Members of San Antonio’s growing tech sector, from software engineers to creatives, have long said that tech has the ability to expand and diversify the city’s economy. Advocates have even said tech can bridge generational and income gaps and give a range of San Antonians more power in their hands in the form of information.
Such access to information can help raise the quality of life, especially for neighborhoods in the center city.
One local entrepreneur, Steven Quintanilla of Space Cadet, put it best: “I firmly believe the city is in the middle of a cultural renaissance. You see it in the arts, technology, the food/beverage industry, business.”
But the renaissance that San Antonio is experiencing, including the Decade of Downtown, is because of partnerships, collaboration and disruption, said Quintanilla.
Quintanilla and four other local tech advocates explored these and other themes in a “Coffee with the Councilman” program, which Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) led on Saturday at Geekdom.
Brad Parscale is President of Giles-Parscale, a design and web marketing firm that made headlines recently when billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump tasked it to develop a website promoting his presidential campaign. Giles-Parscale is also a co-founder of SATech Bloc, a grassroots group that is promoting San Antonio’s expanding technology ecosystem.
Addressing an audience of more than 40 people on Saturday, Parscale said a vibrant technology scene can help to make downtown a “strong nucleus” for an economically healthy San Antonio. Adding an atmosphere friendly to rideshare and other alternative forms of transportation, downtown could become a “walkable, liveable, connected space,” Parscale added.
Jason Straughan is CEO and software developer of Grok Interactive, and part of the Codeup team that trains people to become software engineers. Straughan said access to technology help individuals “get meaningful jobs.”
Clarissa Ramon, community impact manager for Google Fiber San Antonio, said San Antonians should be heartened by all the technological growth happening around her native town.
“I am super stoked to see the landscape change so much in San Antonio,” she added.
Dale Bracey, a strategist with Rackspace‘s social support team, said the arrival of Google Fiber is a game-changer that will empower locals who have long been at a technological disadvantage.
Even with all of this technological progress in San Antonio, Councilmember Treviño said there are many people, particularly younger children and older residents in lower-income areas, who still feel a sense of “segregation.” In other words, an inability to take advantage of even the basic benefits of high-speed Internet and other forms of available technology.
“It’s an issue of embracing change,” Treviño added.
Bracey recalled a conversation in which an individual wanted an instant hard copy of data on reported crimes in a specific area of town. Bracey added the challenge is that some people lack the speed for such immediate access of information, and others are not as aware of resources than can help them to overcome those challenges. Then there are the added benefits of more consumer choice in the marketplace.
Parscale said the better connected people are with each other and vital resources via technology, they will be able to improve their lives. The entrance of Google Fiber, among other technologies, can further bridge personal, career and financial gaps.
“People will look for employment opportunities without having to go to an office. Those jobs will come to you,” Parscale said. “Google Fiber is a gigantic step forward in this city. It’ll make Time Warner Cable and AT&T, who haven’t necessarily provided inexpensive web access, lower their prices.”
Even basic connectivity helps someone get going in a direction he or she did not originally expect. Take Desmond Finley, for instance. Listening to the panel discussion, he explained how he used Google to seek out how military veterans, such as himself, could further their education and enter a career field filled with opportunities. Finley eventually came across Codeup and Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, each of which carries a program where veterans are introduced to coding and cloud computing.
Ramon said there must be an ongoing dialogue on what she called “digital inclusion” – ensuring that people from all backgrounds have at least some kind of technological awareness and how it best suits their needs.
“There’s a certain percentage of people you have to start from a different place. Some will say ‘I don’t have the Internet, why should I?'” Ramon explained. She added that she recently persuaded her grandfather to attend a free AARP-sponsored technology workshop.
Ramon’s grandfather had no email account going into the workshop. When he came out, he had not only an email account but was joking to family and friends about acquiring a Facebook account, Ramon said.
One audience member, Luis Mercado, agreed that he and many other people in what he called “the over 40 crowd” want to learn more about technology without needlessly making it so complex. Mercado recalled how he had problems using PayPal.
“When I hit the ‘print’ button, I want it to print. There shouldn’t be more to that,” he said.
Straughan suggested that adults do all they can to introduce children to technology at an early age. He hopes more primary schools, public and private, are able to teach various forms of technology. That way, when those children grow up, they will not fear technology and look forward to integrating it in a career plan.
“The quicker they are introduced to (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math curricula), the better,” he said.
Straughan, Bracey, and Parscale said the issues that Ramon and Mercado brought up have to do with useability and accessibility. They said there should be a mission among all technology advocates to consider the wide array of individuals who may use their software or systems, not just a savvy relative few.
And that’s where collaboration comes into play, the panelists said. Collaboration and partnerships among local technology community members and their Austin counterparts. Councilmember Treviño said he has begun informal talks with officials in Austin, seeing how the tech hubs in both cities can work together to raise awareness of available technologies and resources.
“We’re working on trying to figure out not out doing each other, but rather working with each other,” Treviño said of San Antonio and Austin’s tech relationship.
In the wider scheme of things, Parscale said San Antonio has much potential to become a major hub for technological innovation, which should lure newcomers and keep locals in a culture and community that they enjoy.
He said if more people were to embrace technology, rideshare and innovative ways to improve their schools, interconnected, thriving communities could emerge. As a result, San Antonio would not keep losing tech-minded talent to more established hubs such as Austin or Boston that seem to keep improving their younger target demographics.
“We don’t have a job supply issue, we have a walkability and liveability issue for Millennials,” Parscale said. “I think our urban core and Pearl component help to keep the younger demographic here. If it’s about pay, that’s one thing. But if it’s lifestyle, I don’t want San Antonio to be like Austin.”
Parscale and Quintanilla said those embracing technology in various ways can help guide San Antonio toward higher destiny.
“We can have a direct influence on how things shape up. I’m glad there’s people like Councilman Treviño to hear us out on these issues,” Quintanilla said.
*Top image: City Councilmember Roberto Treviño (right) talks in a tech-centric “Coffee with the Councilman” event at Geekdom on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.