Could Portland be the best city in the country for developers right now?
Okay, so I’m biased. I’m a native Portlander and I love living here. I’m Portland’s staunchest defender and was so way before Portland was considered cool. I cried when the Blazers lost to the Pistons in the 1989-90 NBA Finals (I was 7 at the time). I went to Reed College. I’m a Cascadian nationalist. I’m only semi-fond of Seattle, and I like the Bay Area a lot but it could never be home. Portland is my home.
Nonetheless, Portland is clearly not the only city in the country that offers a lot to developers. Austin, New York, and of course San Francisco (along with many others) have vigorous, thriving startup, enterprise, and developer cultures, each with a unique set of wonderful qualities (and drawbacks). New York is, well, New York. Austin has beautiful weather and the best live music scene in the world. The Bay offers unprecedented resources for anyone in the tech world. But still: you should give Portland more-than-serious consideration.
So lest you think that my case for Portland as the best city in America for developers should be taken with more than a miniscule grain of salt — I’m going to back up my claim with cold, hard evidence. So, without further ado, here’s a list of reasons why you’re missing out big time if you’re a developer who is living outside the City of Roses.
Not your usual startup scene
Lots of developers are drawn to startups. I’m certainly one of them. I love the culture, I love being able to wear sandals and jorts to work, and I love being part of something untested and not-yet-established. If you’re like me, then you will love it here.
I love the Portland startup scene because it’s small enough to be homey and tightly knit, but not so small that it ever feels claustrophobic. It’s also remarkably amicable. As it stands, there’s little direct competition between companies, and there’s a general feeling here in town that the rising tide is truly lifting all boats. Everyone seems to genuinely delight in the success of everyone else, and that means that cooperation and the unencumbered exchange of ideas is the norm.
Even more important for developers, perhaps, is the diversity of things being done by startups. Just take a look at this short list: Cloudability, Jive Software, Geoloqi, Simple, Urban Airship, PuppetLabs, ELC Technologies, CrowdCompass, JanRain, AppFog (note: this is clearly not meant to be an exhaustive list). These companies are all doing vastly different things and involved in vastly different forms of development. A few examples: JanRain has built a blazingly-fast back end written in Haskell and Scala; PuppetLabs has turned Ruby into a powerful set of virtualization tools used by organizations like NASA; Geoloqi has constructed a one-of-a-kind geography-based API for use by third-party app developers; Urban Airship has built a Python/Java hybrid infrastructure that is capable of sending millions of push notifications a second; and we here at AppFog are working to leverage Cloud Foundry into the world’s first poly-infrastructure, polyglot PaaS.
For developers, this means that there is no dominant “flavor” of startup in Portland. Instead, there are lots of very ambitious projects involving a wide variety of languages and programming paradigms. And most importantly: there are jobs here. Competition for developers amongst startups here in Portland is already somewhere on the scale between “strong” and “urgent.” With some of these companies now employing over 100 people and many others set to expand, the gap between supply and demand is only going to grow. I highly recommend keeping tabs on the Silicon Florist jobs page and other info sources. Bottom line: if you’re qualified and either out of work or looking for something new, Portland needs to be on your radar right now.
Portland: great for startup developers, maybe even better for enterprise developers
Don’t be fooled by crude stereotypes of Portland or by glowing write-ups about its startup potential. This is also a great city for larger enterprises, and there are tons of heavy hitters around here. Intel employs 16,000 people in nearby Hillsboro. Nike is headquartered in Beaverton and employs hundreds of developers. There are old-guard tech companies like Tektronix headquartered in Beaverton and elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, as well as regional headquarters for tech giants like IBM, HP, Genentech, Xerox, and Yahoo.
But the even better news is that the future is now looking brighter than ever for developers in Portland. San Francisco-based Salesforce recently announced that they’ll be opening a major outpost in the Portland area. According to this article, this will amount to “the biggest infusion of tech jobs in a generation.” The company plans to hire 500 new employees here in the coming year, a significant proportion of which will be developers. There could be hundreds more developer jobs with Salesforce in the coming years.
The importance of a company like Salesforce opening up shop in such a decisive fashion in Portland cannot be underestimated. These kinds of big investment decisions can have positive spillover effects that impact the entire economic ecosystem. After Salesforce signs on and establishes itself, Facebook, Google, Apple, and other massive companies might be inspired by Salesforce’s example. That could mean that Portland’s gravitational pull in the development world will come to rival that of much larger cities. In a word: keep an eye out on developments here.
Meetups for everyone
Lots of cities have wonderful meetup cultures for programmers. Portland’s is far from the “biggest” in absolute terms, but it punches in way above its weight for a city its size. The meetup and user group culture here is amazingly abundant and energetic. In fact, the problem that I continuously face is that it’s often so abundant as to be exasperating. Looking at the Calagator schedule periodically fills me with what Blaise Pascal called “the anxiety of the infinite.”
The upside of all of this is that you’re never alone as a developer, no matter who you are. The Bay Area, Austin, and other places might have more total groups and a higher overall membership, but Portland is really tough to beat on a per-capita basis.
But if you’re a fan of languages that are less prominent in the current technological landscape, then you are quite well served in Portland. You like Scala? There’s PDXScala for that. You like Clojure? Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the Clojerks. For Cocoa programming, there’s the Cocoaheads. AndroidPDX will cater to all of your Android-love-related needs. Can’t get enough SQL in your daily routine? Let Oregon SQL lend a hand. Still got an old Commodore lying around? Head over to Beaverton and hang out with the Commodore Users Group. For you sticklers for concurrency, PDXErlang is right up your alley. Then there’s the Portland Functional Programming Study Group, the Drupal Users Group, Joomla! PDX, PADNUG for .NET folks, PDX DevOps, PDXPUG for Postgres users, etc.
