Jordan Koschei jordan koschei

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What I Hope for the Future of the Hudson Valley Tech Scene

I had several conversations at CatskillsConf about the present and future of the Hudson Valley tech scene, and several of the ideas I heard dovetailed nicely with my own thinking about this subject.

I’m cataloguing these here for posterity and comment. Some of these are my own ideas, some of them come from conversations with others, but all of them owe a debt to the spirit of cautious optimism that’s been in the air lately.

Read these, think about them, make suggestions. Better yet, pick an idea you particularly like and take action.

Table of Contents

  1. Anchor Tenant
  2. Hudson Valley Tech Meetup
  3. CatskillsConf
  4. Hudson Valley Talentbase
  5. Other Online Services
  6. Legacy Organizations
  7. Competitive Salaries
  8. Startups & Investment
  9. Coworking Spaces
  10. County/Government Outreach
  11. Higher Education
  12. Younger Students
  13. Conclusion

Anchor Tenant

I want to see a brand-name tech company establish a physical presence in the region.

When Google opened a NYC office, it jumpstarted the NYC startup scene. Google employees would leave to start their own companies with local headquarters, and other tech companies moved into New York with the knowledge that Google had already cultivated the talent there.

A small Facebook or Google office would legitimize the Hudson Valley in the eyes of the startup community, and would possibly jumpstart other tech companies starting secondary offices here.

(I’m not counting IBM; while it is a brand-name tech company, it’s both hardware-focused and a legacy company, so it isn’t attractive to the startup crowd in the same way as a Google or a Facebook.)

As the existing workforce at those companies gets older, some employees will want to move their families out of the city. Providing offices in the Hudson Valley would enable companies to retain mid- and senior-level talent who are ready to shift out of city life.

Though it isn’t as big-name as the FAANG companies, Foursquare would be a good choice for establishing a Hudson Valley presence for the following reasons:

  • The founder has a local connection already
  • The company is already headquartered nearby in NYC
  • Being a location-based service, having a presence outside a major metro area could provide valuable opportunities for regularly dogfooding the product in a non-urban setting

Hudson Valley Tech Meetup

The HVTM has been one of the most effective drivers of growing the Hudson Valley tech scene; in the four years since its founding, it’s gone from fewer than 50 members to over 2,500. I’d like to see this continue — connecting creatives and technologists from around the Hudson Valley is essential for fostering serendipitous connections, encouraging the cross-polination of ideas, and building a sense of community.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that the meetup has been losing some momentum lately. To regain that momentum, the tech meetup should:

  • Focus on consistency. The meetups need to happen on a regular schedule.
  • Schedule meetups well in advance, so that people can block off space in their calendar. At least a month’s notice is best.
  • Provide more time for conversation, and less for talks. The focus should be on fostering connections more than providing content.
  • Ensure that talks are about tech, creativity, or related subjects.
  • Keep the meetups apolitical. It’s exciting when local politicians want to speak — we’ve hosted congressmen, county executives, and candidates for federal office. Some of our speakers have gone on to run for governer and attorney general. That being said, the tech meetup isn’t an appropriate venue for stump speeches. One of the goals of the meetup is to create as welcoming an environment as possible, and introducing politics into the mix risks alienating some attendees. While local politicians can certainly speak, their message should be nonpartisan and relevant to the audience.
  • Resume having multiple types of meetup. Examples include:
    • The mainline HV Tech meetup, featuring talks of general interest to the tech and creative community
    • Dev O’Clock, featuring tech demos and more technical talks
    • StartupHV, focused on startup roundtables
    • HV Tech Socials, in which local creatives/technologists gather at a local venue to meet and talk, and possibly give a handful or 5-minute lightning talks

I think the HV Tech Meetup is the linchpin of the Hudson Valley tech scene, and I’d like to see it remain a vital and growing part of the regional creative ecosystem.

