I was stunned by Milt Capps’s reporting that J. Tod Fetherling is resigning his post as president of Nashville Technology Council. Not a day earlier, I had sent him a note about New York City’s “Road Map for the Digital City” as referenced by Anil Dash.
In the past, I have to admit, I was a skeptic. I had long put off joining or participating in NTC because it seemed, especially in my younger days, too much a tool of non-technology industries that rely on technology workers as pure IT worker bees and not enough of an innovator for technology startups. And, frankly, I don’t feel that initiatives like Techville actually put us on the map. I kept expecting to see workshops that facilitated explorations of the technologies that our entrepreneurs were leveraging to get their businesses off the ground. Or internship opportunities, like the one I lucked into at Telalink while I was in college, that connected Nashville students to Nashville-area companies, providing an opportunity to keep talent local in the long run. Finally, I remain concerned that Digital Nashville, possibly taking advantage of opportunities in social media partly missed by NTC, has muddied the waters further.
That said, as with my sideline civic pursuits, I decided it was finally time to do something about it. At the beginning of 2011, SearchViz joined NTC. Our principals attended the membership luncheon. I’ve expressed an interest in working on the T3 Committee. And I’m impressed with what I’ve seen from the collaboration with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.
By way of explanation of why this matters to me, I think it’s worth exploring my professional history. I’ve worked for an internet service provider (Telalink) that was successfully sold before the dotcom collapse, a startup application services provider, an ecommerce subsidiary of a major book retailer, and a media company. I also co-founded a technology services company (whose first contract was with a major email marketing company and which recruited a partner from outside of Tennessee) that is now a successful SaaS marketing tools platform. And I’m now one of the principals at an agency in the design/development and inbound marketing space. In each of the cases, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the technology talent that was available, but it frequently seemed unplanned. Throughout my career, I’ve discovered a trend toward negative unemployment among my peers with technology skills. Whenever anyone asks me if I know any programmers looking for work, the answer has always been no. I’ve watched my friends embedded at larger companies or starting growing companies struggle to find great people. I’ve written before about Nashville’s limitations as a true technology corridor. And whenever I think about how we can grow our agency or how I could start a technology-driven business, I get nervous when thinking about talent.
With more than a decade of work in technology under my belt, I think it’s worth weighing in on the qualities the NTC board should be considering in candidates. Here are the qualities I’d seek in an ideal candidate:
- a sense of balance between the needs of heavy industry to have great IT shops with the needs of technologists to pursue their 20% time projects as viable businesses in the role of entrepreneurs
- a plan to ensure that our academic corridor (Vanderbilt, MTSU, Fisk, TSU) is appropriately connected to our technology corridor
- a recognition that post-secondary education might not always be the pathway pursued by talented tech entrepreneurs
- possession of a talent scout’s mindset, being willing to talk to high schools, colleges, universities, recruiters, and industry to understand who the individuals are around whom great teams are or could be built
- an ambition to make Nashville a great attractor for technology talent
- an awareness of quality of life beyond the basic mission of NTC as a factor in talent recruitment and retention
- a willingness to be regionally minded, as we see the mayors caucus address initiatives on a regional level and leverage the experience of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
- an interest in pursuing close working relationships with the IT divisions of local and state governments, as well as their ECD operations
- an innate passion or ability to develop passions for contemporary technologies and their deployment through NTC as proofs of concept, through web, mobile, and beyond
- an appropriate embrace and skepticism of both free and open source software and proprietary software
- a little black book that grows from day one, creating an opportunity for feedback from departed alumni (e.g., Luke Kanies)
- a combination of actual, deep knowledge of technology and management experience
In my view, all successful companies of the future, those that outperform, will have some internal innovation engine that is based on software or related development. Nashville needs to plan for that future now.
Finally, thanks to Tod for his work (which included engaging staff who successfully encouraged us to join and who have been perpetually helpful ever since) on these important issues, and best of luck to him on his next steps. I regret that I’m so new to the NTC as a member that I didn’t have the opportunity to discuss any of these thoughts with him as he sought to shape the organization.
I’ll look forward to seeing and hearing the thoughts of others on what is most needed next at NTC.