After several of our team members participated in the last two Seattle Startup Weekend‘s, we at WhitePages were excited to cheer on the several returning WhitePagers at this weekend’s event. We were also excited to support it as a sponsor. This is one of those rare feel-good showcases of Seattle innovation that brings the whole community together, and I was encouraged to see Facebook’s support as the host of this year’s event. So the least we could do was to put a little bit of WhitePages support as well behind the non-profit that organizes the event. As the event drew closer on Friday afternoon, we were on our way to the Facebook offices with a truckload of Monster energy drinks for the event participants.
Thirty minutes before our set-up time, the organizers of Seattle Startup Weekend told us to turn around. They had received a surprise memo from Facebook barring WhitePages from participating as a sponsor at the event. Both we and the Seattle Startup Weekend staff were dismayed, not only that it happened, but also how it happened. And WhitePages wasn’t the only target. Microsoft User Research was also blacklisted by Facebook in the last minute. Some vague competitive issues were cited as the reason for being forced to pull the plug on our sponsorships.
I’m sorry Facebook, but that’s not cool. You don’t own Seattle Startup Weekend, nor is it your or any other sponsor’s place to say who’s allowed to support this non-profit. It’s thanks to the strength of community organizations like this, and the talent showcased by them, that we have such a vibrant tech community in the first place here in Seattle. Isn’t that what initially attracted you to set up a remote office in Seattle? If you want to run closed recruiting events, go right ahead, but don’t use our precious community events to do it. Facebook has since apologized for this “miscommunication” and invited us back to co-sponsor the event, which we will be attending today.
But this incident is part of a larger discussion going on within Seattle’s tech community. As we all know, Silicon Valley has been moving into the Seattle area in droves. In addition to Facebook, many others including Google, Salesforce, and Zynga have also opened up offices up here in the hopes of garnering engineering talent. And as The New York Times’ Nick Wingfield put it, UW may “be the best computer science department you’ve never heard of”. I guess that they’ve finally discovered what I discovered when I chose Seattle as the home for WhitePages, after starting the website down at Stanford…we have amazing talent here in Seattle.
I’ll admit that this is a bit of a touchy subject for me personally. For one thing, I’m very protective of our talent, and for another, I am well aware of the giant sucking sound emanating from the Bay Area. We’re not only competing with Silicon Valley to attract new talent to Seattle, but now these firms have swept in to acquire talent in our own backyard. This war for talent has actually made a positive impact within WhitePages (and I am sure many other local tech companies), as it’s provided the impetus for us to reassess and make changes to create the best possible work environment. And in turn, it’s a great time to be a talented engineer in Seattle.
So don’t get me wrong. This northern tech migration can be a very positive thing for Seattle. Even when engineering outposts are set up here to write code for their Silicon Valley motherships, it can be an amazing thing for the local ecosystem, as far as knowledge sharing and attracting even more talent to Seattle. But it’s not quite the same net-positive when these newcomers boss around community organizations like Seattle Startup Weekend to the detriment of their well-being. If these remote tech giants want to come up here to take advantage of our talent, then I sure hope that they join rather than exploit our community, or else our vibrancy will be strip-mined away. To instead achieve the win-win that we all want, let’s join together and invest into the Seattle community alongside each other for the long term.