Other B.C. industries could learn a thing or two from tech execs who swap stories, networking over food and drinks.The technology industry in B.C. is very, very friendly. It seems a week or two doesn’t go by without a management-level gathering, either within a subsector or across the broader industry. My co-workers at Capital West are amazed by how many events I attend. The B.C. Technology Industry Association holds at least three events a month; Vancouver Enterprise Forum recently added a second monthly event; and Launch Party Vancouver, Wavefront Wireless Innovation Society of B.C. and DigiBC each hold an event or two a month as well. My wife is also amazed (well, “amazed” is not exactly the word).
Of course there are also major trade associations, including the Vancouver Board of Trade, which has fantastic networking events. But in other industry sectors in B.C. people just don’t get together and share as often or as readily as the tech people. Imagine B.C.’s retail CEOs or consumer packaged goods company managers telling their spouses that they “have to” go to their third networking event in a month. Why is it that the technology industry executives feel compelled to spend their evenings in Gastown bars telling other local CEOs how they’re doing every other week or so? And, remember, these are typically not meetings involving customers or partners. If you can’t get a sale out of it, doesn’t it seem like a waste of time?
The collegial atmosphere around technology is not just a B.C. phenomenon. We can trace it back to the ’70s and the computer clubs that saw super-geeky folks gather frequently in the Bay Area. Those gatherings inspired a young nerd named Steve Wozniak and his high-strung friend Steve Jobs to create an insanely great Silicon Valley company.
The technology industry has always been an industry that shares; however, they don’t share everything. You don’t find discussions at these events about proprietary software code or know-how, but you do find everyone sharing hiring challenges, revenue models, growth strategies, numbers of users and growth rates. It is amazing how much you can learn about technology companies by attending events and simply asking. Networking seems to be a necessary skill in the technology industry.
The openness of the technology industry is unique. Partly because few companies sharing ideas over beer at local events compete locally, and partly because the industry itself values the concept of open standards, sharing is accepted and encouraged. Think of open-source software and open standards in smartphones (Android), where the community shares and everyone benefits. It’s the same idea behind frequent gathering and open sharing among CEOs in the clean tech industry, for example, or the Internet media industry. There is a common good to being able to promote your technology and connect with your industry colleagues when travelling the world selling your products or services.
The technology industry also skews younger, especially among management. Let’s face it: they can spend two nights a week listening to speakers and sharing their successes or challenges because they have the energy, and that energy is contagious. The genuine excitement about company creation and growth in a very fast-moving industry helps the not-so-young types like me get out there and help connect people and ideas.
I’m not trying to suggest that it would help the forest products industry if it held launch parties at a Granville Street bar – although that might be fun. The lesson from the technology industry is simply that sharing doesn’t hurt; in fact, it helps. Perhaps the real win would be to meld a couple of technology industry events with other sectors to encourage technology innovation sharing. Local technology companies could listen, learn and innovate for the retail, consumer goods, forestry and other industries. And have fun doing it.