Is Vancouver missing the vital component to create enough tech co-founders?

If only somewhere Vancouver,BC would offer a course in Startup Engineering/Architecture?

Like this http://startup.stanford.edu but maybe it could be something better, that trains up developers into potential tech co-founders? Where they can build more then just a web app, with their best coding language, where they are prepared to bring other developers on board, where the basics of dev ops are discussed, when the architecture was thought through.  We seem to do a lot to grow our potential CEO/business lead co-founders, but what about the tech/dev co-founders?

The startup orientated offerings in Vancouver are wide, here are some examples:

but where are offerings in BC for technology? Most of these offering concentrate on finding the “right”  business model.

BCIT does great skills, but does not pull it together and UBC/SFU offers the theoretical, but not so much the architecture and how to make the technology choices.

Most the tech/dev meet up groups concentrate on one religion, sorry language or another…

IT

A course, a program, a group, an event for developers who would like to become co-founders, something that passes the knowledge, wisdom and maybe even practice.

So what could this offering look like?

  1. how to build for a startup
  2. web app architecture
  3. how to cope with prototyping
  4. how to scale
  5. cope with dev ops
  6. paying attention to the full stack
  7. best ways to manage for quality with a small team
  8. make decisions on which technologies and frameworks

What else would you suggest?

It feels a real technology gap, which people have to learn and fail by doing.. could there be a way of bringing this together, growing more tech co-founders?

Related example includes: Bitmaker Labs offers one approach.

Another Alternative is Dev Bootcamp pointed out to me by Dean Prelazzi (BCIC), thank you :–)

Quora also has a couple interesting discussion on what is web application architecture -http://www.quora.com/What-does-a-web-application-architecture-include

My favourite books on his are soooo out of date:

Key Players who could make a difference

So I have e-mailed the key players in Vancouver, asking their thoughts which I will summarize:

  • Launch Academy  - interested in discussing – I will assist in thinking through their technology educations
  • Grow Labs – connecting me to tech cofounders – nothing yet
  • BCIC – Its not a priority
  • UBC – sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
  • SFU - sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
  • BCIT - sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet

Who else should I contact?

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About Eric Brooke

I’m deeply curious, love to learn, insightful about people and their psychological makeup, deft at communication, excel at networking, deeply tech-savvy and relish growing others through education and leadership. I am a developer, marketeer, gamer, lover of water slides and ice cream :-)

Posted on 21 February , 2013, in Startup, Strategy, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Solid idea Eric, need to find a way to engage the development community in this. Perhaps, starting with Launch Academy members who are of a more technical background as they already have an entrepreneurial slant.

    Hope this one gets some legs!

  2. The Polyglot people would be good to talk to about this. In some ways this is their mandate. Cross language knowledge sharing and training.

  3. Probably suggest some prototyping tools in multiple language for tech co-founders, so that they can easily use to rapidly build a prototype.

  4. Perhaps offering resources in the form of talks, collaborative problem-solving sessions and one-on-one mentoring could be really beneficial for tech founders on an individual level, and in regards to the startup community as a whole. Working out of Launch Academy is awesome, but I have yet to see a single mentor session that has a technical focus. I think that could be the first step.

    In regards to what this offering would look like; I think most developers that are attracted to startups are likely technology agnostic and are looking to choose the right technologies for the problems they’re trying to solve. So, any resources that offer more in the way of making these types of decisions in the context of modern web technologies could be extremely valuable.

  5. Great article and suggestions. You’re right for identifying that a tech community starts with high quality uni programs that attract top talent who feed into tech companies. The Stanford connection to Silicon Valley is undeniable. UBC just isn’t a Mecca for STEM. It is however top in its class for environmental and marine programs. You would probably need a Waterloo calibre institution nearby to draw talent to the city.

    A couple other problems with Vancouver is the annoying habit of tech companies paying 30-75% below industry standards while suffering from an insane cost of living. Just not worth it when programmers in SF, Seattle and even Calgary are killing it compared to Van. Van will never keep top programmers around required to launch new and exciting tech ideas.

