I’m going to admit right off the bat that this post is going to be biased and self-serving. As organizer of the upcoming HackREGINA, it’s only natural that I have a strong supportive view of Hackathons and “startup culture”. Also I want more local people to sign up for the event next Saturday, September 29th. That being said, I’ve always thought this way, so I’d be writing this post regardless.
I lived in Vancouver, BC for a little over two years, and it was a great experience as a software developer – especially moving from a city like Regina. It seemed, once I got settled in and started looking around, that there was a user group meeting / technical conference / fancy new startup company you’d hear about literally every day of the week. You could not possibly be bored as a software developer in that city – new opportunities were all around you, just begging for your attention.
Not only that, but Vancouver is home to some of the coolest tech comapnies around. I remember the first week I moved there I walked by the big metallic EA logo on Cordova and Howe – I made my (gf at the time, wife now) stop and take a picture of it. EA is there, Relic is there, Amazon is there, Mozilla is there, lots of companies you always hear about. The kind of places you dream about working for when you first apply for the college of computer sciences.
Also, Seattle is only a short (3 hour?) drive away. I had the privlidge of visiting the Microsoft campus several times while I was in Vancouver and talking with actual microsoft employees. They knew me by name! I’ve done shots with Bill Buxton, seen Scott Gunthrie’s red polo shirt in person, and told Scott Hanselman a terrible joke that he didn’t get. I was as starstruck as they come.
So when faced with the reality of moving back to Regina, I was slightly bummed out. Regina isn’t a terrible city by any stretch, and I quite enjoy it here, but it seemed like none of these cool companies, awesome opportunities, or influential people existed in Regina. As far as most major tech companies are concerned, Regina is just a hard to pronounce word.
And then I realized, so what? What prevents anyone from doing what you would do in Vancouver (or any major city), in Regina? Nowadays the only limiting factor to being involved in anything (especially tech related) is a decent internet connection. All the contacts I would make in Vancouver, all the cool companies I’d visit, all the communities I’d share ideas with, are literally a click away. There is absolutely no reason why I couldn’t accomplish something in Regina that I was planning on doing in Vancouver.
It’s Already Happening
Really, a lot of those things are already happening here. You want to see examples of cool tech startups? Check out The Two-Twenty in Saskatoon and all the entrepreneurs they work with (I’m so jealous we don’t have anything similar in Regina). Or look at the Saskatchewn App listing on the Sask iOS Developer Community website. Look at GB Internet Solutions’ success with GasBuddy and their other projects. And (self-serving again) iQmetrix software – started in Regina, and now with 4 offices across North America with some really big-name clients and cool technology (check out the SaskTel store in the Cornwall Center – all iQmetrix). Just as exciting, my friend and co-worker Matt Haines is working with the local maker community on starting up Regina’s own hackerspace, CrashBang Labs.
How about awesome conferences? Regina Technology Community hosts a monthly free event for software developers on various topics picked by the community. Prairie Dev Con started in Regina (June 2010 I’m told), and visits Regina once a year with some of the best speakers and sessions I’ve ever seen at a conference (again, self-serving – I’m presenting this year :P). And Regina is usually a satellite location for a lot of corporate tech events, including product and tech launches by Microsoft.
How Did I Fit In?
I personally have a love of “tech sessions” and developed an obesssion for hackathons after attending one in Vancouver. So what did I do? I organized HackREGINA, and I started presenting at the RTC and Prairie Dev Con. There was nothing preventing me from doing either of these things. In fact, it might’ve been easier doing these things in Regina than doing them in Vancouver, where the density of tech speakers and hackathon events is a lot higher.
The thing I love about HackREGINA is how the event might be the stepping stone of Saskatchewan’s next big tech startup. And why not? All you need to launch an application is an idea and an amount of skill. These two things are completely independent of location – everyone has an idea of an app they’d like to improve or create, and learning how to do anything software development related can be found online, most likely for free. On top of that, there are tonnes of resources to support such ventures coming out of Saskatchewan – programs like SpringBoard West and the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission, organizations who’s soul purpose is to make sure local businesses can start and succeed.
In conclusion, especially in today’s connected society, there is literally no reason why the next big thing couldn’t come from Regina. Or from any city or town for that matter. We’ve done it before, and there is nothing preventing us from doing it again.