We asked a bunch of interesting locals for their 2015 resolutions for Miami. Over January, we’re sharing what they said in a few groups. Today: the Miami tech community. It’s talked about a lot as a growing industry; what can we do in 2015 to help it succeed?
Ibis Arrastia is the Miami Chapter Leader of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit with chapters all over the country providing accessible education and mentoring to help girls and women learn software and web development. She’s an experienced developer in her own right, too, with more than two decades making technology.
We need a lot more of a community where tech people are helping each other sharpen their skills and develop themselves to a level where Miami can get attention and a lot of work. My goal is that other areas will recognize Miami as having a position in tech, and big corporations will move down here and increase opportunities.
A lot of people are graduating here in tech but then go out to other parts of the state or nation to use those skills. There aren’t enough jobs in tech and IT. I see a big discrepancy in salaries in tech in Miami, even with somewhere as close as Boca or Jacksonville. It’s something where there’s such a low number of jobs, people are willing to negotiate downward in order to get them.
Trying to reach [girls and women] is hard. The people I’d like to reach the most are single moms working multiple jobs trying to make it. If they know that by doing this program they could make more money in 8 hours than they make in a week with their current job, that would make a big change in their lives. We do a lot of communication with different workgroups that help with economic advancement and government agencies locally, churches and things like that that have big ties in the community. But it’s hard to reach these people who are so busy to help them make that change.
Brian Breslin is the founder and director of Refresh Miami, one of the largest local organizations focused on building the technology and entrepreneurship community. Since their start in 2006, Refresh has organized more than a hundred meetings, workshops and trainings for thousands of local entrepreneurs and technologists.
I’d like to see more people giving back and more mentorship. Veterans sharing their knowledge with the new generation of entrepreneurs. I’d like to see more collaboration going on between local startups and enterprises, up and down the food chain. We need more people breaking ground and doing innovative stuff.
One of the things we’re starting this week on a trial basis is connecting some of the young entrepreneurs on the MBAs who are in college programs. They’re going to provide mentorship and free consulting work to startups. We’re also working on a curriculum to do entrepreneurship bootcamp series so that we can help a lot of these entrepreneurs with the actual business side. A lot of startups fail because of business problems; they fail at simple things they could have avoided.
The community is pretty good at self-filtering. You see these short-lived efforts come and go, but the things that sustain are the ones that are truly in touch with what the community’s looking for and needs. I do think there’s a lot of horses being put before the carts, so to speak. There seems to be a lot of aspirational talk. We like to believe that we’re a stronger community than maybe we are. But the question comes down to, do you fake it until you make it? And/or, if no one talks about what they hope for, the community never gets there. You need a certain amount of hype in order to sustain the reality. Hopefully, we see more dollars matching the hype.
Felecia Hatcher is an author, social entrepreneur, Chief Popsicle at Feverish Ice Cream and Gourmet Pops, and co-founder of Code Fever, an initiative that trains African American youth in technology and entrepreneurship. She’s been named a White House Champion of Change, and she has spearheaded experiential marketing and social media campaigns around the country for top tech companies and brands.
The biggest thing that I’m working on now is the Black Tech Week conference. We’re trying to change the traditional stuff that takes place during black history month and do something that is innovative and collaborative and unites. We’re wanting to do something that celebrates innovators of color that are doing cool shit here in Miami and all around the world, and we want that here because Miami is so diverse.
From a tech exposure standpoint, there is still a lot of work to be done in Miami. We need to really help the community understand that technology is a part of their lives and they can choose to either be passive about that or really take a part in shaping it. A lot of people are afraid of it. They think it’s a different language. We need to get past that. We’re trying to get into new communities that have never really been a part of the tech community before. We’re launching programs this year in Richmond Heights and in Palm Beach to give them skills and the confidence they need to be a part of technology.
Everyone brags about us being in a knowledge economy but we should be bragging about being in an applied knowledge economy. We’re interested in showing people the skills, but also helping them understand how they can monetize those skills and use them to support themselves. Part of this is about culture — showing that technology connects us all and giving people a broader understanding and confidence about how they belong in that community. The communities that we’re dealing with are starting from ground zero, so some of it is training, but a lot of this is about confidence and culture.
Collision points are key. The whole diversity issue is a big thing, and it’s OK to say that we don’t know how to fix this issue, but we’re going to be open to new solutions.
Ernie Hsiung is a developer-designer, founder of Front-End Design Meetup, and founder and former co-captain of Code for Miami. He’ll be spending 2015 as a Code for America fellow working to improve government technology in Miami-Dade County, with two other fellows, Mathias Gibson, a public policy researcher who previously managed tech and data projects for the city of San Francisco, and Sophia Dengo, also a developer-designer hybrid who previously built interactive interfaces for CNN.com.