    Also, Vancouver just isn’t a business friendly city. With limited and over priced office space (often being replaced with downtown condos), Vancouver just isn’t business-focused enough to encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop there.

    There’s so much more to talk about but my thumbs hurt now…

  6. Have you seen this Eric? (https://generalassemb.ly/). Also, there’s a Vancouver branch of trade school at http://tradeschool.coop/Vancouver/class

    I think these are good avenues to start. I had a similar thought the other day. You know the programme’s Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank etc. ? They have a “business / investment” slant to them where the major question is “is this business worth investing in/ does it have a good model” etc. I was imagining a platform where technical problems are solved and a panel dissects it to see if its something they would have done. Similar to the differential diagnostic methods of the TV show “House M.D” or the weekly ‘what went wrong’ meetings in the hospital drama TV show “Monday Mornings”. I learn best from seeing where I went wrong.

    The bigger questions for me are:
    1) who would be teaching/ coaching/ mentoring such things?
    2) whats in it for them?

  7. BCIT is a great school that teaches the crux of technologies, but beyond that you’re on your own. Sometimes between what you’ve learned and applying it in the workplace there is another step that trips people up. (The real world is much larger and more chaotic than the controlled environment of a 12 weeks and 3 credits course.)
    I’d like to see something on (1) architecture design, (2) prototyping, and (3) the guided development of an application, taking all the crude technological skills and applying them towards a viable, functioning product. The focus of such a course would be making mistakes, catching them as early as possible, solving them effectively and quick recovery.
    Having a functioning product will provide students with something that can either function as a portfolio piece for self-promotion, or it can be a product to market immediately. Actually, that brings me to (4) teaching developers how to monetize their work.

  8. I would certainly support better education for engineers on what it means to create and build a company and how to go about implementing lean start-up and finding product-market fit. At the same time, marketing and revenue generation is becoming much more technical and quantitative skills are in great demand.

    But let’s not lose sight of the fact that Vancouver companies tend to over invest in technology and under invest in marketing, business development and revenue generation. So the goal of such a course should be to open engineer’s minds to the rigour and hard thought required to do actual marketing.

    In parallel, I think we could be teaching artists, writers and business people a lot more about technology. Your data model is your DNA.

  9. Hey Eric,

    Yes a school like that would be really cool and something I actively looked for a year ago but unfortunately it doesn’t really exist. Dev Bootcamp might get you up and running with some basic RoR skills but there’s a lot you mentioned it would not cover. Ultimately the only way to get these skills today is on the job training which is why you find me working for a startup in NYC funded by 500 Startups among other investors.

    I think of the web development world kind of like the early film industry of the early 20th century. When it first started to explode I doubt you could find any film schools, it would only be after time as methods became more standardized that people would feel comfortable opening schools, right now the technologies are changing so fast they are too much of a moving target. Even if you taught the best methods today they could be out of date after a couple years. This makes the industry exciting but also super tough.

    The methods of finding and recruiting good people though I think is probably pretty timeless. If such a school was started of course I would be more than interested!

    Best,

    J

  10. It’s a great piece, and I’d definitely agree that there is a lack of entrepreneur-minded developers. I’m not sure why that is…maybe because the pay is too good to be a part of large teams that rarely release anything useful…maybe that means that a developer will only break out of the big-team-no progress-greed-cycle only after they have spent too much time in it, so by then they need to learn a whole new way of developing, for a lean enterprise that they may finally want to co-found.

    It’s no surprise that you found a program at Stanford that focuses on training developers to think with a more entrepreneurial mindset. The Venture Formation course that I took in the MBA was modeled after a course at Stanford that was a part of their Engineering school, not their MBA program.

    I used to think that developers were hesitant to get involve in start ups (like 2-person start ups) because they had already been burned by at least one buddy or colleague that got them to code a web app that had no business economics, and thus they got screwed over for their time and effort. These days, I’m not so sure that’s the case. My new theory is that they love the money they can pull in, even in a barely-funded startup, the first cash is probably going towards a development budget. Those devs rarely have to risk anything. They can go from startup to startup every few years, without really sacrificing their wage or way of life.

