Last month Forbes magazine published The Top 10 Rising Cities for Startups and Philadelphia was ranked eighth on the list. While the news was exciting and surprising to some, there are a lot of people who knew the tech scene would blossom and become a destination for people with careers in technology a long time ago.
A Russian native, Marianna Kind, who is a Business Intelligence Manager for Comcast and President of the Network for Women with Careers in Technology (NWCT), moved to Philadelphia in 2010 after working in the area for three years. As a technology leader for over 18 years, Kind has been very involved with many nonprofit technology organizations in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
“The changes I have seen since then are tremendous! Pretty soon Philadelphia will be ranked number three not only for startups but also for innovations. With the growth of the Comcast Corporation, innovation will always be present in Philadelphia. In the past few years many new nonprofit organizations for women have been started or branched. The brightest example of uniting Philadelphia women in technology is the Women in Tech Summit.” said Kind.
WITS has been organized in Philadelphia since 2012 to educate and connect women in the technology industry. The summit started by Gloria Bell is a yearly event held in many other metro areas all over the U.S..
Kind said, “Building and growing the community of women in technology, learning more about writing code, and studying the latest technology in the social media marketing space are the main focus of not only WITS but also the organization I have been leading for over a year – Network for Women with Careers in Technology (NWCT).”
Started in 1980, the mission of NWCT is to advance careers for professionals in all areas of technology through education, mentoring, and providing professional networking opportunities.
“We helped so many ladies and gents to not only connect, but, also to learn about negotiating, networking, life coaching, mentoring and even wine tasting. It’s all about connecting people, it is all about networking, it is all about expanding circles of friends. After all we are THE Network for Women with Careers in Technology. We found creative ways to help people in their professional world as well as giving them food for thought.” Kind said.
A good friend to Kind, Helen Sanders is another well-known, experienced tech industry insider and leader involved with numerous nonprofits. Sanders is Vice President of NWCT and Assistant Director of Applications Development and Support Services in the Temple University Student Collaboration Center and she shared her view of the Philly tech scene.
“I have seen a lot of growth in the socializing of tech. What I mean by that is so many Meetup groups around tech. Lots of networking, tech demos and real buzz by tech startups in the city. I think it’s a really exciting time!” said Sanders.
While these women are supporting and mentoring other women pursuing careers in technology, Shane Finkel, Agile Aces Managing Principal, Agile and Scrum Trainer/Coach, and Drexel University Goodwin College of Professional Studies Adjunct Professor prepares his students for the needs of local employers.
“I am personally seeing a growing trend in the number of adult learners who have made their own investments, spending their own time and money to register for classes to receive certifications and training in agile, scrum, project management, and related technology training in order to become qualified and more competitive for job opportunities, as well as expand their career growth opportunities.” said Finkel.
Finkel’s students are focused on being more valuable to employers in the Philadelphia job market by obtaining the skills needed to remain competitive in the local job market.
Finkel also said, “Companies in the Philadelphia area, from startup to Fortune 50, are recognizing the importance of technology in order to remain competitive and to operate like a modern technology firm. In order to accomplish this, they are investing more in software, hardware, infrastructure, and the acquisition of skilled individuals who are trained and experienced in utilizing this technology. This investment benefits the company by helping to increase revenue, decrease operating costs and benefits the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area by fueling our economy and creating new job opportunities.”
A lot of students who come to Philly decide to stay permanently because they understand the growing IT needs of businesses and continued economic growth in the area.
“I came to Philly in 2007 to get my Master’s in Computer & Information Science at Penn.” said CEO of Dignitas Digital, Dhawal Sehgal.
Sehgal shared why he left India and decided to stay here after finishing his M.S. to start a digital agency in Philadelphia.
“Philly is a growing and promising city that does not have the chaos of the bigger cities but has a significant amount of opportunities. With the city growing higher and wider, there are a lot of businesses that have grown significantly since 2007 and a lot of businesses are expanding to Philadelphia as well. With advancements in technology, and how technology has become an integral part of how businesses are run, the importance of tech for business is more important than ever! We have grown in terms of acquiring more local talent from Philadelphia and working in sync with the demands of the changing technological landscape that has more to do with a global scale than just Philly.” said Sehgal.
Despite all the activity and excitement in Philly surrounding technology, there are some challenges to address that could hinder the continued evolution of becoming a great tech startup city.
Christopher Wink is the co-founder of Technical.ly, which is a Philadelphia technology news website started in 2009 that is an important Philly tech news source. Technical.ly also plans regular tech events and Wink helped launch the first Philly Tech Week that takes place every year. Wink is also Publisher, and CEO of Technically Media.
“The hardest, realest work all tech ecosystems need to get done is building big, successful companies. Those only come after dozens of micro-generations allow a more experienced set of entrepreneurs and technologists to find each other. Philadelphia needs to continue building and supporting great companies — and finding ways this city can be more equitable, inclusive and beneficial for people in a city with poverty, crime and education challenges.” said Wink.
Poverty, crime, and education challenges have been issues in this city decades before home computers and the internet were ever invented. While Wink acknowledges the city’s problems, he focuses on the positive and last year, Technically Philly started the reaList. The list is comprised of the top 20 Philly startups to watch closely. You can find the 2018 reaList here.
If we continue to focus on all the positive benefits of how technology is enhancing the city by creating more job opportunities, economic growth, and encouraging people to further their education, it could override all of the issues this city has struggled to fix since the mid 1900’s.
*Philadelphia skyline photo courtesy of Comcast Corporation-Xfinity