I recently heard someone describe an apparently pervasive perception that technology jobs aren’t “real” jobs. I think the narrative goes something like this:
People in tech don’t really make things or produce things, they just sit around at computers all day. There’s nothing to really show for their work or for the surrounding community to be proud of. Tech companies tend to hire and grow a handful of people at a time. What we need are real jobs where a big factory opens and a bunch of people are trained to do real work producing real things that everyone can actually see. And then that will attract other factories and a bunch more people will get hired.
It’s an appealing narrative in an area that has its history in making “real” things in shops and factories. I really value the ability to do something with my hands, to make something physical and tangible that people can see. I admire people who are skilled in the manipulation of tools, machines, materials to create beautiful, functional, complex parts of our built world.
But I think we can appreciate this kind of work and at the same time appreciate a newer way of producing, creating and making a living that can be just as valuable to our economy and life as a city.
Today I was at a gathering of people who either make their living or want to make their living working in tech.
Great turnout for today's Tech Open House in Richmond – nice to see our IT community growing. Also, pizza. pic.twitter.com/MlZvWINaXQ
— Chris Hardie (@ChrisHardie) February 4, 2015
A number of tech workers there spoke about working remotely for a company based elsewhere, and how they can make salaries that are great for places like San Francisco or Washington, D.C., but that when translated to Richmond, Indiana, are AMAZING. These tech workers likely have income, benefits and financial freedom that rival many other positions in Richmond.
Others there were tech workers who had created companies that solved interesting, real-world problems for others and that employed other tech workers in the area with rewarding, well-compensated jobs.
Tech workers tend to be learning new skills all the time; the technology landscape is constantly changing, and so they have to be constantly adapting their own abilities to keep up. They learn from classes, books, conferences, workshops, online seminars, not only because they have to, but because they want to. They make up a constantly improving and evolving workforce.
People in these tech jobs also tended to be people who find creative ways to get involved in the local community, through volunteering, leadership, creative problem-solving, mentoring others, philanthropy and more. They also invest in real estate, get involved in local politics, and take an active interest in the quality of local education.
No, not every person in a local tech job is doing all of this. But many of them are doing some of it. And the economic and cultural ripple effect of having these tech workers active in the community seems undeniable.
So I hope that when we talk about economic development in Richmond, we don’t trivialize what a tech job can mean: significant disposable income, investment, skill, creativity, community involvement, job creation, problem-solving, mentoring, and so much more.
Wouldn’t we like to have more of that in our community?