    Anyhoo, just some thoughts off the top of my head at this moment in time.

    • Divesh Sisodraker VEF/VC said in Q&A at BCIT that one of the differences between here and the valley is people are more content here where in the Valley they are hungry, I wonder if that is nature of beautiful places like Vancouver

  11. Eric – cool post. If I could add anything being a non-technical co-founder, it would be that I think technical founders should consider why they have an advantage and not label themselves as a founder or CEO for that matter. That label seems to add more pressure and preconceived responsibility which dissuades great engineers from starting. The most successful companies seem to solve a problem that they know intimately. Technical talent has the path of least resistance to testing and solving a problem as opposed to a founder who is non-technical. The founder and CEO things can come later as you back into it. They’re just labels. I often feel our company is at a disadvantage for me being non-technical. If I was ever fortunate enough to become an angel investor, I would invest in technical talent and ability above anything else. In the time I’ve been in Canada, there’s a shortage of confidence and increased risk aversion from talent that should otherwise be more confident and taking more risks. I do actually see things like Growlab, the Startup VISA program and Launch Academy being exactly what needs to happen to combat that issue. The take away from my comment should be that it looks like what needs to happen is happening. And it’s an exciting thing to see unfolding.

  12. Eric:

    Good post. A lot of my thoughts have been captured already:
    - Phil (we don’t have world class software eng school and the local wage + Real estate are not balanced)
    - Steven: SRED and IRAP tend to me we overinvest in tech vs going to market

    I think Paul’s comments are the closest to my own: Tech talent will tackle problems they understand and as long as you have sufficient skill to build an initial product you can validate those ideas and build from there.

    Your comments around needing more engineering skills for startups doesn’t feel like a gap to me (at least I don’t see it). I see people coding in the dark and not talking to customers. Launch Academy, Startup weekend and the entire lean movement are pushing people out of the building to solve real problems.

  13. Great suggestions and comments – there are a number of factors impacting Vancouver’s success as a tech start-up scene and applied technical and business education is a challenge in almost every industry sector. I’ll touch on three points tied to your article:

    :: I completely agree that quality higher educational institutions draw in talent (note educational output will only ever be as strong as the quality and drive (and end goals) of the students enrolled, no matter what the curriculum). I’d hope that tech entrepreneurs with the strongest goals are maximizing learning at BCIT, UBC, SFU and finding their way into existing programs and networks (LA, GL, Wavefront, BCIC, BCTIA / ACETECH, entrepeneurship@ etc) or gaining tech insight or resources from IRAP when there’s a fit.

    :: I think that good tech founders are small fraction of the development community (especially right after graduating or completing coursework). It’s challenging for school program and curriculum development to keep up with the pace of tech startups and not front of mind for students to consider the business impacts of their technical skills (though this is rapidly changing in higher ed). The analogy I always consider is the high volume of Medical Dr.s that graduate with Million$ skills and little business training to help maximize their lifetime revenue. I like the idea of workshops, bootcamps and conferences tied to specific tech skills, but have to admit that most of the tech entrepreneurs I’ve met gaps on the business side that are likely a higher priority. The key here is getting the right experience and the more I speak with tech entrepreneurs, that seems to comes from:
    1. Prior work for growing companies 2. learning through their own start-up (with a high risk of failure so fail quick/cheap or iterate early) 3. consulting – gaining skills while getting paid to solve other company’s challenges 4. displaying and intrapreneurial mindset while working in a larger corporate machine

