I have lived in Austin, TX for the last 15 years, they call it Silicon Hills, I have worked for companies that are basically all startups, at various stages of growth. I am not sure that I ever want to work for a truly large company. One company I worked for, Simplified, reached about 230 people, including our office in the UK (outside of London) and a couple of guys in Hong Kong.
At the time we reached 230 or so, there were folks that I didn’t really know, I mean not even their faces, might never even had seen their name except for some poorly done mass e-mailing that included everyone’s email in the TO: field. When I truly realized that I no longer knew everyone at the company, it felt weird.
Bear in mind, I was like employee 12 or 15 (I forget) and at one point I did all of our onboarding (we didn’t have an HR dept back then), so I literally met everyone in the company as they signed their paperwork and such. Probably around 40 or 50 folks in the company, I stopped onboarding, but it didn’t sink in until we had hit that 200 mark, it also sank in about then, because we had three locations in Austin and were looking to consolidate into one location (but that building was too small, so we took down other office space).
Then other companies, I was one of maybe 20, point being of all of this, there is something weird that happens to the way a company works and how it feels to work there once a company reaches certain employee sizes.
I have to say that I do truly enjoy a startup style/size company, you get a chance to be multi-disciplined, which helps keep things interesting, though there are times when having the opportunity to focus on a single discipline is enjoyable, nigh calming and serene.
Back to the title of this post, Startup Weekend, enter the chaos.
Well, hopefully organized chaos or merely chaos theory, there is a Startup Weekend (sometimes called 3-day startup) being held in Traverse City this weekend.
I grew up in Lansing, I lived there for about 18 years. My parents worked for the Red Cross, a bank and finally the great (and very broke) State of Michigan, eg pretty much civil servants. They were not entrepreneurs, my mom did some art on the side (enlarging photos by hand in this really cool ink-dot style, very cool stuff) and made a little side money at it, but neither parent was ever really business oriented. I am not saying that all of Lansing was like this, there were folks out on the hustle and not just sales folk, I mean actual business men.
But honestly, culturally speaking, growing up you heard kids saying what they wanted to do when they grew up and it was the usual ‘Doctor, lawyer, scientist’. The Internet wasn’t really a thing yet and computer programming, while it existed, the Open Source culture wasn’t there, so there were many barriers to entry for teens to think about how to build the next big thing that would make it to an IPO, hell I don’t think I knew what an IPO was until college.
My friends and I would routinely start designing a video game, the content anyway, based upon the latest game we were playing, I remember working up content for several inspired by Dragon Warrior. In today’s day and age, if I was still that middle-schooler, I could in a weekend knock out a playable demo of my content using a variety of Open Source starting engines for RPGs on PC, OSX or a mobile OS (iOS, Android).
That is the world we live in today, where the ability to quickly execute an idea is almost better than what the idea is. Because the sooner you can throw it against the wall and see if it sticks, the faster you can move on to something else (to see if it sticks) or to begin refinements and how to turn that idea into a real money maker.
Upon moving to Texas, and working for a startup (Open Source still wasn’t a big thing yet, but the Internet was in full-swing), I got a real taste for entrepreneurialism. I had coworkers that were insistent that they were just doing what they were doing until they could get their own ideas going. This was a strange and foreign concept to me at the time, since back in Lansing, it really felt like your job prospects were limited to…
- GM / Car Companies (even though none of my immediate family worked for them)
- State of Michigan
- Michigan State University
But in Austin, you could work for Dell, IBM, 3M, Texas Instruments, AMD, random software startup, University of Texas, State of Texas, or try to start your own. It just seemed like there was so much more opportunity to be had in Austin. And on many levels, there was more opportunity, but I feel that part of it was just cultural.
Back to this coming weekend, I have been trying to keep close tabs on Michigan’s economy, my wife wants to move back here permanently, and well in Austin there are opportunities for consulting business or permanent positions with a wide-variety of tech companies, in Michigan as a whole, not so much, even less when you look at where I would want to live, northern Michigan.
Being a technical consultant has advantages, in that you can work from just about anywhere, you just need a client that doesn’t need you physically present much. Technology has helped with this immensely as well, Instant Messenger helped to supplant phone calls (and long-distance bills), and the likes of Skype video or Google Hangouts mean that you can feel more connected with remote clients/coworkers than ever before.
But if I had to find a permanent tech position based out of northern Michigan (or on some level anywhere in Michigan), I feel it will be fairly difficult, that is until the last couple of years. I saw a few things happen that told me that the tide is changing.
- Broadband access, the ability to get high-speed cable modem, and I don’t mean like 10 or 20Mbps cable modem speeds, 100Mbps speeds became available up here in Bellaire, which is a town of like 1,200 people and I am not sure that census doesn’t include some snowbirds.
- Mobile coverage, three years ago, my cell phone barely worked out on the edge of the dock. Now I get 4G and LTE coverage pretty much everywhere in a 15 mile radius, barring the movie theatre that place is like a faraday cage (that and Mrs. Pete restaurant, dead zone inside).
And last year, while I was looking on Tumblr, I happened across a reference to Coolhouse Labs, a tech accelerator located in Harbor Springs (north east of me by just over an hour). This was BIG, there were some minor tech players in Traverse, but a whole accelerator in a town that is almost 3 hours away from Traverse, that seemed like a significant step up for Michigan’s tech scene.
And this year, Startup Weekend.
For the record, I have one major client right now and they keep me plenty busy as their CTO, but I am compelled to participate in the Startup Weekend.
Next year maybe I will try to be a mentor or something, we shall see, but this year, I am going as a developer. I wish I had the whizzy iOS and Android skillz that I have no doubt will be in demand this coming weekend, but what I lack in the mobile development space, I make up for in solid database design and strong fundamentals of web application and web services API architecture designs.
I have half a case of redbull and I am going to try and get a couple of good nights sleep before the weekend.
I will blog it some on here, but I think I will probably turn on a new Tumblr to blog the weekend’s events.
I don’t know what will come of it, I hope I make some friends in the tech space, it would be nice to be able to talk shop with folks.