Wednesday, April 7, 2010

abercrombie tech discussion

on tuesday april 6 i attended a discussion on the hawaii technology industry hosted by neil abercrombie (see the discussion was moderated by burt lum of bytemarks and the panel included; jay fidel, dan leuck, dr. pat sullivan, and neil abercrombie. this discussion was said to be not part of abercrombie's campaign in anyway. it was purely a discussion for the betterment of the industry. there were about 20 people in the audience and it was broadcasted live on the internet. (see some pictures of the event here

some of the discussion points were the following (note i'm not quoting anyone i'm just trying to paraphrase the discussions):
  • problems and issues with the current industry; capital formation and the brain drain
  • that we've made a lot progress in 25 years.
  • that its now or never for the tech industry
  • the need for a tech advisory panel to help aid the future governor and legislature
  • the need for a CIO to reform the state IT infrastructure
  • talked about the progress that act 221 made and some of the issues associated with that
  • talked about how the different industries are related; like hotel and tech.
  • talked about hawaii has a unique diversity and potential to make disruptive ideas
  • etc, etc...

    there were a bunch of good discussions. and i really do appreciate the fact that it was held. i abercrombie a lot of credit for hosting it. and a big thank you to the moderator and panel. BUT i have some comments/suggestions/qestions

    where were all the engineers?
    i convinced two other engineers from my company to come because i think this is important. but i think we were the only full time engineers in the audience. the tech industry is made of business people AND ENGINEERS. engineers need to stop being lazy and come out to these events. or how about students!

    what problem?
    several times in the discussions people attempted to put a finger on what the problems were. i was really interested in what the panel responded with. but... that was from their perspective. it was problems that dan sees or problems that pat sees. valid for them. but maybe not applicable to the larger industry.

    i left the discussion still wondering what the problem was. i first asked myself do we even have a problem? to know if we have a problem one must know what the expectations are. i don't know what that is, so i can't tell you if we have a problem. and for those of you following THAT IS A PROBLEM. what are the expectations? yes, i agree tech isn't as big as it should be. but, what have we done to expect more? have we committed more money to reach goal X? i'm not sure we have. we lack a baseline of to evaluate our status.

    lets say that we use the number of tech jobs as a scorecard (i'm not saying this is a good measurement). well, then we have something to evaluate. we can frame our discussions around that. only when we have goals and expectations can we evaluate our progress.

    jay and neil mentioned that this seems to be now or never (i'm paraphrasing) for the tech industry. hmm. i don't know what to make of that. now or never for what? i don't get what that means with respect to our lack of goals.

    anyway... you get my point. actually, i just wanted to throw out there that i feel good about my little area of the tech industry. i'm really happy with my company, career, and role in the tech industry.

    other cities and states?
    i was hoping some one in the panel said something like, "new mexico and north carolina has similar problems as we do with regards to technology. their state government is doing these 5 things. we can learn from their progress and failures. and i think we can try this." to me it kinda felt like we were trying to figure this out by ourselves. there has to be other examples that we can learn from.

    thoughts about the brain drain
    one of the real problems that i see is the brain drain problem. everyone talks about it. everyone agrees that it occurs. but there doesn't ever seem to be a discussion about it. why is it happening? what can we do about it? so... here is my take on those two questions.

    cost of living. plain and simple. its too expensive for a lot of new grads to start their life in honolulu. hawaii typically doesn't pay as well as the mainland and its more expensive than most cities. what can we do? hm... well how about we do more remote working? maybe these new grads can live somewhere where the cost of living is cheaper. and still contribute to a local company. we could provide tax incentives or something for that. thats probably a lame idea, so you think of something.

    competing with mainland companies is definitely a problem. i know for a fact that local kids that move away to college have a hard time looking for jobs in hawaii cause its so hard for them to know what hawaii has to offer. hawaii companies need (maybe even with assistance from the government) make much bigger attempt to lure our top notch students back to hawaii. we need to market hawaii tech companies to our own kids.

    we need to educate students on what type of job their education targets. the panel mentioned that we have a great Department of Electrical Engineering that attract many mainland company recruiters. i wonder if the career people in the department tell the students that most of the jobs they are studying for are on the mainland. if i was a student and i knew i wanted to live and work in hawaii, i would want to know the number of hawaii jobs available. teach students about our local industry. allow them to gear their studies to compete for local jobs. if the students don't realize what jobs we have, then their will always be a mismatch. there will always be a drain, because they have no choice.

    this was a great event. i don't think the discussions were ground breaking, but i think its awesome that this could be the start of a lot of great things. i really appreciate the leadership that is needed to want to hold such an event.

    to summarize. i want real goals. i want someone to say, we need tech to grow by X amount this year and this much in 4 years. here is how we are going to evaluate it. and here is the plan to accomplish that. or maybe its not that simple....