Techsylvania and The Tech Scene in Cluj
There’s no doubt for me that the tech scene in Cluj is evolving and things that I didn’t even dream or think about 12 years ago are happening today. When I finished my Batchelor of Science degree, back in 2004, we were just coming out out the .com bubble and the opportunities in the city weren’t that many. As a programmer you would basically try to get hired by one of the companies doing outsourcing/nearshoring and then you would go from there. And there wasn’t that much demand either, especially for noobs like me just fresh out of school and without any “hands on” experience. However I was lucky enough to get into one of the nearshoring companies that was on the tide at that time, so my journey in tech had begun.
Fast forward to today, things are heating up. A vibrant tech community has formed in the city and this is proven by the sheer number of events that begun taking place since I started as a developer, back in 2004. For me this means that the tech scene is maturing and growing beyond just being a nearshore hub, which can only make me happy. The opportunities for personal growth and employment today are much more varied and I think that is a good thing. Cluj seems to be an emergent tech hub with the good and the bad. We were even called the “Silicon Valley of Transylvania” in this TechCrunch article which I do think is a tad too much, even if it is good publicity. Besides, I believe we should strive to find our own place in the world, you know, be ourselves and not try to emulate Silicon Valley or anywhere else for that matter. There’s plenty of stuff we can do, we certainly have the tech talent for it and in the last few years, some of the startups that emerged from Cluj did prove that we can also have good ideas and make our own impact in the world.
If the article’s title is any indication I want to put in my 2 cents of wisdom about the Techsylvania conference, an event that was at it’s 3rd edition this year and which I think it is one of the best we have in town. I’ve participated in the last 2 editions of Techsylvania and for me, it’s definitely an event I’ll add to my calendar next year. The theme of the conference is not very developer centric, it is more skewed towards enterepreneurship, leadership and business, with talks that do not get very technical, but the speakers are world class.
If you’re a developer maybe you think why should I pay money if the talks are not about technical things. Well, the short answer is because it will broaden your perspective. It helps to have a greater picture of how things are in the tech domain even if you do not intend to be an entrepreneur. You’ll get an understanding of what it means to build a product which will help you evolve from a simple executant to someone who can bring a lot more value to their customers. You’ll be able to better understand why certain decisions are taken by the owners of the product you are working on and you’ll be able to help them take the right decisions, using your knowledge. You’ll be better positioned to work for a product company - and be sure that nearshoring is going to become unprofitable in Romania in the near future, so the next step is to begin working on products. Just look around, some of the big outsourcing companies in Cluj are looking into that area, which should mean something. Besides there’s plenty of developer conferences both in Romania and in Europe where you can participate and pump up your tech knowledge and skills.
If you’re a student, this would be a great place to get a sense of the tech community in town and learn about trends in technology that are going to be relevant in the near future. Also, you’ll learn about what it means to build a product and how you can get financing. You can even discuss with the speakers and get their perspective on things, and believe me, there are some people we can really learn from. Even if the price might seem steep, you’ll get your money’s worth - just look for early bird deals or try to get a sponsor. If you’re a tech company, don’t be scared that the conference is skewed towards entrepreneurship, send your people there, you’ll benefit in the long run from having more entrepreneur minded employees. As one of my favourite pieces of corporate wisdom says: “What if we invest in people and they leave. Well, what if we don’t and they stay.” Invest in your engineers, and your managers, show that you really care about your employees not just declaratively.
If you’re an entrepreneur or thinking about being one, well all the reasons I enumerated above should convince you to participate.
Events like Techsylvania with their lineup of world class speakers, do help bring the community forward and grow it but I think that there is more each of us can do to fuel the growth and transform Cluj into a world class tech hub. For example, what I’ve noticed so far is that students are yet to get involved in these kind of events. I’ve seen some young people trying their hands at making their own startup, which is great but there’s certainly place for more. I think right now is a great time to be a student, since the opportunities are plentiful to learn, grow and start your own company. Us seasoned engineers are at a point in our lives where we can’t just quit our jobs and immediately start our company. We do have plenty of bills to pay and have to take care of our families but, as a student, you actually have no obligations and plenty of time at hand which could be spent on your startup even if you have no real world experience. Seasoned engineers, even if we do have obligations, it doesn’t mean we should not try to find a way to implement our ideas and make our mark. I sure don’t want to use that as an excuse. So my adivce is: students, seek out the experienced engineers, learn from them, get them in your teams; great things can come out of this. Seasoned engineers and developers, encourage students to take the leap, provide mentoring, provide ideas, bring your experience to the table and go build awesome things!