Category: technology

Venture For America

A little less than a month ago I blogged about Code For America.  Part two of that piece is  Venture For America.  It is a program for young, talented grads to spend 2 years in the trenches of a start-up with the goal that these graduates will become socialized and mobilized as entrepreneurs moving forward.  Instead of coding, VFA fellows are tasked with joining a startup. They’re guaranteed a salary of $32,000 to $38,000 anually, and at the end of a summer training program (this year to be held at Brown), they’re matched with startups around the country. Locations vary, but although VFA is based in New York, both NYC and SF were intentionally left off the list in lieu of cities that may have a more difficult time luring talent: think Cincinnatti, Detroit, and New Orleans.

There are some early success stories from this program.  If you want hands on and you are not named Gates or Zuckerberg (meaning you have the innate talent to drop out of Harvard and go on to found a multi-billion market cap company), this could be the way to go.

The upcoming deadline is February 20, 2012, so get on it!

Talent Shortage

The tech industry in DUMBO (Brooklyn) is growing fast.  But it could be growing faster.  Like a lot of places in the country seeking technology talent – the right skill sets are scare. US schools are not turning out enough engineers or programers.

A push by city officials to bring talent to NY is well documented.

  • Cornell University and Technion- Israel Institute of Technology won a New York City contest to build an engineering campus with a grant of land on Roosevelt Island and $100 million for infrastructure improvements.
  • NYU-Poly is working with New York City to get access to the MTA Headquarters on 130 Livingston Street here in Brooklyn to expand it’s engineering school.
  • The city has even organized an academy (high school) for software engineering.

Of course this won’t help solve the scarcity issue for years.  And by the time it has an impact, the problem is likely to be way bigger.

Computer software engineer employment is projected to grow by a whopping 32 percent between 2008 and 2018, representing much faster job growth than most other occupations in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance take my tech sector of choice – Big Data.  McKinsey Global Institute projects that the U.S. needs 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with “deep analytical” expertise and 1.5 million  more data-literate managers by 2015.  And that’s just a single data point.

But back to right here, right now.  The Business Improvement District in DUMBO says there are now 17 tech company’s trying to fill some 329 Web, app and gaming tech-related jobs.

Take Huge for example.  Their Washington Street headquarters has grown from eight employees 6 years ago to 350 today.  They currently have 50 open jobs. Or Wireless Generation, and educational-software company and one of DUMBO’s largest employers – who claim to have 150 openings.  DUMBO’s flagship company Etsy has 50 openings.

These businesses are just a few of the more than 65 startups operating in the five-block hub of digital office space in DUMBO.  Publicly acknowledged or not I would wager most of the rest are hiring as well – if they can find talented people.

To attract talent, companies are adding unique benefits to really good salaries.  Certainly they are allowing flexible hours and working remote.  I would argue that Brooklyn specifically and New York in general are good selling points in their own right.

My question to the blogosphere is “what does it take, these days, to get the right person?”  Please leave a comment.

DUMBO Tech Breakfast

For several months now I have been randomly attending the DUMBO Tech Breakfast. The great thing about it is I meet new people every time I go.  And they are great.

Some people work in DUMBO, some take the F train in from the city just to have breakfast.  Some are entrepreneurs, some are what I affectionately call the ‘hacker class’.  These guys and girls are coders working on everything from UIs to mobile apps to backed-end systems.  They have skill with JavaScript, Python and  Ruby on Rails – you name it.  Some know how to use Hadoop and MapReduce which kind of blows my mind.

The conversation is different every time as well.  I’ve found myself talking about how to find a technical founder, the best way to structure a convertible note for angel investors, and which are the best shared office spaces in Brooklyn.  You get the low down.

The sappy point I’m making is it’s community.  It’s  chance to get to know who is here, what they are doing, what they need.

This group that shows up every other Friday has grown quite nicely.  It’s gone from being able to stick a bunch of tables together to pretty much taking over the entire restaurant.  You can chose where you sit and everybody pays for herself.

If you are in the startup community I hope to see you on the 24th.