CatskillsConf

CatskillsConf is an annual tech & creative conference held in the woods of Ulster County. It gathers technologists from the Hudson Valley, NYC, and beyond to listen to talks, attend workshops (both tech-related and things like foraging and blacksmithing), and generally hang out and build connections.

Having a local tech conference has been huge for getting non-Hudson Valley technologists into the area, and I’ve heard of tech folks considering moving to the Hudson Valley after discovering it through CatskillsConf.

The first year was big, with lots of attendees (including some from Germany and Australia) and big-name speakers. The second year was similar to the first, I missed the third year (honeymooning), and was there for the much-smaller fourth.

I want to see CatskillsConf have an expanded profile; it still doesn’t rate in lists of well-known design/tech conferences. It should:

  • Announce CatskillsConf much further in advance — preferably 4+ months, so people from abroad can get plane tickets and make plans
  • Have a specific theme for each year. The talks are always good, but they’re often thematically disconnected. It’s hard to buy tickets for an event whose focus is unclear.
  • Advertise it further afield. Attendees tend to come from NYC or the Hudson Valley, and tend to be working at the same sorts of companies. I’d like to see more people from the Bay Area and other tech hotspots attending, but we need to (a) tell them about it, and (b) give them a reason to attend
  • Have a larger variety of workshops and activities, so longtime attendees will have something new to do each year

Hudson Valley Talentbase

This one’s on me.

I want to see Hudson Valley Talentbase build a richer map of the regional creative community. I want to be able to do the following:

  • View a map of local creative people and projects
  • See a map of local creative hotspots like galleries, museums, coworking spaces, coffee shops, etc
  • Find potential collaborators for new projects
  • Find potential employees/employers
  • Get more information about locations and events of interest to the local creative community

The idea is to persist the connections and conversations that happen at live events like the HV Tech Meetup. Those only happen every month; the local tech community needs ways to connect the rest of the time.

The Hudson Valley is geographically distributed, and we need a way to foster serendipitous connections that are similarly distributed.

Other Online Services

I want to see a job board that can connect local tech workers with local tech companies.

I want to see a thriving online discussion community that enables local tech/creative workers to maintain persistent conversations, share advice, etc.

Legacy Organizations

I heard recently that, in the entire IBM Poughkeepsie design studio, not a single designer is originally from the Hudson Valley.

We have talented designers graduating from quality design programs at local universities. I’d like to see more local designers placed at local companies like IBM. Of course, a company like IBM draws applications from all over the world. But hiring local designers is an investment in the Hudson Valley’s future crop of potential workers; a strong local engineering and design culture begets more strong engineers and designers.

Legacy tech companies largely built the infrastructure that makes the Hudson Valley a viable location for a tech renaissance. Hiring local talent is a way to maintain that investment.

Competitive Salaries

Local agencies/companies don’t have competitive salaries; from what I’ve seen from local job listings, a front-end developer in the Hudson Valley can make about half of what they can make elsewhere.

This incentivizes local workers to work remotely. Nothing against remote work — geoarbitrage is great, and brings outside money into the local economy. However, we can’t have a competitive tech scene if the salaries for design and engineering work are depressed.

One of the reasons why outside companies want to set up shop in the Hudson Valley is the lower costs, including salaries. That doesn’t have to mean 50% lower salaries, though — we’re still in the New York metro area, not the middle of nowhere.

Startups & Investment

We haven’t had a big Hudson Valley tech success story yet.

I don’t think we want the next Facebook or Google, but it would be good to have at least one notable startup known for being homegrown in the Hudson Valley.

There’s some VC available through organizations like the Hudson Valley Startup Fund, but without many eligible startups nearby, there isn’t much reason for more VCs to set up shop here.

We need more VCs to get more startups, and we need more startups to get more VCs.

Better yet, it would be nice to see local startups bootstrap themselves; that feels more consistent with the overall Hudson Valley ethos: sustainability vs. “growth at all costs.”

Hudson Valley VCs shouldn’t try to mimic what Silicon Valley VCs are doing; they should develop a model that’s more in tune with the Hudson Valley startup ethos.

