This post is in response to a recent post by Nashville's venerable Dave Delaney (founder of Geek Breakfast, et al). In his post, Dave proposes that Nashville creates a position of "Technology Ambassador" to promote the community we have here in Nashville to a wider audience.
I can only speak from my experience, but when my family relocated from NYC to Nashville in 2009, it wasn't swag-bearing social media experts that convinced me to to do so. In fact, I'm pretty sure if I had been assaulted by an over-eager ambassador at a conference with branded tote-bags, lapel buttons, and t-shirts, I would have written it off as a middle America city that was simply trying much too hard.
When I was deciding where to relocate the criteria came down to three basic questions:
- What is the quality of life like in the community? (Is traffic horrific? Do people bike to work?)
- What is the cost of living and the average salary for someone with my level of experience?
- What does the tech community look like (language user groups, book discussions)?
The first two are obviously much more important. I didn't want to live in Atlanta and deal with it’s horrific traffic. I didn’t move to North Carolina because I wanted to live in a state with a low cost of living. Both of those cities pay more, on average, for developers, but the deciding factor for me was quality of life.
As for the third criteria, Nashville has a handful of high-level "technologist" functions (NTC, Digital Nashville, Geek Breakfast), but more importantly, it also has a contingent of more in-depth user groups (Nashville PHP, Nashville Dynamic Languages, .NET Nashville, Arduino Nashville, and many, many others). Those are important, and any city worth its digital salt needs those groups to grow.
Geek Breakfast, in particular, was instrumental in getting me connected to the larger tech community. Through it I found out about the Centresource Mixer. There I met Nicholas Holland, from whom I rented office space to continue plying my trade. While working there, I met Jason Moore (a fellow tenant), who talked me into joining him in a new venture in the healthcare sector. That company recently "graduated" from the Entrepreneur Center downtown, received funding, and is now chugging along full steam.
The fact that in two years I could go from a Nashville newbie to company co-founder is a testament to the vibrant community here.
It wasn’t marketers bearing swag.
If we really want to make Nashville a more attractive city to smart, talented, and creative people, we need to focus our efforts on increasing the quality of life. We need to elect representatives who are more focused on improving our city’s infrastructure, not criminalizing the sharing of Netflix passwords. We need to elect leaders who care about reducing pedestrian deaths, or increasing awareness of public transit, not leaders who are preoccupied with publication of images that might offend someone. Our fair city has less green space than the average city of comparable size. It’s mass transit is unreliable. It tops the list of cities in both pedestrian deaths and forcible rapes. [Source]
It would take a mountain of swag to overcome the provincial, xenophobic sort of legislation for which our state makes national news.
Instead of passing our city off as something it isn’t (it is not Silicon Alley and it never will be Silicon Alley - for some people this is a good thing), we should acknowledge its warts, appreciate its advantages and sense of community, and work on changing the parochial politics and increasing the city’s quality of life.
This is one of the most succinct and insightful blog posts I have ever read. You nailed it, Brian.
I have lived in Nashville for 11 years, helped to build a well-known tech company, employed nearly 100 people at various times, and consulted with numerous startups and entrepreneurs, and I believe ALL of them would agree with your sentiment. Nashville is a beautiful city full of great people with a diverse set of talents. While it would be nice to have more people with tech skills, big cities have other problems we are blessed to be without. Life is a balance.
Bravo, good sir. You're an asset to this fine city.
Loved this post, Brian. So true.
I'd echo both these gents, well said (and you are working with a great company, your partner is one of my favs)
what I would add/ask, is quite simple. in the absence of a swaggy ambassador, how do we get the word out to the world that Nashville is so much more than heehaw and healthcare?
if we do not address this, all the juice that we are creating will not have the peeps necessary to actually take all that entrepreneurial energy and put it into practice!
this is a great post. I think every politician and old school holdover in Nash/TN needs to read this.
Speaking as a family guy, I think schools & transportation should be a #1 priority. As a minority, I think all this wasted energy on making people feel marginalized is just that...wasted...
Bravo, dear sir.
To Mark's point, I wrote numerous times while I lived in Nashville for the need to have an event that positioned the tech industry radar squarely on the community for a week. My perception of Austin changed significantly after I attended my first SXSW. I don't think you can change the perception without bringing people in to visit. Once people visit, so many walk away with their perceptions significantly altered.
I love Nashville and miss it, but the next Silicon alley/valley it will never be. It will never be Austin. It will never be Boulder. And that's ok. What is has got to be is a community that knows its strengths and plays off of them.
And yes, the rest of the country laughs at Tennessee and some of its asinine legislation, but even with that, you bring people in and share with them a little bit of Nashville and they'll be sold.
Great post Brian. I'm glad you took the ball and ran with it. You raise great points that I agree with fully.
I should mention that I am not talking about a swag-carrying clown to scream about Nashville. I'm talking about what many of us already do, aside from our regular jobs.
When we attend conferences, we naturally talk to attendees about how wonderful Nashville and our community is. Of course it's not Nashville you should be selling first though, it's the business that put you at the conference in the first place.
I'm talking about a person who is hired to represent our city. One who would go and passively promote Nashville, but certainly not hand out swag. If someone expressed interest in finding out more about Nashville, it would only be then that you would discreetly hand out a business card. It would be up to that person to carry on the conversation later, just as you would after meeting any business contact at a conference.
I just wanted to be sure that my idea isn't misunderstood.
Thanks again Brian! See you at breakfast.
Perhaps the "swag" is the result of a bit of hyperbole on my part, if that's not your intent then perhaps I overdid it.
Would you trust someone who was hired to promote a city's advantages over someone who has either lived there or still lives there? I still think that a hired promoter would have very little impact on decisions to move here, or awareness of Nashville's friendly tech community.