Big Data

Two days ago I went to the PluggedIn Ventures Big Data and Analytics Roundtable. I think New York is a natural Big Data consumer. Financial Institutions want know how to harness mountains of data to make better decisions. Advertisers want to better understand consumers. Certainly Internet sites generate lots of information that can be overlaid onto machine data, inventory data, weather data, etc that can help model a behavior layer into any decision process.

Of course there are huge challenges. What do you do about the gigantic echo chamber that you are creating. Social graphs not only divine behavior, but they reinforce it. If I only look at red shoes on the Internet, the only thing that will ever be recommended are red shoes. Big Data won’t be able to help us branch out or figure out what new, only (currently anyway) refine what already is.

Another problem is what happened when that data points that are captured are a composite of different people sitting at one computer. One of the panelists talked about an article he had read called If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay, Here’s How to Set It Straight.  I’m sure this happens all the time. You get the worst of all worlds instead of the best.

Then there is the problem of how to bring the power of big data to the masses. Right now Data Scientists seem to be the only ones who can harness the power of Big Data. How do we put this into the hands of non-technical people to help them make decisions. In reality the challenge is ‘how do we dumb it down, without actually dumbing it down?’

This gist of it was that there are a lot of amazing uses and there are a lot of difficult obstacles/opportunities as this new frontier is opened up to us. One of the key takeaways was to focus on what benefits are specifically being delivered – not on the mountains of data that goes in or the Hadoop and MapReduce technologies that make it work.  There are a lot of interesting companies in the New York Area that help define what big data will mean to us – companies like 10Gen, Lotame, Networked Insights, C3 Metrics,, Tidal Labs, PlaceIQ, Sociocast, NumberFire and LAB09. Are there any of these types of companies in Brooklyn? If there are I’d like to here from you.  A.J. I already know what you are doing, so you don’t have to say anything.


Node.js is a software system designed for writing highly-scalable internet applications, notably web servers.  Programs are written in JavaScript, using event-driven, asynchronous I/O to minimize overhead and maximize scalability.  Node.js consists of Google’s V8 JavaScript engine plus several built-in libraries.

Node.js was created by Ryan Dahl starting in 2009, and its growth is sponsored by Joyent, his employer.  Joyent is a global provider of cloud computing software and services.  On Monday the company announced it has completed an $85 million funding round, with European group Weather Investment II providing the majority of the round.

There are similar environments to Node.js written in other programming languages include Twisted for Python, Perl Object Environment for Perl, libevent for C and EventMachine for Ruby. Unlike most JavaScript programs, it is not executed in a web browser, but is instead a server-side JavaScript application. Node.js implements some CommonJS specifications.  It provides a REPL environment for interactive testing.

I found this series of  stories on Node.js useful in understanding how significant and pervasive the technology has become.  Read it. 

Code For America

The other night I went to a dinner in Brooklyn sponsored by Jennifer Pahlka, (@pahlkadot) the Founder and Executive Director at Code For America. Code for America helps governments become more connected, lean, and participatory so they work better for everyone. They do this by connecting forward-thinking cities with the talent from the web industry to develop reusable civic technology.

City governments are under constant pressure to do more with less. They have tight budgets and outdated technology. Code for America believes that instead of cutting services or raising taxes, cities can leverage the power of the web to become more efficient, transparent, and participatory.

This seems like a good idea. In addition, it occurs to me that if we want to build a community where the local government is a positive, active participant in driving things forward, it probably doesn’t hurt to give back a little. I don’t think there is any doubt that governments (especially local governments) are in need of modernization. The amazing initial successes of companies like PublicStuff (who are at least partially located here in Brooklyn) are testament to this.

The team at Code For America is made up of web geeks, city experts, and technology industry leaders. Sound familiar? There are lots of ways to get involved including: contact your city government and tell them about CfA; Make a tax-deductible donation to Code for America; Deploy the CfA Apps; volunteer or become a fellow in the program.

I was talking to a noted NY venture capitalist at the dinner, and he wondered, “Do you think these local coders would help?” My answer: “It can hurt to make them aware of it and it never hurts to ask.” So consider yourself made aware.