Saeed Gatson

Software Developer

The Tech Scene In Eugene Oregon Has A Media Problem

For the short time that I’ve been living in Eugene, Oregon there’s one problem I can’t escape.

It echoes through slack channels and even over casual beers. The issue appears during high-brow parties, and at local meetups.

I’ve spoken to a Wall Street Journal reporter and city level organization directors about it. The problem attacks local business owners, University of Oregon professors, and fellow software developers.

The problem appear in the form of a question. How do we get local students to know about opportunities in Eugene? How do we hold on to our skilled talent? How can we keep up with all the great things happening in town?

These all seem to be questions around awareness. I think the tech scene in Eugene, Oregon has a media problem. We can help change that.

Eug Tech Media Problem Cover

A recipe that builds a tech sector in Eugene Oregon

A base assumption of this argument is that Eugene wants to continue to grow its tech sector. So we first have to figure out what’s needed to build a tech sector.

In an essay by Paul Graham titled How to Be Silicon Valley. Graham asks the question, “could you reproduce Silicon Valley elsewhere, or is there something unique about it?” He thinks it’s possible to recreate silicon valley with a few ingredients. You’ll need money, universities, personality, nerds, youth, and time.

The community is what’s most important. Graham thinks you only need two types of people to recreate Silicon Valley style tech sector. That would be nerds and rich people.

Not including time, it’s arguable that Eugene has 4 out of the 5 ingredients. A great university in a town with tons of personality. Young people, at the least at heart, and plenty of nerds.

Paul Graham goes on to say, “Within the US, the two cities I think could most easily be turned into new silicon valleys are Boulder and Portland. Both have the kind of effervescent feel that attracts the young. They’re each only a great university short of becoming a silicon valley, if they wanted to.”

Portland might need a university upgrade. In my mind Eugene, is a city center away from becoming a type of silicon valley tech sector. The current downtown area is perfect for this. Public subsidies for the fiber network downtown are a step in the right direction. It’s working for towns like Chattanooga anyway.

I’m not saying that Eugene needs to become the next silicon valley. But by looking at one of the largest tech sectors one earth we can learn a lot about how to shape our own tech scene.

Why wouldn’t we wait it out and see what happens? If Eugene has a majority of the ingredients needed to become a tech sector time should solve all. It’s tempting but we can’t wait because our story will drown in the noise.

The problems caused by a lack of content

To me it feels like we have a few nerds and we have some money floating around. They’re not great at finding each other though. Even groups of like-minded people are having problems connecting.

Limited awareness is the main result of low content creation. It’s a big problem for the tech sector here in Eugene.

A lot of use in the Eugene tech scene are running together in parallel on the same track. Running towards the same goals. We need more baton passing, and less pack running.

Don’t get me wrong the tech scene is flourishing in Eugene. But more media can help bridge the gap.

How many students have moved out of the area because they didn’t know about the opportunities in town? My gut says most of them.

How many talented people could we attract to Eugene if they knew more about it? I would think quite a few.

How many high paying Oregonian jobs could blossom with the growth of tech in Lane County? It could be hundreds easy.

I’m definitely not alone in this thought.

What's Happening Downtown

In 2016, Rick Dancer did an interview with Matt Sayre, the Executive Director at TAO. They both talked about what’s happening in downtown Eugene. During the interview Sayre outlined the current state of the Eugene tech sector.

He says, “… I think a lot of people don’t know about the tech community downtown and in Lane County in general. But by the numbers we’re now over 400 tech companies in Lane County employing upwards of five thousand folks. We actually are a sector that has the highest growth curve of any sector of the economy here in Lane county.”

That’s amazing, but based on the amount of awareness surprising to most people.

We’re all part of the solution

Don’t get me wrong this isn’t an easy problem to solve. I’m well aware of the difficulty of creating content. It takes a lot of work, but together we can focus the spotlight.

So tell your story. Create content and media around what you’re working on here in Eugene. Spread the word. We all have a voice that needs to be heard.

If you’re not the outspoken type that’s fine. There are plenty of ways to contribute. I would suggest finding or building something you believe in. Join the local community. Chat it up in one of the Eugene Tech Slack channels. Go to a Eugene meetup group. Help someone over on the Eugene Tech switchboard. Find a job opening for yourself or a friend in the Silicon Shire. Become a Technology Association of Oregon member.

Do what you can to help. A rising tide raises all boats.

If you’re ambitious you can take some advice from Gary Vaynerchuk. He commented on Birmingham’s tech scene during a SlossTech Fireside Chat in 2016.

A question came up about what is one thing Birmingham, Alabama could to do to grow its local tech community. Gary had this to say, “the real win for any community is you need to support each other and get a win. A company coming from this town that makes a global or at least a national impact on ‘the scene’  is what it takes to take a city and put it on the map. That’s just the truth.”

Maybe something you build could help put Eugene’s tech scene on the map.

Gary Vee at Sloss Tech 2016

We should focus on our strengths in the community. Whether that be education, gaming, track and field, craft beer, or something else. Again it comes down to the people. I’m proud to say the Eugene, Oregon is overflowing with great people.

You’re a big part of the continued growth

The tech scene around Eugene might have a media problem now, but that’s changing. Awareness brought through media content will help boost continued growth.

The problem won’t be solved from the top down. Things will have to grow through grassroots movements. Eugene is really serious about being casual.

A lot of people have already put in a lot of work to help grow the local tech scene for years. If you’re one of them thank you.

Let’s all help the tech sector in Eugene be the best version of itself.

5 Comments

  1. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/04/25/tech-boom-forces-ruthless-gentrification-san-francisco-248135.html

    I don’t want this to happen to Eugene. Low tech isn’t a problem that needs to be solved here.

    • I wouldn’t want ruthless gentrification to happen in Eugene either. If that started I feel the city could do things to help balance it out. Avoiding the strict development laws that San Francisco has in place for example. That way residential development growth could easily match population growth. Either way displacement is a challenging problem to solve, and is something we’ll have to try our best to avoid.

    • Currently 53% of Lane County high school students live in poverty, that is a/the problem. Elevating the families that live here into higher paying tech jobs is a viable and working strategy that will solve that problem. A growing high tech industry makes that possible.

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