The solution to this is to continue growing the local tech scene. Fostering connections between local creatives and technologists increases the odds of great ideas becoming real, and those great ideas strengthening our position as a viable tech hub.

Coworking Spaces

There are already great coworking spaces in the area (Beahive in Beacon, One EPIC Place in New Paltz, Co in Rhinebeck, etc), but all of them are fairly pricey. I suspect lots of potentially eligible coworkers stick to local coffee shops or home offices instead.

A county or counties should invest in some cheap space and set it up as dirt-cheap coworking. By getting lots of local creatives and technologists into one place, we increase the opportunities for serendipity and increase the odds of economy-boosting companies and products being founded by people who wouldn’t otherwise know each other.

Let’s say a local engineer needs a designer for a project. If they don’t know anyone local, they might go online to find someone elsewhere. If they work at a coworking space, there’s probably someone qualified at the next desk.

Coworking should be cheap or free for students — maybe a local college could pay for its CS or design students to have unlimited access. Getting students in the same space as local tech workers would help grow the tech pipeline, expose everyone to new ideas, and build connections between groups that don’t otherwise work in proximity.

County/Government Outreach

Local governments need to settle on a consistent message for the region. Right now, the messaging centers on two themes:

  • “Come to the Hudson Valley, you can work remotely from here.”
  • “Come to the Hudson Valley, we have our own local tech scene.”

These are both true, but the messaging is scattered. It’s unclear if we’re trying to convince tech workers to move to the Hudson Valley because

  1. They can work remotely, so if it doesn’t matter where they live, why not live here?
  2. There’s a growing tech industry here already, and they can be on the leading edge.

Perhaps the answer is both. But this messaging should be clarified so it’s clear what the goal is.

Higher Education

Local universities need to modernize their web programs to reflect the changing requirements of the discipline. Basically: stop teaching design students Bootstrap before the fundamentals of HTML, and pretending that makes them web designers. Also, talk less about “web design” and more about UX, UI, and digital product design.

Build cross-disciplinary courses that combine computer science, design, and business. This will better prepare students for work in tech, which is fundamentally cross-disciplinary.

Local colleges should integrate more with the local tech community (such as HV Tech) and local tech companies and studios, so that students get more hands-on experience. Startup skills aren’t learned in a classroom; by the time web stuff is being taught in schools, it’s already outdated. Get more students into the real world earlier.

Younger Students

I want to see venues and opportunities for younger students to be exposed to coding and design early. Particularly for disadvantaged students, this would empower kids with the knowledge that, with a little bit of computer skill, anyone can make their ideas become real.

Getting local kids into the tech pipeline early would help to fill out the local tech pipeline, too, providing more local students for college CS/design programs and, eventually, more local candidates for tech jobs.

Conclusion

These are my provisional thoughts on how we can continue to grow the local technology sector in a way that encourages human flourishing and helps the Hudson Valley to thrive.

Assumptions

  1. It would be beneficial for the Hudson Valley to have a thriving technology sector.
    1. It would bring in more money to the local economy, particularly via remote workers pulling salaries from outside the HV and spending them locally, and via outside businesses establishing a presence here and paying taxes.
    2. Rather than consuming a larger piece of the pie, it would expand the pie for everyone.
    3. It would increase the diversity of available jobs, the diversity of people, and the creative diversity of the region.
    4. Without the spatial constraints of a city, an influx of new residents and companies shouldn’t have the same gentrifying effect that it’s had in San Francisco or New York.
    5. The HV’s tech sector should grow, but not become all-consuming the way it has in places like the San Francisco Bay Area.
  2. The Hudson Valley tech scene is starting to take off, but its success isn’t inevitable. It needs to be carefully stewarded and cultivated.
  3. By “tech scene,” I mean the overall startup and creative scene in the Hudson Valley, not just the legacy tech companies in the area like IBM.

Thanks

Thanks in particular to Chris Garrett and Mike Zamansky, with whom I had some really thought-provoking conversations during CatskillsConf.