by Esther Schindler

Where Hippies Meet Information Technology

Mar 22, 20073 mins
Enterprise Applications

This morning, I was invited to be on a roundtable with 15 other technology leaders in Phoenix, for research being done by the Arizona Business Journal. The other panelists (tableists?) included people from the Arizona Nanotechnology Cluster, from ASU Technopolis, from a major IT services firm, from the big intellectual property law firm, etc. It was a very cool experience; that’s high praise, coming from me, since it began at 7:30am! (What were they thinking?!) The business newspaper will compile and report on the advice given by the local industry leaders (and she says ever-so-modestly, by me as well), but some of the conversation inspired me in regard to the intersection of business, technology, and the reasons that we each choose to do what we do.

I had rather expected that a discussion about Arizona’s technology challenges and advantages would center around technology (such as Tempe’s citywide Wi-Fi) or business issues (e.g. the ability to find qualified techies, or improving venture capital resources). Those were certainly discussed, along with lots of other topics. However, to my surprise—and the joy of my Inner Hippie—a strong theme among the participants was, for lack of a better term, social responsibility: keeping Arizona an attractive place to live (thus concerns about air quality and water access), finding ways to tap the community of retired, experienced IT executives (with mentoring opportunities which benefit everybody) and ensuring that senior technical talent wants to live here (thus a huge emphasis on improving K-12 education, and giving Phoenix a better vibe in the arts and music). It would have been easy to get lost in “business concerns” but everyone—even the people who are most comfortable wearing ties—had a holistic approach.

That’s not just a question of expecting the local government to encourage recycling, or believing that Phoenix needs its own South by Southwest. One person on the roundtable commented that innovative IT people really care about what the companies they work for do to improve the world around them: the social or environmental issues they stand behind, etc. I’m not sure that I was exactly surprised to hear that (after all, it matters to me too), but I was certainly delighted to hear the thought expressed.

And, since I’m always thinking about online community (even, &deity help me, before 8 o’clock in the morning), my first thought was to wonder about how to construct a poll to see if you agreed. But that’s too limiting, because this isn’t a multiple choice issue. How much does it matter to you if your company genuinely participates in Good Works? Would you take less money to work for a firm that you believe is actively advancing the quality of life… as part of its business purpose (i.e. a university) or as an extracurricular activity (i.e. sponsoring science fairs in the local school system)? If that’s not quite it, what is?