I got an email yesterday from a woman I met at a tech event who works for the Hillsborough County Chamber of Commerce that there was a tech meetup of some sort happening this morning. I’m an aspiring web developer, so tech meetups are the kind of thing I need to be on board with, so I get up early on a Friday to go. The meeting is in a coffee shop at a mall near the university before the mall technically opens, so one has to enter through a special entrance and be directed by mall personnel to the shop itself.
I enter the shop, buy a large regular coffee, and sit down in one of their plush armchairs to watch people start to come in for the meeting. As person after person, almost universally older, sharply dressed men, obviously businessmen and county bureaucrats, enter the coffee shop I slowly realize that I am the only actual techie at this tech meetup. As the eighth person stops to take a selfie standing in the coffee line with other business people, I become convinced of what I had already suspected: that this is not the place for me. As I stand up to leave, though I bump into an acquaintance from the coding community, blessedly wearing a “Browncoat” t-shirt. There were then two of us, the only people with facial hair in the room, and this gave me the strength to at least stay and try to network a while.
I am not good a hustling. I realize that this is, in many ways, a career handicap, but I am also unapologetic. If I had wanted to know how to hustle, I would not have dropped out of the UNF business school to change my economics major from a BBA to a BA back in, like, 2007. The other programmer is huge help though. He has an idea of whom to talk to, and we maneuver through the dark and stormy social currents together, as the programming block.
I hear somebody congratulate the organizer on the “great achievement” of getting such a large and diverse group of people together for this meeting at a coffee shop in the mall. And perhaps that’s the crux of the problem. The meeting is not happening in order to accomplish anything tangible. It is there for a PR opportunity. For businessmen to take coffee line selfies. And that explains the relatively low position of programmers on the tech totem pole. Engineers are by nature results oriented. Yet at an event like this, a question like “Fine, but what does any of this actually accomplish” is as unwelcome as someone spitting in a bowl of soup.
I think about this, and the relationship between people who actually produce tech and the people who have made their livings middle manning it, every time somebody we are conversing with pivots away from us the second someone more important walks by. We’re talking about bringing tech startups to North Tampa after all. Surely low level city bureaucrats are more vital to that process than techies.
But I am looking for a job after all, and the game is played how the game is played. And I do have a certain investment in this neighborhood that I have lived in for the last three years, and in which my family has lived since 1953. So, arming myself with my sheate of business cards, I go forth into the crowd.