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Hey, Philadelphia: These were your most-read tech stories of 2019

From leadership changeups to taking a hard look at inclusion, this is what made the news in Philly this year.

Philadelphia. (Photo by Philly by Drone)
This week, we are wrapping up a year (and a decade) of covering the Philadelphia tech scene here at Technical.ly.

Over the course of 2019, we’ve covered everything from Philly’s standing as a smart city to the courts website being down to how the city is becoming a hub for esports. We also took a closer look at all the things that encompass company culture, like the concept of showing, not telling what it is, and attempting to answer the question: Is the concept of unlimited PTO bullshit?

I spent my first six months here at Technical.ly trying a few new things, like spending the day reporting out of the Cherry Hill Mall, and launching The Tech Behind series where I get to go to some of Philly’s top institutions and explain to our readers how they operate (like that time I took a chilling tour of Eastern State Penitentiary‘s Terror Behind the Walls).

As usual, our 2019 RealLIST Startups and 2019 RealLIST Engineers — a call-out of the most promising startups and devs in our city — were widely read this year, along with our nominees for our 2019 Technical.ly Awards. (See those winners here.)

Most surprising, though, is that our top story of 2019 wasn’t a tech story at all. Check out the year’s most-read stories below:

1. Here’s what we know (and don’t) about that disturbing steel furnace letter on Philly Reddit

Oh, Reddit. We can always count on you for bringing us the oddest stories that somehow manage to bring the entire city together. This spring, residents of Brewerytown and Fairmount received a very confusing letter explaining that all food we’ve consumed from first grade on up is still alive inside our bodies. According to the note, the only way to save yourself from this harrowing reality is to become a solid steel statue (?) by mixing your body with melted metal (??) then re-solidifying the metal (???). A FurnaceParty Reddit was started and a daylong party ensued. Do Attend.

(Photo via Reddit user monkeychef)

The infamous letter. (Photo via Reddit user monkeychef)

2. Navy Yard motorcycle ecommerce firm RevZilla has a new retail-bred CEO

This summer, ecommerce brand and Navy Yard darling RevZilla got a new CEO — its first to hold the title outside of the company’s cofounders. (Anthony Bucci and Matt Kull have both held the CEO role, and third cofounder Nick Auger has served as CTO.) Retail exec Ken Murphy is the new president and CEO of Comoto Holdings, the parent company of RevZilla and Cycle Gear, a 40-year-old West Coast-based motorcycle gear chain.

According to the Murphy, the change was the decision of the board — of which the cofounders remain members in addition to being shareholders. He brings a decade of executive leadership experience from Mattress Firm and beyond.

Ken Murphy

Ken Murphy. (Courtesy photo)

3. What Philly tech should learn from a hate speech incident at a local meetup

This story looks at how the Philly tech community reacted to a transphobic message sent after a Philadelphia JavaScript Developers meetup held at Guru’s Center City HQ in April. In response to the message, co-organizer Beth Dickerson sent a lengthy note to Meetup members titled “What We’re Really About,” where she offered apologies for the hate speech, and in no uncertain terms said it was a violation of the group’s code of conduct: “NOTHING ABOUT YOUR COMMENT IS ACCEPTABLE. NOTHING,” she wrote.

A group of spectators.

The Philadelphia JavaScript Developers Meetup event in question. (Courtesy photo)

4. REC Philly is opening a 10,000-square-foot flagship office at 9th and Market

At a town hall meeting at the University City Science Center this summer, cofounders of the resource center and space for creative entrepreneurs announced that the membership organization would be opening a 10,000-square-foot space at 9th and Market streets. This fall, we watched the new space take shape, and got a behind the scenes tour of the mixed-use creative space.

REC Philly cofounders Will Toms (left) and Dave Silver. (Photo by Paige Gross)

5. Spark Therapeutics’ $4.8B deal confirmed as biggest-ever VC-backed exit in Philly

The eye-popping $4.8 billion sticker price on Spark Therapeutics’ acquisition deal with Roche announced this spring became the largest exit ever within city limits for a venture-backed company, according to data from financial data provider PitchBook and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies. The company was founded in 2013 as a University of Pennsylvania spinout, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that CHOP stands to reap a total return of $430 million for its minority stake in Spark Therapeutics in the deal. The deal is reportedly — and finally — closing today.

