Minnebar: State of the State: Technology in Minnesota – Panel Discussion

Minnebar: State of the State: Technology in Minnesota - Panel Discussion
Jamie Thinglestad (Dow Jones), Robert Stephens (Geek Squad), Dan Grigsby (Unpossible), Douglas Olson (Microsoft), Matthew Dornquast (code42), Michael Gorman (Split Rock Partners)

How to attract software companies to come here?

Grigsby: MN has a long track record of creating products for large companies, including Dow Jones, Microsoft, and Oracle. We should be embracing this. Should software be the business or software for business?

Let’s take developers out of the banks and put them in start-ups.

Thinglestad: Question he hears on the coasts: Can you really build a development shop in Minneapolis?

You can build a core team anywhere. Talent in the Twin Cities is “pretty high.” “The Hollywood Factor” is where struggling developers go to where the jobs are. Great developers can work anywhere.

It’s not cheaper for talent in MN except maybe at the entry level.

Olson: If you’re looking to save labor costs, you’ll go to China, India, or Vietnam rather than Minnesota. Getting paid the same in MN vs California will give you more to work with here.

Didn’t think he could hire the people he needed for AuthorWare here in MN, so he moved the company to California. He ended up hiring students from Big-10 schools who had move to CA after moving the company there. After moving the company back, he found employees who had relocated to MN from the coasts.

Stephens: We’re the Russia of America. We don’t have the distractions of the beach and mountains.

Gorman: We must always remember that we’re in a global market so the most compelling ideas and teams will win internationally.

Gribsby: At a certain point in your life, you can make a decision to be a software entrepreneurialist. We need a denser concentration of software development business people.

Olson: U of MN is not a top school for software development, which makes it difficult to find top local talent.

Stephens: Geek Squad is the janitors of the IT industry. Within large companies, people don’t try out the $500 ideas because it costs $100,000 to get permission from the IT department. Big companies need to understand how to prototype faster. Have sandboxes. We need a “corporate API” where it becomes easier for developers to show what’s possible.

Dornquast: Uses the term “Silicon Prairie” to refer to software development in Minnesota. Thinks, psychologically, that Minnesotans are risk-averse compared to people on the coasts. Get started: try out your idea. If you have something you’re passionate about, do that first. Don’t waste time working on risk-averse applications.

Olson: On entrepreneurial software development: “It doesn’t take a lot of money to write software. It takes guts, boldness, and confidence.” On the U of MN: We have to be able to raise our children around those who are the best of the best.

Stephens: TPT is starting Make:TV this fall. A Maker Faire inspired show sponsored by Geek Squad.

Dornquast: Toughest thing he had to do in his start-up: create a product brochure. Luckily, his wife works in marketing. Find the right people you need to help you succeed.

Gorman: On smaller investment opportunities due to lower costs of Web 2.0 startups: Angels and VCs will both fund Web 2.0 companies on smaller investments. However, not all investments will be built on $500,000 and sold to Google or Yahoo for $20 million. Angels provide a critical component to the development community.

Minnebar: Bex Huff on Communication for Geeks


Bex Huff spoke on the subject of Communication for Geeks in a opening session at Minnebar.

The majority of software projects fail, and communication breakdowns are responsible for a large share of the failures.

He explained that people are tied to survival instincts, so self-preservation is an underlying issue that influences decisions for better or worse.

He suggests that tapping into what makes you angry in development situations will help you understand how to communicate with people.

Don’t rely on one set of tactics for solving problems. Empathy will allow you to more easily communicate with more types of people.

Huff recommends trying to connect with yourself to decide what type of work environment you want to foster. Do you want to be a grumpy developer or someone who works in a fun, educational, environment? A tactic to provide clarity about your emotions is to test yourself using the following sentence:

“When I ___(action)___, I feel (feeling)___, because I need ___(need)___.”

When you bring up a problem, the most common reaction from people will be Fight or Flight. Be prepared for this, and try to be empathetic to their situation. If you can’t be empathetic, you’ll have a hard time getting your issues across.

Telling people what to do before they’ve had a chance to vent their frustrations sets you up for a backlash. Let people vent before providing solutions even if the solution is immediately obvious to you.

Make requests in the form of shared goals. Huff explains that this is much more effective than demands where people may comply, but only grudgingly.

In group situations, be clear about what you want back, and from whom.

Compliments: No different than manipulation. Try to focus on legitimate gratitude.

“When I see you ___(action)___, I feel (feeling)___, because it helps meet my need for ___(need)___.”

Huff’s Takeaway: Empathy B4 Education