Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Vancouver tech and the civic election

I’ve been asked by a number of people what I think the “tech platform” should be for parties running for the City of Vancouver’s November 2014 municipal election.

I feel under-equipped to tease out the intricacies of economic and civic policy, so I can only speak to what I’ve observed, what my gut says.

At the same time, I’m not sure what municipal-level policies can actually do for tech ecosystems, other than many of the things that anyone working in any industry wants from a livable, vibrant city. Can the City of Vancouver help with increasing the salaries that private tech companies pay?

Finally, some of the thoughts below are the sort of things I want from all of our Canadian government systems in being modern, efficient, and making effective use of technology.

I’ve sent the notes below privately to people involved with both Vision Vancouver and the NPA, so I thought it would be good to also share this publicly in lightly edited format from the original email.

I intend to hold whoever gets elected accountable, and advocate for further support of the Vancouver tech community.

Read my disclaimer on potential conflicts of interest 1

Fund community systems

Communitech in Waterloo is entrepreneur led and has a $6M annual budget. There are no full time funded positions in Vancouver dedicated to ecosystem growth.

There are a number of local tech-focused industry organizations. They are all primarily membership based organizations, thus have to put their membership first, and the entire ecosystem second. So — no full time funded positions.

Pixel Crafters has 2800+ people in a meetup group, WeAreYVR is completely volunteer run with no budget. WeAreYVR has managed to get all the other organizations in town as data partners, and is doing a lot of the work of cataloging the data around companies and people in Vancouver, giving us an actual base to track how we’re doing2.

Examples: Startup Seattle powered by the City’s Office of Economic Development, Startup Edmonton acquired by the Edmonton Economic Development Commission

Work together with other municipalities.

Most of us think of it as Greater Vancouver, not City of Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver, etc. Each part of the region has its own economic development department. Their budgets are laughably small compared to other Canadian cities AND the first thing they do is all invest in their own offices, CEOs, and admin staff, thus making their budgets even smaller. In Edmonton and Calgary, the EcDev departments have about $40M annually in funding, and take a regional approach.

Right now, the “main” tenant at a business address needs to be a co-working space or similar to have multiple businesses registered with the same physical address. So, the upshot is all those people that share offices never get local business licenses. This also means under-counting of tech businesses.

We should be an API city

Open data isn’t enough (it’s “dead” data unless it has an API that reads & writes). API first is a modern approach to building systems and data.

Look at using BasicGov (a local Vancouver company) to help modernize and bring city services online.

Hire a CTO

Jessie Adcock the CDO is doing a great job, but having a CTO as a partner would help set technical vision and actually develop new technology at the city, including API first techniques as mentioned previously.

Open source new systems

If we’re going to spend money writing custom software for the city, let’s open source it.

An example is that the recent website redesign also built a swimming lesson registration system. How many cities across Canada need to run a swimming lesson registration system? Of course it makes sense to write this once and improve and customize it for any city.

As a member of that tech community, what do you want from your civic government?

(and of course, go vote on November 15th, 2014!)

  1. Disclaimer: I have a good working relationship with the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), and they have sponsored a number of projects I’m involved with, including WeAreYVR and Startup Week Vancouver, neither of which I get paid to work on. Over the years, I’ve met members of the Vision Vancouver team, including Gregor Robertson and Andrea Reimer. Through VEC, I was asked for input on the so-called Entrepreneurs Fund, and I advised against running a fund.

  2. Pixel Crafters is a community brand that a number of us, including myself, Jesse Heaslip, and Mack Flavelle, help run. It’s mainly a shared meetup group where we cross-post / highlight events. I am the project lead for WeAreYVR, which I think is important to actually track how the community is doing, and to provide a central aggregator for information about the region.