A major food delivery company is looking to innovate its platform, and it’s coming to Pittsburgh to find the technical prowess to do that.
On a wave of recent office opening and expansion announcements in Pittsburgh, app maker DoorDash said this week it will launch a company presence here with a new Platform Evolution engineering team. This office follows its launch of DashMart — an ecommerce delivery and pickup convenience store — between Lawrenceville and the Strip District. The size and location of the new office has not yet been announced.
The news comes after convenience store chain Sheetz announced an expansion of its current tech office presence in Bakery Square and as local supermarket chain Giant Eagle continues to roll out its new autonomous shopping technology. Another food service-adjacent company, Agot AI, also announced a $10 million SAFE note round in one of the biggest raises of last quarter.
While Pittsburgh might not be a food service tech hub yet, these announcements, plus some big successes from the tech scene at large, make the industry’s growth here over the last few months seem significant. Pittsburgh Technology Council President and CEO Audrey Russo agrees, though she’s seen the seeds for this growth planted over a long period of time.
“I’ve been at this for a while, so I see what’s happening fast and what’s happening just sort of steady,” she told Technical.ly. “Pittsburgh’s incredible that way — we just do one plus one plus one, and I think that makes for a strong economy, because it’s not like this explosive growth.” Still, she acknowledged that the pace of public offerings through IPOs and SPAC deals this year might fit that latter qualification.
Russo isn’t surprised by DoorDash announcing an engineering office, knowing that the company is likely looking into expanding its contactless options that would involve artificial intelligence and autonomy. More specifically, the company shared in a recent blog post that its “engineering team has been focused on transitioning away from a monolithic codebase to a microservices architecture.” Still, she hopes that this early technical growth will also give way to attracting more job openings for “people who come here with a wide variety of corporate skill sets. But that doesn’t happen right off the bat, I get it.”
Kit Mueller, the “refounder” and head of network for startup community RustBuilt Pittsburgh, agreed with Russo’s sentiments on the symbolic weight of moments like this. “This is part of a continuing trend of companies choosing Pittsburgh for its top-tier talent, affordability, quality of life, accessibility, and key industry clusters,” he wrote in an email.
Sean Luther, executive director of InnovatePGH, sees this slew of recent successes as an important step in taking Pittsburgh from emerging tech hub status to a global player.
"We are approaching critical mass in terms of Pittsburgh as a natural landing spot for these types of frontier offices."
“This is absolutely a new phase of activity; one that demonstrates that we are approaching critical mass in terms of Pittsburgh as a natural landing spot for these types of frontier offices,” he wrote in an email to Technical.ly. He credited much of that activity not to the economic incentives and affordability typically associated with Pittsburgh (which also exist in comparable markets), but to the hard work of public officials and groups like the Pittsburgh Robotics Network and Pittsburgh Regional Alliance in advertising the city.
Both Russo and Luther see the launch of new offices in Pittsburgh as an important commitment to physical space in a time when many companies are going with fully virtual or hybrid work models. Especially for non-robotics companies, that choice seems significant, Russo said: “Even though we’re living in a world that’s very hybrid, and in some places remote, we still need to build relationships with people so people can understand what the culture is.”
Luther added that the continued job growth coming with these offices will be helpful to not just a post-pandemic reemergence for the city, but to opening the possibilities for lifelong tech careers here too.
“That so many positions are available helps — but doesn’t completely solve — the perceived risk that moving to Pittsburgh for a job doesn’t create the same future opportunities assumed to exist in the coastal tech hubs,” he wrote.
Still, Luther acknowledged that there remains more work to be done to ensure this economic growth is equitable. While the presence of outside companies is great for creating new jobs and connections here, he wants to see similar support of homegrown companies.
But most importantly, “we now need to connect these national players, and our local startups, into Pittsburgh’s civic infrastructure,” he said. “Specifically the tech training and workforce development pipelines that can create real economic opportunity for marginalized Pittsburgh and especially BIPOC Pittsburghers. That connection only exists if we can more intentionally connect the employer demand to the community development and workforce ecosystems locally.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-