Portland’s tech ecosystem is unique, characterized by collaboration and a focus on doing things right, not fast. But as that ecosystem grows and evolves, will it lose some of the traits that make it special? Or can bigger also mean better?
These were the questions up for debate at our latest FutureTalk, which doubled as a kickoff celebration for Portland Startup Week. Joining us on the panel were four local luminaries: Rebecca Campbell (senior director of engineering at New Relic), our moderator Skip Newberry (president and CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon), Malia Spencer (tech reporter for the Portland Business Journal), and Rick Turoczy (co-founder of the Portland Incubator Experiment, founder of Silicon Florist, and co-founder of the Oregon Story Board).
All are welcome
Everyone agreed that the Portland tech scene’s greatest strength is its open attitude to networking and collaboration. Indeed, it was the first thing that struck Malia when she relocated to the city from Pittsburgh, Pa. “Here, everyone’s willing to have a coffee and talk to you.”
Rick concurred, attributing the welcoming vibe in large part to Portland’s thriving open source community. He also noted that many local companies are complementary to one another, as opposed to being in direction competition. Still, he conceded, collaboration between tech and other industries (design, food, or apparel, for example) remains limited.
“Portland is classically siloed,” he said, suggesting that the “aggressive humility” of native Portlanders inclines them to keep their heads down within their own community.
Curiosity, craft, collaboration
Compared to places like San Francisco and Seattle, Portland offers a lower cost of living and lower operating costs. That allows the city’s tech types, according to Rick, to be driven more by curiosity, craft, and collaboration than by just the pursuit of cold, hard cash. The result, according to Malia, is an emphasis on slow, careful development—perfectionism, in the best possible sense.
Low costs also inspire startups to bootstrap for longer, rather than seeking big VC investments before their products are market ready. And they make it possible for companies to hire real team players. New Relic is a great example of this, Rebecca said. “We have a strict ‘no jerks’ policy.”
Right now, tech talent is more than happy to relocate to Portland. And more and more tech companies are setting up offices in the city. Which is, of course, great news. But what about Portland’s unique vibe? Will it prove fragile or, worse, unsustainable?
The panel all agreed that rising costs and a potential talent crunch could threaten the very qualities that currently define the city’s tech community. To date, building consumer-facing products and scaling them up rapidly has been difficult in a city of Portland’s size. But as the city’s technology footprint grows, that may change, Rick said. The result could be companies competing with, rather than supporting, one another.
Only time will tell how Portland weathers the coming changes. Meanwhile, to hear all of the panel’s thoughts on diversity in development, the implications of automation, the dearth of tech products being built for baby boomers, and much more, watch the full FutureTalk in the video below:
Don’t miss our next FutureTalk
Our March 13 event will be another Meetup mashup, this time with Portland VR. Join us to find out how VR/AR technologies are tapping into human perception in ways we have never seen before and what it could mean for our future.
For more information about our FutureTalks series, make sure to join our Meetup group, New Relic FutureTalks PDX, and follow us on Twitter @newrelic for the latest developments and updates on upcoming events.
Note: Event dates, participants, and topics are subject to change without notice.