As I sat in a crowded restaurant and chatted with a Syracuse alumnus, Ken, about his interests and favorite hobbies, he offhandedly mentioned his participation in a local adult marching band.
“No way! How did you find an adult marching band? I’ve never even heard of such a thing,” I remarked, assuming that he spent years finding this odd group of friends to join him in this undertaking.
He gave me a confused look and exclaimed, as if it were the most obvious answer in the world, “Honey, this is Portland!”
Although this interaction did leave me laughing (and led to some great conversation on his latest marching band gigs) this exchange was far from unique. In fact, I encountered people all over Portland with the same sentiments as Ken.
Why Portland is a Tech Paradise
People who live in Portland are, in plain terms, weird. They are hobbyists and athletes and intellectuals and goofballs and far more interesting than I will ever be. Our brief trip to Portland revealed a city that has organizations that thrive, not in spite of their employees’ various interests, but because of it.
Portland has become a remarkable tech hub in the past few decades because its citizens are well, interesting. Nike is a company full of hippies and triathletes, creating awesome sportswear by reusing old sneakers and finding innovative dyes that require mere drops of water, instead of buckets, to use.
When faced with a market that uses social media like a toddler uses toys, moving from one platform to the next whenever they get bored, SMARSH found the idea of archiving these new platforms as a perfect way to show their “drive for constant innovation and improvement.” What kind of nutcase sees an endless amount of hurtles as exciting rather than overwhelming? Cloudability hadn’t even mentioned their business plan when their landlord asked them how they would be able to contribute the local art scene. Seriously?
Why Portland’s Insanity is a Good Thing
Leaving Portland, I came to the intellectual and scientific conclusion that the city is full of crazy people, wearing awesome thrifted jeans and with some great cold brew in hand. But as I compared the Portland visits to those in Seattle, I realized that Portland’s insanity was the reason why they were becoming the tech hub that GeekWire writes about.
The creativity that the city fosters and the passions that its residents have for activities outside of work translate to successful ideas and projects at work, as well. Of course startups can thrive in Portland; residents are practically begging to try a new restaurant or software update or donut recipe! People come to work the same way that they arrive at their Eastern philosophy club: excited and passionate and stoked about what they get to do with their life.
Some may argue that Portland’s insanity makes it less of a powerhouse than Seattle. But, by all indications, the city is remarkably innovative and vibrant in so many ways. In conclusion, my advice for the city on how to make itself an even stronger competitor in the tech industry is simple: Keep Portland weird.
Wondering where the iSchool’s Pacific Northwest trip, Peak 2 Peak, went this year? Here’s the full list! Explore the companies for yourself: