The good the bad and the indifferent: my adventures repping Vancouver at Web Summit
For those who pump Vancouver tech’s tires, it’s plain to see what’s being built here. Yet, internationally, I think we need a little bit more clout.
“People think about Vancouver?” an Estonian software engineer asks me. We were part of a small pack of Web Summit attendees trying to navigate the Portuguese train network and had just watched a gorgeous commuter train come and go. The conductor, a dapper man in a suit and tie, waved his finger like Dikembe Mutumbo swatting away a jump shot. Finally, a totally respectable but less dazzling train arrived. It was as if our Cadillac had been replaced by a Toyota Corolla.
It was an intriguing finale to a whirlwind opening night at Web Summit. The world’s preeminent tech conference kicked off with a bang — literally — when a robotic camera toppled from the rafters of the 21,000 seat Altice Arena into the sellout crowd. This, naturally, delayed proceedings a fair bit. Hence the later departure and less regular service.
Recognizing the pack from a few near-misses of departing trains, inexplicably all on different platforms, we made small talk. A few got distracted by phone calls, the kind that come from a spouse or a parent that have them talking in hushed but tender tones. Leaving me with the Estonian. I informed him of my mission: to find out about the international perception of Vancouver tech. (I phrased it more informally when I pondered what he may think of our fair city.) The seemingly incredulous retort came as a surprise to my Canucks-watching, lululemon-wearing, Duffin’s-eating self. Yet, it was far from a one-off.
What followed that opening act was, at least in my experience, essentially more of the same. I met hundreds of incredible people across a lot of different spaces, roles, and vantage points — the kind of swath you get as one of 71,033 attendees. Yet, most could only refer to a few facets of Vancouver: the mountains, the beaches, and the like. This is not to say there was no Vancouver representation or no tech understanding from folks east (like, very east) of Boundary Road. As I will get into, there were leading Vancouverites on a world stage. There were a few facets of the tech industry that stood out. But, my Vancouver-tech-bubble-induced prediction that I would hear “Dapper Labs” or “Hootsuite” or “Electronic Arts” in an eclectic collection of accents didn’t exactly happen. Here’s what did.