New York Wins Because It Has More Girls (and other tidbits of insanity from the tech community)

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tumblr_m585xyxrjm1r06u14Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t live in a fantasy world where we get to define truth and memorex. There are many areas of life that are grey areas. Then there’s right and wrong, correct and incorrect, proper and improper, truth and consequences.

I had a conversation recently with a third party developer that was maintaining some code for a client. It went something like this.

Me: Hey, we’re having some problems and I noticed in the logs this error that occurs anytime we encounter the problem. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it seems to have to do with this code. Can you look?

Him: If you turn the error reporting down, then it won’t appear in the log.

Me: I don’t think you understand. I’m not complaining about the error in the log. The error helped me pinpoint the problem area. All turning error reporting down does is prevent us from seeing the error. It doesn’t make it go away. Please tell me how you want to fix this. Thanks.

This morning, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article did your now-common comparison between east coast tech – more specifically, New York Tech – and Silicon Valley tech. That conversation is exhausted. I’ve already addressed regional fiefdoms. It doesn’t matter. Us? Them? Who’s got the biggest dick? It doesn’t matter. Let’s save that conversation for another time.

The article was mostly good, besides the cliché. Until the final three paragraphs.

Andrew Rasiej, chairman of NY Tech Meetup, was debating the merits of New York versus Silicon Valley’s nearest metropolis, San Francisco, at a recent conference when a young programmer chipped in: “New York will always win out,” Mr. Rasiej recalled of the exchange, “because it has more girls.”

A table full of female models was recently enjoying a girls’ night out at Abe & Arthur’s, a steakhouse in the Meatpacking District, when a man sent one of the women a note on a cocktail napkin. It read: “iamrich@google.com.”

The women posted the napkin to Facebook and crowdsourced ways they might reject the overture. In a way, it brought together avatars of the new tech scene with icons of established fashion power. But it also marked, in Internet lingo, an epic fail.

Let’s also ignore the money status cliche and address the sexism issue described in this article. I’ve done it before and I’ll continue to do it until we stop pretending that the problem doesn’t exist by simply changing the log reporting.

The tech community really likes to turn down the error reporting in a big way. New York wins out because it has more girls. Is that so?

We work, breathe, live, spend our weekends in and around, date inside of the tech world. As entrepreneurs and techies, I know more people with zero social life because their idea of fun is sitting at home at 1am on a Saturday coding a Ruby app. Maybe we are just socially unaware. Maybe we’re malicious. Maybe we’re really misogynist.

I don’t care what the excuse is. We must do better. All of us.

Having a balanced number of women to men on tech-oriented panels and at conferences is a good start, but we must fix the problem. We have to get our heads out of our asses and realize that women engineers can probably teach us something about our own world. We don’t know better. We know enough to hang ourselves.

The casual things we say to each other online or in person. The jokes we make that, to us, are jokes… are not jokes.

This is not a cry for political correctness. This is a call for sensitivity and thoughtful intent. This is a sobering call for respect and equality.

I’m talking to myself as much as am talking to you. Every time I make comments about a woman being hot, I am not simply being a man. I am disqualifying her from the intellectual marketplace that I live in. Every time I go to a meetup drinkup and I gravitate toward the woman at the bar at the same event, I marginalize her abilities as a woman in tech.

Are we supposed to just become asexual beings? No. Of course not. But there’s a time, place and way to do it and making comments like “New York wins because we have more girls,” is gross negligence. If New York wins, it’s because it has the best apps, companies, entrepreneurs and ideas… and women are partners in that.

Let’s wake up and get real and stop simply turning down the error reporting so we don’t have to address the issue.

Bring Different Innovation to Washington

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A few weeks ago, I received a call from my friend Robert Neelbauer at about 11 pm. He wanted to talk about innovation and technology startups in DC. For those who live around here, you know there’s not a lot of them. Mostly project-type things that entrepreneurs who work day jobs have cooking. And of course, even though DC is home to Launchbox Digital an accelerator program in the order of Techstars or Ycombinator, there remains a dearth of Silicon Valley style startups.

