Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Requiem for gb.tc

I'm a little late to write about this, but it's taken awhile to get my thoughts together. I'm so crazy busy with Staq right now that I'm going to write fast.

Last month we learned that gb.tc, one of my favorite Baltimore institutions, is going "on hiatus".  This news filled-me with sadness and I don't want the event to go by without remarking on it. gb.tc brought a lot of vitality to the city. It felt like a uniquely Baltimore institution, something that other cities would eventually import from us. I can't think of another institution that cares about helping Baltimore develop innovative industries and people. There are plenty of foundations and non-profits around town that could argue with that statement, I suppose, but my answer to all of them would be: "yes, what you're doing is important, but you're only focused on this one small piece of the puzzle", or "you are too slow-moving and focused on top-down solutions to ever make much of an impact". That, to me, was the special competency of the gb.tc - harnessing the grassroots/bottom-up energy of technologists and helping organizing it into a force for good in the city.

The general sense I get from my peers is "the tech community is self-organizing, so we didn't really need what those guys were doing" which I think is flat-out, dead wrong. It's true that Baltimore has many interesting, vibrant events, they're for the most part labors of love done by people who have other priorities besides making the city great, and they depend on the force of personality of a small group of hard-working volunteers. There still ought to be a team of people committed to growing these events and ensuring we don't lose momentum (something I called for back in 2011). For example, I helped run the first (and so far, only) RailsGirls event in Baltimore. I think we need to be doing 2 or 3 of those per year, given how long the waiting list for that event was...I just don't have the bandwidth to do it. Who is going to pick up that mantle? (Fortunately, Girl Develop It has come to Baltimore, but look at all the time that went by between RailsGirls and Girl Develop It).

gb.tc also developed deep relationships with different parts of the city - no one else was trying to connect the more entrepreneurial part of the tech community with the public sector, as exemplified by "Hack for Change Baltimore" which had strong city support. The city would not be trying to support more hackathons this year if not for gb.tc's efforts. They've also provided free startup mentoring,  the "Baltimore Weekly" podcast, amazing "Tech Crawls", and many other valuable services.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense here. Maybe go read that Innovation Community Manager post I wrote in 2011 to get a sense of what we've lost.

It sounds like Betamore is going to try to provide a soft-landing for gb.tc. I feel skeptical of the idea but I really want it to succeed - I just think there's an inevitable mismatch between the mission of a for-profit company (even a mission-driven company like Betamore) and the social-good mission of the gb.tc.

Thank you to Jason Hardebeck, Andrew Hazlett, and Sharon Paley for all of their hard work over the past few years (along with all of the other people who built gb.tc into what it was before their tenure). Your efforts made Baltimore a better place to do creative things, and we're poorer without you.


Angelique said...

Thanks for posting this Mike and for highlighting Misty's and my work with Girl Develop It as something good and needed in Baltimore.

I've actually been surprised by the number of people who see the loss/hiatus of GBTC as a nonissue. Anyone who thinks GBTC was essentially a calendar of events or can be replaced by an ad hoc Facebook group wasn't paying attention to the same things I saw and appreciated about the organization. As someone fairly new to the city's tech scene, I also think Andrew and Sharon are very approachable and their excitement and care about the city were always very clear to me. (I don't know Jason as well but assume the same of him in part b/c of my experiences with Andrew and Sharon.)

I'm interested to see what a reborn GBTC will be like, if its priorities and influence will be in line with what I valued about GBTC 2013. But, like you, I also mourn what was, to me, a positive influence on and connector of the city's tech scene, companies and individuals.

Garret Ohm said...

Well said. It's not specifically focused on the City of Baltimore, but the CRTC is a viable organization helping to bridge some of those gaps.

Ecogordo said...

It is hard for me to understand why GBTC didn't have more support from the business community. It may be that the tech community business owners are doing so well and are so busy that they fail to see that grass root community building is an essential ingredient in attracting and keeping top talent in Baltimore.

Tech companies are doing well, but people in their 30's (not just techies) will leave for communities that are staying ahead of the curve. GBTC was helping greatly to make things happen, but it takes an enlightened and supportive business community for them to thrive and grow.

Mike Subelsky said...

Thank you for your nice comments! It's good to know I'm not alone in these sentiments and was also troubled by the "nonissue" people -- particularly how insensitively they've been discussing an issue that caused 3 people to lose employment!

Angelique, let me know if there's anything I or Staq can do to support your efforts