If you’re a polyglot and just want to hang out with other people and talk and hack and drink, there’s plenty of room for that, too. The Lucky Labrador Brew Pub makes a mean stout and hosts a weekly hackathon. Different regions of the city have their own hyper-local hack nights, such as North Portland and NoPo Coders Night. There’s a monthly hack night just for Python folks.
A city of Portland’s modest size simply has no business having this much going on. Even better: there are a variety of programming groups targeted to women. Women Who Hack has a monthly meetup. Code ‘N Splode does, too. AppFog hosted just the second RailsGirls event in the United States a few weeks back, and that event has spawned a monthly meetup of its own. When brogrammers ask us Portlanders if we “wanna bro down and crush some code,” our response is a not-very-polite NO.
This is just for starters. I’m not kidding. Go check Calagator for yourself. If you haven’t spent time here and seen it for yourself, you’re missing out on something truly remarkable.
Event-driven awesomeness: OSCON, Open Source Brigade, Portland Digital Experience, XOXO
It’s fairly obvious to bring up OSCON (Open Source Convention), brought to you by the good folks at O’Reilly Publishing, but it still deserves mentioning. This past OSCON was my first, and I had an absolute blast. I met tons of new, unbelievably smart people, reconnected with old friends, had some great conversations in booths, conference rooms, lobbies, and bars, and walked away feeling invigorated and excited for next summer.
Also great about OSCON: in addition to the main event, there’s a wide variety of satellite events sponsored by both Portland and non-Portland companies. PuppetLabs hosts a swanky, well-attended, hangover-inducing party every single year. OpenStack had a party this year, as did Citrix and many others. We here at AppFog threw a party DJed by AppFog’s inimitable Andrei Matei (who declined my suggestion that he call himself “DJ Significant Whitespace”), and overall OSCON felt a lot more like Woodstock than it did like a programming convention. If you’re in any way involved with OSS, OSCON is simply a must-do. It makes me proud as a Portlander to have it here.
Portland’s own Open Source Bridge is a much smaller event, but it packs quite a punch of its own in the OSS space. This year saw on everything from Clojure web development to Linux containers to systems theory and far beyond. Any open source hacker would have been right at home and would have learned a ton. OSB has been described by some as a “mini OSCON,” but I think that that hardly does it justice. It’s small in size only and huge on ideas.
A new addition to the tech landscape in Portland came just a few weeks ago in the form of Portland Digital Experience. This event, which coincided with the broader MusicFest NW event and drew some to draw comparisons with Austin’s SXSW, featured a broad range of parties, meetups, and speakers from companies as varied as Portland-based Walmart Labs, Nike, Shazam, Spotify, and MediaLogic. I wasn’t able to attend myself, but I heard rave reviews from trusted sources, and I’m excited to see what the event turns into in the coming years.
But in spite of these wonderful happenings, the event that has gotten the most plaudits from friends, journalists, and others is XOXO. XOXO isn’t as much a programming-centric event as much as a general celebration of the whole spectrum of human creativity, but everyone tells me that the programming-related presentations this year were incredible, including talks from Makerbot founder Bre Pettis, Jamie Wilkinson from VHX, and Josh Reich from Simple.
If you’re at all into these kinds of events, then you simply can’t miss summer in Portland. I can’t believe it’s already over. The good news is that this gives you almost a whole year to get yourself over here.
Bailey’s Taproom: the tech bar to end all Portland tech bars
So, Bailey’s is a wonderful bar on its own terms. It’s nicely situated downtown (close to lots of prominent startups and larger companies), the beer selection is fantastic and constantly changing, the decor is understated, and there’s just something incredibly right about it.
But what makes it even better is that it acts as the de facto hub of the Portland tech scene. Whenever I go there, it feels like a scene from Cheers. I always know anywhere from two to ten people in there at any time. As you walk through the bar, you see people reading books about CoffeeScript or how to hack the Arduino. You’ll see people with laptops hacking .NET and Haskell. The first lines of code for Urban Airship were typed in the big corner table where I often sit with big groups. Whenever meetups are going well and people decide that they want the conversation to continue, it’s the place that people gravitate toward almost by instinct.
Bailey’s is an essential element of being a techie in PDX and it’s hard to imagine life here without it. Even better, they’re currently working on developing an open API that will enable third-party developers to make iPhone, Android, and other apps to provide information about what beers are available, how much they will cost, how much is left in the various kegs, and likely other information later on. This will be in addition to the monitor they already have in place displaying who has recently checked in on FourSquare or via other means and the other monitor that uses the Tri-Met API to provide information about when buses, MAX lines, and the Streetcar will be arriving nearby.
You have to love having a bar around that’s by hackers, for hackers. Score one more for PDX.
Other miscellaneous reasons
I’ll choose this as an arbitrary stopping point because I could go on forever. I simply can’t imagine a better city for programmers of all sorts, from script kiddies to functional programming enthusiasts to people into gadgets and building the internet of things to would-be entrepreneurs.
If you’re not convinced by all of the above reasons, then get over here. Shoot me an e-mail and I’ll take you out to Bailey’s and we’ll talk. You will not regret it.