This call got me thinking about the landscape in DC. It is, as it always has been, a center of government. Those of us who live here joke about the difference between Washington, the center of government, and the District, a wider culture of arts, nightlife and activity outside of government. The reality is, however, that the two are inexorably fused at the hip. Spending Friday nights enjoying nightlife inevitably means spending time among people connected in Washington, on Capitol Hill or other parts of government. It is difficult to live in this city without being part of the Washington-culture somehow. More after the jump.

3531416607_3e8e066127Today, with the Obama administration and its embrace of internet culture, the advent of “Government 2.0″ has come about. Government 2.0, a term describing the second generation of government using the faux-fashionable way of versioning, describes an embrace of web technologies and culture to advance the mission of government. Without getting into my feelings on Government 2.0 as a whole (my thoughts are well-documented), it’s difficult to escape the reality of enterprise in DC.

DC is not a city lent to Silicon Valley-style innovation. We will never house the next Twitter and Google only exists here as a lobbying arm of the Mountain View, California search giant. It is a city dedicated to practical innovation. We will never have the sex appeal to attract the innovators in California here. It’s not our style.

What we do have is an opportunity for innovation as it pertains to agency mission. We do have the opportunity to develop products that meet the needs of elected government, established government and citizens in a time of economic uncertainty. We do have the ability to build products and services that meet the needs of Washington, but as long as we try to meet the needs of the country and the world, we run the risk of barking up the wrong tree.

Yahoo made a massive move last week, announcing a search deal with Microsoft. Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, suggested that Yahoo could not compete with Google anymore in search and the deal would allow Yahoo to focus and innovate in the areas they could compete. If you haven’t been paying attention to me since 2007, then you would have missed my thoughts on this. Yahoo came to grips with the realization that they couldn’t compete with Google but they could own another niche. This is the same realization that DC has to come to for itself. We can’t (nor should we) compete with Silicon Valley. Besides the fact that they are dwindling in relevancy as the spotlight shifts to other cities and reasons, we have something they can never have.

And while Silicon Valley warlords aimlessly try to find their relevancy and foothold in Washington, we have the ability to use our real connections, our real knowledge of the inside-the-beltway world, and our real grassroots abilities that we displayed in getting our President elected to bring new and relevant innovation to government.

By the way, the first person who suggests government agencies need wikis and Twitter to be relevant, is banished back to California.

Internet 2.0, Suck it Up and Lead

The Valley, which has so far been most unaffected by the downturn in the economy, may be reaching the end of it’s golden thread. Sequoia Capital, one of the largest Venture Capital firms in the Valley, had a meeting with their portfolio companies advising them to “tighten their belts” according to Om Malik of GigaOm.

The message delivered to those in attendance was that things could get a lot worse than people think, and it will be a more protracted downturn. To give a historical perspective, Sequoia had a similar meeting back before the last bubble unraveled burst. We know how that turned out.

Hot on the heels of Sequoias meeting, angel investor Ron Conway sent an email to the CEOs of his potfolio companies advising them, in the words of Mike Arrington, of a bleak immediate future:

You should lower your “œburn rate” to raise at least 3-6 months or more of funding via cost reductions, even if it means staff reductions and reduced marketing and G&A expenses. This is the equivalent to “œraising an internal round” through cost reductions to buy you more time until you need to raise money again; hopefully when fund raising is more feasible. Letting go of staff is hard and often gut wrenching. A re-evaluation of timelines and re-focus on milestones with the eye of doing more with less will allow you to live many more days, and the name of the game in this environment in some respects is survival”“survival until conditions change.

Brad Feld, an investor in Lijit who I work for, echoes my sentiments from yesterday (or rather, I echoed his since he went first):

My recommendation to all of you entrepreneurs out there is to get off the negative sentiment treadmill, step up, and lead. The people working for your company are likely confused, concerned, and overwhelmed with all the noise in the system. In the near term, building your business will likely be more challenging on a number of dimensions. So what – that’s the normal cycle of business. You don’t need to be a blind optimist and spout happy talk, but you do need to have a clear sense of purpose and goals for your company. Leadership 101.

Times get tough. The people that approach the challenge with some clarity in their thoughts are the ones that will emerge on the other side stronger than ever and positioned to be the next generation of winners in this space.