I spent three years immersed in Philly's tech community. Here's what I learned - Technical.ly Philly

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May 10, 2019 2:41 pm

I spent three years immersed in Philly’s tech community. Here’s what I learned

Wrapping up his tenure as Philly lead reporter, Roberto Torres shares some thoughts from his notepad.
Roberto Torres at the 2018 Introduced by Technical.ly conference.

Roberto Torres at the 2018 Introduced by Technical.ly conference.

(Photo by SSM Photography)

On the evening of May 2, 2016, as I slowly made my way down the steps of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s main branch, I paused mid-way to breathe in that crisp spring air. I then let out a sigh of relief.

The scene describes the end of my first proper day as Technical.ly’s brand-new lead reporter for Philadelphia, taking over for beloved tech scribe and former Daily News reporter Juliana Reyes who in turn had become my editor. It was my first full-time staff role since uprooting my life in Venezuela and making a new home in this city.

I’d be short-changing that day if I called it a whirlwind. After a full morning of onboarding in our Old City headquarters, I hopped on a Center City-bound Uber with Christopher Wink for an afternoon of talks and panels with leading stakeholders from the life sciences, all the while taking notes I’d use for an article the following day. And finally, the Mayoral Tech Town Hall, a 45-minute convo between tech founders and Mayor Jim Kenney.

That marathon of a day kicked off an amazing three-year ride that was transformative for my career. I wrote 1,717 stories, interviewed scores of founders and attended countless meetups all across the city. I traveled to New Mexico in search of success stories in workforce development. I wrote a handful of long-form profiles, as well as stories on controversies and layoffs. I even took a selfie with a robot once.

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And while all of that was unfolding, I slowly worked to overcome my own insecurities and the hurdles of writing in my second language. I had to push past all that to let my voice be heard. On that note, here are a few of the ideas that stuck with me as I look back on this memorable three-year journey.

Philly tech is not a gated community.

And that’s a bigger advantage than people here realize, especially when compared to New York or San Francisco. There’s a huge upside to building a community with a lower barrier of entry, where connections to investors and stakeholders are frequently an email away. The roster of people I regularly spoke to through the years expanded and included many immigrants like myself who saw Philly as fertile ground to build their companies.

That’s a major selling point. One we ought to lean into.

We’re way past diagnosing Philly tech’s diversity issues.

Much like climate change, we already have all the evidence we need to see that the lack of diversity in Philly’s tech ecosystem is a very real problem. One that needs immediate action. What’s next? An end to superficial commitments. Resources to fund real access points into the community. Accountability. And above all, a shared sense of urgency around an issue that could make or break this ecosystem.

Philly is a world-class hotbed for innovation. It needs to say that loudly.

The messaging around Philly As The Greatest City In The World could use some work, for sure, and a handful of stakeholders seem to be on the case.

Journalists will call when there are good news and bad news. Founders should pick up the phone either way.

Refusing to talk to a reporter is your right. But to be a productive member of community, you should aim for transparency. That means that when there’s a controversy, layoffs or a shut down, you can and should want to get in front of the narrative, if only to ensure others can learn from what happened.

As it turns out, we really never needed Amazon.

We spent countless hours discussing the possibility of Philly as a hub for Amazon’s second headquarters. Now that New York and Northern Virginia will house the company’s massive campus, we find ourselves at a really interesting moment in time when, at the heels of a major exit in the life sciences sector, you can take a tour through the Entrepreneur Expo floor and be reminded of how teeming this city is with nascent startups.

I can’t wait to read all of their stories.

Companies: Technical.ly
Projects: Exit Interview
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