to really thrive.

So that’s my take. Do you have what you need? Are you building it? Why or why not?

7 responses to “Defining Success

  1. Nicely done, Audrey. I’d add one more question to the three you ask in your closing statement: “If not, do you know who can help?”

    This sticks out for me because some techs like to consider themselves an island – the old “if I can’t build it/find it/get it myself, then it’s less valuable…” perception.

    Or maybe that’s part of the evolutionary shift we’ve been seeing lately – more communal/collaborative (am thinking of Calagator code sprints as my example here.)

  2. Audrey,

    The subject of how small, grassroots initiatives like us can impact how our industry and city’s prosperity and growth is one that I’ve been thinking and working with for the past two or so months! I like how you point out factors that will encourage this.

    But for it to happen, I believe that there must be buy in from the city level: there are policies that can be written to encourage rooms for new ideas incubation to grow. We’re also, then, doing our part in taking the initiative to plan and build the community itself.

    Thanks for writing an excellent article!

  3. When it comes to the creative, collaborative type of “infrastructure” (if you want to call it that) we’ve bot plenty of it here in PDX. There’s some kind of a *Camp almost every weekend now. Places like CubeSpace (which has become a much depended-on resource now for the tech community) and FreeGeek offer free/cheap venues for various talks (not to mention companies like AboutUs and Galois providing free space).

    But here’s the thing: making money is going to be very tough for the next 12 to 24 months – at _least_. We need to to be collaborating on surviving this downturn (this I think is the focus of ThrivePDX as I understand it) because it’s going to be at least as bad as the tech wreck which for those who were here in Portland at that time was a very grim time. Still, though, eventually this recession or depression or whatever it is will end and in the meantime we can start working on the basis for that recovery here. I would suggest more free training sessions where people offer to swap their expertise. You may know Rails, I may know Haskell. I’ll teach you Haskell in return for you teaching me Rails, for example. We need to focus on keeping our skillsets up to date as well as expanding our skills during the downturn in which many of us will go through long bouts of un- or underemployment. This may extend to other non-tech skills like veggie gardening or raising chickens.

    Yes, we’re looking at some really tough times ahead, but if you listen to stories of people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s they will generally always emphasize that it was the tough times that brought people closer together and built community.

  4. Hey, I finally found Audrey’s blog!

    I’m definitely in the second group, and I think I also need to answer your questions for myself, on a personal level. Thanks for the nudge!

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