Whether the Greater Washington technology community likes it or not, it has twins. Two distinct – and often siloed – communities that split along generational, cultural and operational lines. On one side, you have the young, vibrant social media entrepreneurs focused on disruptive solutions to break through the Web 2.0 scene. Then, there is another set of companies led by more seasoned, credential executives who tend to focus on solutions that may not be as sexy, but address a business pain point for government agencies, businesses and organizations.
These two communities coexist peacefully, but rarely to their collective mutual benefit. And, as one might hear attending an AA meeting, the first step in solving the problem is to admit you have a problem.
And step one seems to finally be underway. The trigger point is debatable, but Post scribe Zachary Goldfarb’s coverage of Washington’s Twin Tech Towns seemed to light a fire under a handful of folks with the power to do something about it. Hosted by iStrategy Labs and with a huge push from NVTC and a collection of social media players, last Thursday’s Twin Tech Party – which was conceived, developed and executed seemingly overnight – snowballed with all of the viral buzz that would have made any participating social media firm proud.
In just a couple weeks time after it was announced, the free event at Local 16 downtown was capped at a whopping 610 attendees – including names familiar to the Federal IT and consulting space such as Symantec, NASA, SRA International, Accenture, NTT America, Oracle, Immix Group, Microsoft, and others. The waiting list included almost 100 additional names, and no doubt the Garmin GPS devices of Federal IT folks went into shock that directions were being requested for a destination other than The Tower Club.
I hadn’t been to the 16th and U hotspots in a while, but knew enough that packing an extra 700 people into the area would making parking, what’s the word I’m looking for, suicidal. I allotted an extra 20-30 minutes to find a spot, and found myself spending about that much time circling the same two block radius hoping that someone would pull out right as I approached (a strategy that I’m guessing has the same statistical success rate as playing the same numbers in the lottery every day).
After finally succeeding in finding a decent spot a half-mile away, I headed to Local 16. It didn’t take long to realize that the younger tech crowd (of which I apparently was no longer a part of) was a heck of a lot smarter than the rest of us. While we soon found ourselves packed like sardines in a sauna-like atmosphere in our button-down shirts and suits, our sage younger partygoers were networking in the cool comfort of short sleeves and casual attire.
I soon noticed another interesting difference between the two tech communities. The grayer (or in my case balder) attendees have been trained to pack as much information as possible on our name tags. Full names, company affiliation, heck, I think if there was room we’d stuff our entire CV on there as a way of saying to everyone “Ok, you know who I am and where I work, so make your networking decision accordingly.” The social media crowd on the other hand, were content to just put their first name on the card, as if to say there should be a degree of intrigue in the networking chase. “My name’s Matt; I may be on the verge of closing a $50 million round and become the next Mark Zuckenberg or for all you know I could be a out-of-work poet. Want to roll the dice?”
What was clear throughout the evening’s festivities is that the DC technology community has never been short on energy, talent and passion. The networking was fierce but not forced. The seasoned tech community exchanged their standard-issue, wallet-friendly business cards for social media business cards that seemed to come in all shapes and sizes.
There also appeared to be a palpable awareness that DC still has the most divided technology scene of any town in this country, and that if it could be united in any meaningful way it could become far more powerful and effective than it is today. The folks who put this together realize they have something on their hands here; and it will be interesting to track in the coming weeks how Thursday night’s ‘first step’ can be leveraged – with the hope that these two twin tech towns finally become one.
Brian Lustig is co-founder of Lustig Communications, a Rockville, MD-based communications firm that works with growing technology and government IT firms. Lustig is also a contributor to local business and industry publications.