    :: Our local technology scene has a bigger challenge that is a long term issue – I think the championing proven business models and supporting their growth into anchor companies is key. This output requires a holistic approach that I believe has come a long way with some of the programs you mentioned in the past 3-5 years. Resources allocated towards anchor companies create generations of entrepreneurs, drive local the tech knowledge base, encourage innovative spinouts / potential reinvestment in smaller companies and generally increase the local talent pool. Waterloo had Nortel and RIM driving resources and curriculum into education and drawing talent into Ontario; I truly believe that the hootesuites and BuildDirects of Vancouver will have a similar impact if they continue to think big but grow locally. We also need to celebrate these success stories to increase their profile internationally. (tax reform and other requirements to keep them here is a whole other article)

    Two areas that help on the experience vs risk side:

    :: successful growing start-ups should offer strong internship programs and work with local school co-op offices and tech programs to implement (and take advantage of grants available – Canada Summer Jobs 2013 program applications are due Feb 28th, SBIP internship grants are ending this fiscal so hopefully a similar program will replace it. IRAP’s Youth Employment Program is another example of a way to connect education to direct experience
    :: if you are a technical co-founder, you can reduce the financial risk of your technology development through SR&ED tax credits

  14. I completely agree that this is a real problem with the startup scene. I don’t think that it’s limited to Vancouver; I hear similar complaints a lot online. I followed the Standford link, and I think that is a great course. I’m frankly as shocked as ever that people aren’t getting this education… It’s the bare minimum that they should be leaving school with. Now, I see the problems in the startup world as having deep roots, so bear with me on this long email.

    In summary of everything below, what we are missing in the startup scene is proper agile development, drive to self-improve, and sufficient startup capital.

    In more rambling detail:

    Skill sets and personalities
    - many professional developers require a lot of direction, as that’s essentially what school trains by their nature of assignments and grades
    - others (hobbyists) have vision and often skill, but can’t see projects through due to attention span (hop from project to project)
    - people work for established companies because money is tight in this economy and the cost of living is so high in Vancouver, and then get stuck with golden handcuffs
    - people either have business skill or code skill, but generally not both, which is what a founder would need. This leads people to make technical decisions based on biases that may not be the best for the company
    – ie: “this is the software that I already know”, or “this language appeals to me aesthetically” or “this is what other company X used in their strategy, so we should too”
    – should be: “this technology fits the technical requirements of my project, is maintainable, and many programmers are familiar with it and/or its easy to skill up newcomers”
    - lack of project management taught in all schools, especially agile processes. Many people think that they are using agile, but are really just cowboy coding or using waterfall in disguise.

    Education-base challenges
    - UBC and SFU provide a great theoretical background, but focus on systems-level programming, not so much web or business aspects
    - BCIT cranks out a lot of developers with practical skills, but not terribly deep theoretical underpinning (ie: very good at handful of tasks, not necessarily flexible). Developers educated at BCIT (where most seem to come from) are usually interested in development as a trade, and don’t expand their horizons much beyond what they learn in class (you are obviously an exception, but this is the trend that I’ve seen overall)
    - Langara and VCC courses are comparatively shallow in content, and thus generate coders (as opposed to developers)
    - people can pick up requisite skills not taught in schools by themselves, but don’t take the initiative to learn a skill thoroughly. There are many, many resources online on how to do things like architectures, the pros and cons of different techniques, and so forth, but very few people actually use them fully
    - in my experience, schools are never really up to date, and many graduates that I’ve spoken to complain of experiencing something akin to a technological culture shock upon entering the industry

    Finding good people
    I think that the ideal cofounder is someone who is passionate to learn continuously about a wide variety of techniques both technical and business, and is financially secure and/or adventurous enough to risk going under a few times. Absolutely, having a Launch Academy in town would be nice, but I think what we really need is a Coffee & Power. We have lots of schools (incentive is make money fast), and meetups (hobbyists who can’t execute). A place like Coffee & Power would give people a bunch of small projects to test themselves against (“bounty-hunting”), and help founders separate out the people who can actually execute a vision from those who can’t.

    Money
    We can’t forget the primary cause of any small business failing: lack of funds. A startup will generally not turn a profit for at least a year or two (you should plan for three I’m told by a friend in business). If you can’t pay your developers, they’ll leave, and your project dies. People who have had this unpleasant experience often shy away from doing more startup work. Essentially, this city needs more angel investors, á la Silicon Valley.

