Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell will headline the Tech Bloc Rally on Thursday, Nov. 9, with this year's event at Rackspace – the first time the annual rally will be held outside the downtown tech corridor.
“These rallies are an opportunity to bring an iconic founder like Bushnell to San Antonio,” said David Heard, chief executive officer of Tech Bloc.
But it also will highlight the tech hub that has emerged at Rackspace, as well as the company's pioneering role in San Antonio's tech business community, Heard said.
“Thanks to The Castle there are 4,000 tech workers in that area of the city,” Heard said, referring to Rackspace's headquarters off I-35 in Windcrest. “And what better place is there than Rackspace to connect with their workers and new leadership, while hearing its creation story from some of the founders?"
Rackspace co-founder and entrepreneur Dirk Elmendorf and former Rackspace president, Scaleworks founder, and Tech Bloc co-founder Lew Moorman will join Graham Weston – Rackspace's former chairman and founder of Geekdom, the 80/20 Foundation, and the Weston-Urban real estate company – to discuss the earliest days of Rackspace and lessons from its meteoric growth.
But for some, Bushnell is the main draw.
Video game enthusiast Alexandro “A.J.” Martinez, owner of the vintage video game and music store Propaganda Palace, said he plans to ask Bushnell to autograph some of his rare, vintage Atari consoles after the rally. Martinez’s father was one of the original Atari salesmen in San Antonio in the 1970s and continues to work at his son’s store repairing Atari gaming consoles.
Because of his father’s employment with Atari, Martinez grew up playing on console prototypes. He developed a passion for video games and became an avid collector, building a “monstrous collection” that became his store’s inventory, Martinez said.
“Nolan Bushnell is one of my heroes,” Martinez said. “I’m glad San Antonio is getting [a visit from] a founder like this. He’s started about 20 companies in addition to Atari. He’ll share some lessons learned. He’s a great storyteller.”
Tech Bloc is a grassroots tech advocacy group that started with its first large-scale rally in May 2015. The organization holds a yearly rally event to highlight San Antonio’s growing tech scene. It was always hosted downtown to underscore the need to build more urban lifestyle amenities desired by many tech workers and to strengthen San Antonio’s urban core, Heard said.
This year’s program, "Game Changing Tech Founders: From Silicon Valley to SATX," acknowledges the growing community of gaming developers in San Antonio and reflects the two different tech clusters emerging in the city. After the Rackspace panel of speakers, Bushnell will talk with David Martin Davies, host of The Source on Texas Public Radio and author of a video gaming column for the San Antonio Express News.
“Nolan [Bushnell] represented the opportunity to bring an iconic tech pioneer to San Antonio,” Heard said. “He impacted the lives of tech people through the digital world of video games and inspired techies to enter this field as a career.”
Rick Stemm, founder of San Antonio's Greater Gaming Society, said the video game developer community is new but is growing in San Antonio. The group has grown from its original 50 members in 2014 to over 600 members who have varying video game development expertise.
“Everyone in the group is working in the industry in some way,” Stemm said. “Members work on video game development, some are game testers, others produce art, sound, or video components for games.”
Stemm also worked with a team to help open a chapter of the International Game Developers Association in San Antonio in 2016. While there are no big video game companies in San Antonio, many independent local companies produce video games, including a gaming development studio that launched in January with its game licensed by Nintendo, Stemm said.
“We are at the intersection of tech entrepreneurs and game developers, so we are attending [the rally] for both reasons equally,” Stemm.
Many employees from Assembla who plan to attend share the same reasons as Stemm, albeit from a different perspective.
A Scaleworks startup company, Assembla provides a software platform that is used for complex digital project development and management. Most of Assembla’s customer base includes game studios where developers use Assembla’s data management and security cloud-based service to facilitate game development and collaboration, according to Jacek Materna, Assembla’s chief technology officer.
“We have over 150 game studios as customers using our platform,” Materna said. “We’re seeing a shift in and around AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality] with developers taking new applications to the next level by creating digital interactive content for education and training.
“We’re focused on supporting our customer base of game studios, yet we are also tech entrepreneurs,” Materna said. “We plan on joining other employees from Scaleworks companies for both reasons.”
As for Martinez's father, he will miss the rally due to scheduled knee surgery.
"I promised him I'd try my best to bring home an autographed console," A.J. Martinez said.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here. The rally begins at 5 p.m. with a reception and vintage Atari gaming activities, followed by the program.