A Spark-branded lab coat

A Spark-branded lab coat. (Courtesy photo)

6. Here’s how to use Philadelphia’s new voting machines in the Nov. 5 general election

Earlier this year, the City of Philadelphia unveiled a new voting system in response to a mandate by the Department of State and Gov. Tom Wolf that all Pennsylvania counties must replace their current systems with those that include a voter-verifiable paper ballot. It’s the first time Philly will have an all-electronic system, and although there’s been some controversy around how the machines were selected, voters used the ExpressVote XL machines for the first time in November. The voting system tallies votes electronically, but with the paper ballots as confirmation.

“Because the ExpressVote XL produces a paper ballot, Philadelphia will be able to conduct enhanced post-election audits and recounts if needed,” the City said.

"I voted today" stickers

“I voted today” stickers. (Technical.ly file photo)

7. Grubhub expands Philly presence inside new 15,000-square-foot office

In March, Grubhub officially opened the doors to its 15,000-square-foot office on the corner of 16th and Cherry streets, where local staffers of the Chicago-based company had been toiling away since February. The story of the company’s Philly presence goes like this: A publicly traded company — which delivers almost a half-million daily orders of the likes of sushi and fried chicken to 2,000 U.S. cities — nabbed a small group of staffers from shuttered startup Zoomer, then expands its tech presence in Philadelphia two years later. Earlier this year, the team was about 100 strong.

A roomful of software developers

Some of Grubhub’s Philly devs. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

8. Public safety app Citizen is now live in Philly

The Citizen app stirred up plenty of controversy when it was first introduced in 2016 with the name “Vigilante”: That paired with its video feature seemed to indicate that users should be using the app to interrupt crime as it was happening. The app launched earlier this year under a new name, marking Philadelphia as the fifth U.S. city where users can get real-time notifications about nearby crime, emergencies and ongoing incidents.

“Citizen does not condone users putting themselves in harm’s way in order to record videos,” the company warns on its website. “User safety is our first priority.”

Two screenshots of a mobile app showing a map of Philly with red spots for reports of criminal activity

Screenshots of what users in Philly see when opening the app.

9. Girl Develop It’s Philly chapter leader resigns amid ‘racism crisis’

Now-former GDI Philadelphia Chapter Leader Suzie Nieman announced in January that she was stepping down from her role at the tech education network aimed at women and underrepresented groups, effectively halting local operations. In an open letter posted on the group’s Slack channel, Nieman denounced the handling of “institutional racism” stemming from incidents inside the Delaware and Minneapolis chapters and within its Philadelphia headquarters, which led some 200 community members across the country to undersign a fiery open letter to the nonprofit’s board of directors at the end of last year.

In its wake, a new Slack group called We Evolve has been formed and is currently active. GDI Executive Director Corinne Warnshuis announced she was leaving the org in April.

A Girl Develop It class hosted at P'unk Ave.

A Girl Develop It class in Philadelphia. (Courtesy photo)

10. Why it matters that Philly has a conference for women of color in tech

After two decades in IT consulting, software development and project management, Jumoke Dada — founder of consulting firm Signature RED — kept running into women of color she hadn’t met before at tech events outside of Philly. It’s why she formed both the Tech Women Network platform and the HUE Tech Summit conference, two spaces geared at growing connective tissue between women of color in tech, a vertical that in Philly (and beyond) is widely dominated by male, white staffers.

The summit, which held its second annual event this year, has extra significance, Dada said, in that it will help put the map in Philly for regular programming geared at women of color in tech: “My experience being here in Philly in terms of women of color is that there has to be more of us out there.”

a group of women of color

Jumoke Dada (center) at 2018’s HUE Tech Summit. (Courtesy photo)

Companies: REC Philly / Spark Therapeutics / RevZilla / Technical.ly

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