08 June 2011

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.

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