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Los Angeles tech mavens do soul searching at SXSW

March 15, 2009 |  1:51 pm
The Los Angeles tech crew at SXSW
L.A. Tech crew. Credit: J.D. Lasica.

A sizable contingent of L.A. technology folks met in Austin Saturday night to discuss the present and future of the Angeleno tech scene. The salon was run by tech mavens Sloane Berrent and Andrew Warner and consisted of a particularly L.A. kind of conversation: What should our image be? Everyone seemed to agree that the community had plenty of networking events already -- Digital LA, LA Mixers, Twiistup, Geek Dinners and Barcamp to name a few -- but there was less consensus about what the identity of the scene should be, and whether all the events were helping to answer that question.

"I have a challenge here right now," Warner said to the audience.  "How do we make the events really more useful and keep them from just being hangouts?"

The first answer came from a guy named Mike:

"To me, tech life in L.A. is not about networking, entrepreneuring, starting up, finding jobs. It’s about hanging out with other geeks. And my concern is, sometimes this L.A. tech scene is so about the next job, the next company, the next effort, that there isn’t this hanging out. So you’re saying you can go to a bar and do that? That’s crap. You can’t go to a bar and whip out your laptop and compare iPhone apps."

Uh-oh. A rift had opened already. The crowd ...

... began murmuring. Was it better to hang out or geek out? Twitter messages were sent expressing opinions on the subject. 

"The thing that I'm not finding in the L.A. tech scene and I'm not hearing here, is networking events that have some educational focus," said AmyJo Kim of Shufflebrain.com. 

Kevin Winston of Digital L.A. said, well, we're already doing that. "We had a digital music panel in January, we had an online actors panel in February, we're going to have a band jam in March. So we're trying to get in all the various segments of entertainment."

But entertainment? Isn't this supposed to be about technology?  Grr ... tough questions. 

Not wanting to get gridlocked, Warner pushed the conversation forward. "For a lot of these events, it's a long drive to meet the same people over the same drinks. If we want to take it to the next step, what do we do?"

"More nerds," said Jason Cosper of DreamHost. "I love all you guys, but I want to geek out with somebody about kerning. I want to talk about typography and stuff like that."

"I think the L.A. tech community has gotten really watered down as far as geekiness," said Heather Schlegel. "One of the problems with that is the Silicon Valley takes all of our tech talent ... The types of events that appeal to geeky introverted people are different than the ones that appeal to business types. And there needs to be both -- and they need to support each other."

The multi-way debate was not resolved within the hour, but everyone agreed to keep trying: nerds, geeks, promoters, entertainers, entrepreneurs and all combinations thereof.

-- David Sarno

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