(Photo by Dominique Nichole)
If you’ve read Technical.ly Philly in the past three years, you’ve read Roberto Torres’ work. And chances are, it informed you, challenged you or made you see the local tech community in a new light.
Not only is the native Venezuelan a tough reporter who’s not afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions when necessary, he’s also incredibly empathetic and kind, proving that the two sets of traits are not remotely mutually exclusive.
I’ve worked alongside Roberto since he came on the team — longtime readers of Technical.ly will remember that he joined during 2016’s Philly Tech Week — but have had the pleasure of editing his work since I took over as managing editor in January. Now, as we close out 2019’s Philly Tech Week, he’s moving on to report national tech news for D.C.-based digital publication CIO Dive.
On his fourth-to-last day, we grabbed lunch from the Curtis Center’s deli and ate it while perched on a Washington Square park bench on a brilliantly sunny afternoon while chatting about his past three years, as well as what’s next. He’s writing his own farewell letter, including challenges for the Philly tech community, to be published later, but for now, enjoy Roberto’s Exit Interview.
Julie Zeglen: First thing’s first. Can you please confirm that you are not, not, NOT leaving Philly?
Roberto Torres: I am fortunate to be staying in the city of Philadelphia, a city that opened its doors to me when I was in search of an answer. I’m happy to say that I’ll be working remotely with Industry Dive. But also, I’ll be traveling some [to D.C.] to connect with the team at their offices.
What was the question that you were looking for an answer to?
I got to the city looking for safety and looking for an understanding of what my next big life period was going to be — where was I going to go and what my mission was. In asking myself what I wanted to do and how I saw myself, I found that Philly left kind of a trail of breadcrumbs of both people and opportunities in order for me to get there.
I feel like I reaffirmed here that no matter where I went, I still wanted to be a reporter. I still wanted to use my vision and my words. And Philly was that city that generously provided ample opportunity, even though I barely knew a soul when I first got here.
Lessons learned over the past three years about journalism, from reporting on the local tech community?
I think I became more comfortable with the fact that offering criticism and pointing out weak points in a proposal — in a plan, in startups, in a speaker’s ideas — if applied correctly can be something really powerful in a positive way. A reporter is the most informed member of its community, as we’ve often heard from [Technical.ly cofounder and CEO] Chris Wink. And so we are in a privileged position to identify where potential lies, but also where more work is needed.
Tomorrow will be my third anniversary at @TechnicallyPHL ?
It feels like a minute and a decade at the same time. pic.twitter.com/n9lookeg3G
— Roberto Torres (@TorresLuzardo) May 1, 2019
Some favorite stories or sub-beats that you’ve covered? Say, esports?
Esports is fun because it symbolizes an evolution of how technology has changed how we see things. Video games for me growing up were an indulgence. They were an escape. They were relief. And for some of these kinds that are playing in these teams with massive followings around the world, it’s now their job and they see it as a discipline. And they have trainers. They have private chefs.
I’m very passionate about diversity and inclusion in tech because I was able to see firsthand just how big an impact tech can have in a lifetime. I see it with myself but also with people who learn how to code and went from working jobs in retail or marketing or any other industry that didn’t fulfill a need that they had, either spiritually or materially through high-paying jobs and good wages. I’ve seen that change happen, and I think that’s why I’m so committed to it and bring it up whenever there is an alignment.
If I’m talking about something and I see lack of diversity or I see an opportunity where we could talk about inclusion, then I’m going to because I’m passionate about it.
What’s exciting about your new job?
Well, the first thing is, I learned from the startup world the importance of scale, and so to an extent, this is me trying to scale up my reporting skills, going from a local lens to a national.
I want to be very clear that I’m not saying that one is better than the other — there are just a wealth of different challenges that go along with national [versus] local reporting. It’s developing a different tool set, and I’m interested in that.
And also, I’ll have a chance to see what some of the titans of tech are doing in terms of big data, data analytics, cloud computing, IT — just looking at some national trends in those spaces.
How do you want to see Technical.ly evolve?
We have been very good about shifting our focus, or maybe expanding our focus, rather. Writing for entrepreneurs instead [of just] about them. I would like to see us maintain the steadfast commitment we’ve had through the years in regards to breaking news and being the storytellers of this community. We do that better than anyone, and we should maintain that.
How does it feel to be interviewed?
[Laughs] That is a great question. It’s really, really, really interesting being on the other side of the recorder.
In the safest of interview spaces!
Yeah. Absolutely. For one, you become more aware of the way your words sound. As I’m talking, I’m imagining the sentence filling out space in a page. Stopping and starting again, and stopping.
To be honest, it feels far more invasive than I feel when I’m interviewing. When I’m interviewing, I see myself having a conversation. But I guess this is an exercise in seeing how much we are responsible for. We’re entrusted with our interviewee’s vulnerability.
We have the power to ask questions that maybe interviewees really don’t expect. We could be asking questions that are their worst fears. We should be really respectful of that responsibility, both when it is our duty to ask the question that’s difficult, and when it is our job to understand.
Your last words of thanks, critique, farewell to Philly tech?
The most valuable thing the tech community did was answer my questions seriously in respect of the role that I play. The most valuable interactions I had with community members were when they understood that it was my job to be there in good times and in bad. So that means funding rounds and layoffs, and everyone who, regardless of context, was welcoming to me. I will be forever full of gratitude.
More TK. More TK.
Thank you, Roberto.
Thank you, friend.-30-
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