Chris Wink embraces inefficiency. He’s trying to add as much as possible to this year’s Philly Tech Week.
“Virtual tools and software are built to be efficient, and they’re remarkable,” he said. “But humanity thrives in inefficiency. It’s where life and serendipitous meetings happen."
Philly Tech Week, which began a decade ago as a celebration of technology and innovation, has evolved into one of the region’s key recruiting events. It’s where feisty start-ups and Fortune 100 companies alike trawl for talented software engineers, programmers, and technologists.
This year’s iteration of Philly Tech Week, which will begin Monday and run through Friday, is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal. The event drew 20,000 attendees last year, though half that are expected this year online.
Tech Week has its prominent fans.
“They’ve become a magnet for the community, helping to attract new people, and serving as an on-ramp to the tech ecosystem,” said Josh Kopelman, the venture capitalist who founded First Round Capital. He also is board chair of The Philadelphia Inquirer LLC.
Networking is going to be a lot tougher to pull off this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Wink, who said he was forced to “totally rethink” the conference, says it can still happen.
This year’s Tech Week will be all virtual, with sessions held on Zoom, Hopin, Google Meet, and Twitch.
Keeping it human — and providing for chance meetings that result in jobs — will require inefficiency.
“In virtual events, you’re trying to create some inefficiency, where people can bump into each other by doing something unusual,” Wink said. “Relationship building does not happen at mass scale.
"A Twitch stream of a million people is cool, but functionally it doesn’t do anything for you if you want to find a job, a business lead, or build some relationships. So the 40 events we have scheduled will be given to smaller settings.”
One of Tech Week’s marquee events, the Technical.ly Developers Conference on Wednesday, will be broken into groups of 15 people to provide opportunities for informal chats.
“We are still bringing together the biggest collection of the hardest-to-reach professionals in the region,” said Wink, who expects 7,000 to 10,000 people to take part in PTW2020.
“Tech Week plays a large role in our recruiting efforts, especially this year,” said Maney, Linode’s head of corporate communications. “It’s definitely the one week where the Philly tech community comes together en masse, whether physically or virtually. We can go with the expectation we’ll find someone to fit the bill.”
Comcast, too, values Tech Week as a source for talent.
"We consider it a key opportunity to engage with local tech talent and build our network and talent pipelines,” said Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokeswoman. “We consistently engage with these networks/pipelines, build meaningful relationships, and draw from them as positions open for hiring across our organization.”
Tech Week didn’t start out intending to become a venue for tech job seekers.
In 2011, a trio of brash millennials took a cue from Philly Beer Week and set out to to celebrate the city’s growing technology scene. They organized a series of meet-ups with a few dozen technologists, start-up scene-sters, and early software CEOs.
“Back then, it was a cute fringe idea that was essentially seen as poseurs trying to re-create a little Silicon Valley,” said Wink, who co-founded Technical.ly, the network of local technology news sites and Tech Week with two fellow Temple University alumni, Brian James Kirk and Sean Blanda.
(Kirk left Technical.ly in 2019 to found Bikeout, a bicycle adventure start-up. Blanda departed in 2012 to edit a daily online publication in New York.)
Since its founding, Philly Tech Week has been Technical.ly’s biggest event of the year, pulling in most of the start-up’s revenue in the early days. Now it generates 20% of annual revenues, Wink said.
During the same period, Technical.ly sought to morph into a tech intelligence brand with additional online publications in Baltimore, Washington, and Delaware. (A pilot is running in Pittsburgh.) What began as a trio has grown to staff of 16 headquartered in Philadelphia’s Curtis Building.
Technical.ly now derives a third of its funding from events through tickets and sponsorship, another third from grants, and the remainder from recruitment advertising, Wink said.
The tech ecosystem also has undergone a rapid maturation.
Though hard to imagine now, most CEOs at established firms a decade ago regarded their [information technology departments “as a place to get their Blackberries fixed,” Wink said.
“Those IT departments are now chiefly responsible for their company’s competitiveness and survival for whatever market or industry they compete in,” Wink said. "What was seen as a nerdy afterthought is now a key part of their business and a core function of what is needed for them to survive.
“The IT guys have gone from the basement to the C-Suite, and tech is now a new corner of the city’s economy.”
Most of this week’s 40 events are free. Others range from $25 to $250.