Notes and Comments from PDC Software Cluster Meeting #1

This is a bit off-the-cuff, since I didn’t take notes during the meeting, and ended up writing down what stuck in my head afterward. I’d appreciate if any other attendees want to leave comments with their own impressions and major topics to point out.

The participants:
Gerald Baugh, who is leading the software cluster project at the PDC
Thompson Morrison, from i-OP, the company the providing survey/analysis software the PDC is using
Harvey Mathews, formerly president of the SAO, advocate for increased investment in Portland tech businesses
Skip Newberry, Economic Development Policy Advisor to the mayor
Various familiar faces from the local tech scene, such as Rick Turoczy, Eva Schweber, me, Reid Beels, Betsy, J-P, Carolynn Duncan, Nate DiNiro
Other people I don’t know (seemed to be a mix of small tech business owners, people interested in startups, people with some tech/business experience (not so much rank-and-file developers or open source community members))

We met Wednesday (yesterday) in the w+k auditorium. The meeting started half an hour late (due to some sort of mix-up about refreshments, but I really wish they would have scrapped that and started without). [1]

Gerald reviewed the general purpose of the meeting (to talk about plans for developing the software cluster) and the specific plans for the session (an introduction, reviewing the results of the first survey, then breaking out into four groups based on the survey results). At this point I started to get a bit twitchy, because there didn’t seem to be any specific acknowledgment of the post-survey feedback they received, even though there were some indications they had changed around the break-out topics and added more survey analysis as a result. I felt the message was “we have a plan for this process, and we’re sticking to it”.

Thompson showed off some slides summarizing the initial survey results. In addition to what they released earlier, he also had charts comparing the responses of “indies” vs. “suits” (which made me feel like we’d been sent back to some late-90s “open source vs the corporations” battle). Indie was defined as five employees or fewer, which is really too low a point for big/small company distinctions. As Eva commented, that would make CubeSpace a “suit”—definitely not the case. IMX the company make-up doesn’t really start to change until much later (sometime around when you hire a HR person, or enough managers that the developers are more than two steps down the chain from the CEO).

It looks like they took their initial three interest-area categories (taxes, political engagement, and education) and shifted things around in response to post-survey discussion to make it education, networking, political engagement (including taxes), and investment. After the survey review, several attendees had questions about the topics selected and what they were intended to cover. There seemed to be significant overlap in what people thought fell under “education” and “networking” so we combined those topics into a single group.

Here’s what we talked about in the education/networking group:
* Portland has a significant resource for technical professional development in the form of user groups, unconferences, and similar volunteer activities
* This resource needs support to be sustainable, in the form of: spaces, sponsors, and sharing how-to information between organizers
* There’s also a major need for business training and mentoring, and few structures of the right shape to support it
* Developers need business people they can click with
* There’s a potential role for a fund-raising foundation to be the “bank” for smaller organizations providing technical events
* There’s also a possible role for the PDC to act as a broker to connect small groups with available vacant spaces in the city center
* Some discussion around connecting with K-12 and university education, what resources they have (like space), what we can offer (education/training, interaction with professionals in the field)
* Portland Ten is a good resource for the business training/mentoring, but we need more, and we need ways to connect people one-on-one
* Since “networking” makes some of us think of business networking meetings with sales people swapping cards, future survey questions and outreach should phrase things differently to communicate “meeting up with peers to talk about your work”
* In general there are jargon and communications differences between tech communities and business communities that need to be acknowledged in the software cluster project
* Portland may be a good city for starting businesses, and a good incubator, but we need to explore whether we want to be the kind of city where Jive can keep its executive headquarters. This could require changes in our attitude toward building businesses as well as the available infrastructure.

Afterward, Skip, Harvey, and Gerald went back through what each group talked about for the rest of us. I don’t think there were any big surprises in these conversations. If you read Silicon Florist, if you’re participating in discussions around town about the tech sector and funding, if you go to any community events, you’re probably reasonably aware of what concerns and questions were shared. The political engagement group raised questions about the role of the city and where state or other government levels are involved. The funding group talked about the mismatch between sources of funding and what we’re doing in Portland, and how it may help to target specific niches (like mobile development) to attract outside investors. There was a fair amount of overlap between what each group discussed, because I think it’s hard to talk about any piece of this without bringing in the whole picture. It’s all tied together.

Here’s the PDC’s plan now: they’re going to send out a summary with notes from this meeting in about a week and a half. They will be doing another survey (in a few weeks?). Then another meeting, another survey, another meeting. At this pace I’m guessing the process will run through about August.

I know they’re still in an information-gathering phase, but it would be very helpful to hear more from the PDC about what resources they are willing or able to put forward for the software cluster development project. I’d love to ask for a city-sponsored tech community center where we can all get together and work on our projects, but I suspect that’s not realistic, so I want to know what is. Can we expect fundraising help to support unconferences? Assistance as a property broker? Seed funding for companies? Setting up something like the OTBC to support Portland startups? There’s plenty of community energy around solving our own problems, but if the city and PDC are saying they’re going to be involved and support us, we need to know what sorts of options that includes.

Speaking of community energy: here’s another reminder about the Civic Engagement Meetup at Open Source Bridge. It’s 7pm, Wednesday June 2nd. You don’t have to be a conference attendee to come to this. We’ll talk about improving communication inside and outside local tech groups, and getting our needs heard by local government so we can all benefit from their outreach and economic development efforts.

[1] A general note about meeting times and who can participate: A 4:30 start time is really not ideal for me, because it’s inside my regular work hours, and transit time eats into that even further. I would like meeting organizers from outside organizations to remember: developers get paid to write code. Attending outside meetings is not writing code. If you want broad participation, it has to fit around our work. Ideally, the three meetings they’re planning should all happen at different times so that people with different schedule requirements will have some opportunity to attend. I recommend planning one lunchtime meeting and one evening (no earlier than 6pm, preferably 7pm) meeting.

2 responses to “Notes and Comments from PDC Software Cluster Meeting #1

  1. Pingback: Conference Week « Dyepot, Teapot

  2. The funding group talked about the mismatch between sources of funding and what we’re doing in Portland, and how it may help to target specific niches (like mobile development) to attract outside investors.