The fellows are going to be working with Miami-Dade County’s Regulatory and Economic Resources Department. They handle fun things like permits and zoning and facilitating entrepreneurialism. We have a lot of experience on our team in a lot of different areas, and we’re going to work with lots of people in the community from business owners, homeowners, philanthropists, and government officials to try to think about how technology might better serve all these groups.
Miami has one of the strongest rates of entrepreneurialism, and our big goal is to help county government figure out how to make that even more accessible and transparent. For example, in Miami, there is a culture in Miami of picking up a phone and paying a few hundred dollars to have a guy handle permits for you because he knows the right ways to move your project along. That doesn’t exist so much in other cities. We want to look at issues like permitting to see if we can help more constituents be a part of this great thing in our culture through technology.
The biggest thing I would like to see in Miami’s tech community, in general, are additional developer resources. I think the tech community in Miami has come a long way since I visited for the first time four or five years ago. There’s been a lot of movement in the business and entrepreneurial side of things because Miami is such an entrepreneurial city, but nothing reminds you that Miami has a long way to go like spending ten months in San Francisco.
Schools like Wyncode and Ironhack are great, but we still need community-run resources to help people learn and get involved. People see that coding is a great career, but technology is so much more than working for a V.C.-funded startup.
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem for V.C., because they won’t invest unless they know they have resources to build a strong company, and our developers won’t stay bc they’re moving to New York or San Francisco to chase big dreams of working for a big, well-funded company. Everyone is focusing on growth on the V.C. level, but I think we also have to level-up from the community side to meet that.
Because Miami’s developer community is still nascent, I think we also have a head-start in getting women/minority developers up-and-running and having them help lead the charge toward a more diverse tech community too. That’s a big dream, and there aren’t a lot of resources. It’s a hard problem on a national level, but how amazing would that be if we were the leader? I want to see that in Miami.
Alfonso Martinez is the Chief Creative Officer at Wynwood startup LiveNinja, which just received Scout Ventures’ first South Florida investment. LiveNinja is a leading company in Miami’s growing tech scene, and this year they started Waffle Wednesdays, a free event to bring the tech community together over breakfast.
As a company, we’re going to try to make 2015 LiveNinja’s most successful sales year to date, but we’re also going to keep pushing on helping to develop and connect this community.
For the past six months or so, Waffle Wednesday has been what I think is a very successful beta experiment. What I want to do this year is take Waffle Wednesday to the next level. I want less of an agenda and more collaboration, more community, more synergy in our tech community. We just want everybody to come together, and we think that’s what happens in that room on Wednesday mornings. We don’t need everyone in Miami to have the same goals or outcomes in mind, but we need them to come together and be a community. And if we have to get people together by feeding them waffles, then goddammit, that’s what we’re going to do.
I feel there’s a lot of untapped talent here. There is so much potential in Miami, and I see it every week. We see people who have great ideas or who just launched a company or who have awesome skills, and they’re talking to each other. New people meet, products get sold, connections get made, conversations are had, people get hired, and it’s amazing to see how these ideas spread from person to person. There is something to be said for providing space for protons and particles to just collide and see what grows out of that. I feel that was something that the tech community was missing, and I want to expand it.
As a company, Waffle Wednesday lets us foster relationships with hundreds of amazing and talented people in Miami. But we love being a Miami company because we see the potential here, and Waffle Wednesday is also an opportunity to show people outside of Miami just what an awesome community it is.
Johanna Mikkola is cofounder and managing director of Wyncode, a coding school based at LAB Miami, which she cofounded with her husband. She was born in Finland, spent early years in Palm Beach, and most recently moved from Canada to Miami to launch Wyncode, which celebrated its first 50 graduates late last year.
My number one resolution for Miami tech would be to get Miami coding. We’ve had great traction, 50 graduates, already. But it just scratches the surface. If Miami really jumps on board with the need for this type of tech education, it will continue to drive the community forward. The second one is improved access to coding education. We’re an immersive program that is a significant financial and time commitment. We need improved access points; they need to be exposed to [coding] more.
There’s a lot of talk that’s happening, and that’s great and plays an important role in building community. But it’s also important that everyone spending time doing that is spending a majority of time with their heads down, working. It’s more important than ever that we follow through with all the things everybody is saying they’re going to do.
We’re excited to be a part of the story and helping people contribute. We need a bigger commitment from some of the big tech companies, to come out and say “Miami tech is awesome.” Most people don’t know that tech happens in Miami still. We need to continue to work to establish our place in the various tech hubs around the US.