    I hope that wasn’t too much of a ramble!

    • Thank you for the thought you put into the post, I appreciate you putting your experience as a repeat lead tech person, in startups. It highlights to me that “society” seems to think it is ok to leave the lead the techs/devs to learn solely by failure and google searches.. whilst business gets the course/mentors and major support. Should we not care about what we are building, as much as why?

  15. P.S. Here are my two cents on starting up a web project: you, Eric, have what it takes to lead such an endeavor. You are driven, charismatic, have a vision, and are collaborative rather than tyrannical. Momentum is hard to get rolling, so start small and iteratively to show people a proof of concept that they see and get excited about. Make a feature roadmap, and build an ugly, single-feature mockup in Ruby or Node. And then start building up from there: Alternate 3-week cycles with hard deadlines — first cycle for adding a few features or beautifying the interface, and the next one for code review and refactoring. Follow best practices (design patterns, REST, code separation, minimize side effects, etc), and document code properly and use a documentation generator (JSDoc for instance). Now you are set up to bring developers in and out as you see fit, while the backbone of the project grows no matter what. New additions to the team can walk into the project and catch up quickly, and the code they leave is easy to be picked up by another. The team leadership (probably a lone project owner at first) will need to provide strong, decisive, clear direction and feedback over each development sprint, otherwise it will get lost in many changes in its infancy, and fail to thrive. Also, because you’re using best practices, you can swap out databases or controllers or whatever because everything is separated properly, so thus you’re prepared for whatever The Next Big Thing is in web tech.

  16. Great, thought-provoking post Eric!

    Although it may seem easy to point-the-finger at local educational institutions (why aren’t you teaching this???), the reality is that even here in the Silicon Valley, curriculum’s are very much a reflection of the environments in which the universities exist and the feedback loop back into the university. For example, entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley didn’t start with Stanford (Stanford didn’t “teach” Hewlett and Packard to become entrepreneurs). Rather, Stanford evolved over decades to reflect the growing entrepreneurial nature its alumni and this area. Similarly, although Waterloo has always been a premier educational institution, its elite reputation today as a technology hub is as much the result of what its alumni did post-graduation and the manner in which their successes (and subsequent donations!) influenced that institution’s evolution.

    Looking at Vancouver from the outside for the past 10 years, and as an alum of both SFU and Stanford, I can clearly see the start of such feedback loops taking root up north. For example, I’ve spent a lot of time recently with SFU’s Venture Connection effort (http://ventureconnection.sfu.ca/), which is beginning to have a significant impact on the students graduating from SFU.

    At the end of the day, change must come from within. If we want UBC, SFU, BCIT, etc. to teach their students to be better entrepreneurs, then its up to the alumni of those schools to get involved and make that happen (you can’t have a mentorship program without mentors!). One of the single biggest reasons for Stanford’s ongoing success as a source of innovation is a seemingly unending line of alumni who come to speak to students about their experiences (and this isn’t only relegated to the technology/startup realm).

    I’d love to see that happen in Vancouver.

  17. Hello people,
    Thanks for giving comments.. This is what I am thinking..

    Web App builders or This is how I built this shit and this is what I wish I knew before

    One hour early morning per month.

    Setup
    Two presentations. – 15 mins long, 5 Q&A
    Networking. – 20 minutes

    Theme
    This is how I built a web app.
    This is what I wish knew BEFORE I built it
    This is what I will do next time

    Presenters
    Will have to built a web app and be a developer

    Venue
    Ask a different tech company to help out each month, or incubator

    Who can come
    Anyone. limited to venue

  18. TamTon Training Inc.

    We absolutely agree with your thoughts Eric. We are working hard to put together just such a program for people right here in Vancouver that is similar to devbootcamp

  1. Pingback: Building an open source program for technology co-founders | Eric Brooke's Blog

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