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With or without Amazon, NYC remains the place to be for tech

by Bill Wise
March 11, 2019

There’s no winner in the demise of Amazon’s plans to build HQ2 in New York City. Amazon will miss out on building a massive footprint in the most exciting and diverse city in the world, and New York will miss out on jobs and economic growth. But as Crain's has reported, New York’s booming tech scene has never been stronger.

There are more than 7,600 tech companies in the 5 boroughs and more tech professionals in New York than any other metro area. It’s hard to find a tech giant that doesn’t have a New York office, including Google, which plans on doubling its workforce in the city in the next five years.

What is it about New York that’s made it the stealth second city of the tech world? What drew Amazon in the first place? And why is New York’s tech economy poised to grow even faster? As a veteran of the city’s tech scene, I think the most important thing is hybrid talent.

When your job needs you to combine multiple skills—for example, coding and knowing what customers in a specific industry are looking for—it’s called a hybrid role.

This intersection of multiple disciplines is magic for tech companies today, and it’s great news for people who have diverse skills and backgrounds and are looking to get into tech. I might have been a part of the first generation to benefit from the growing thirst for hybrid talent in the tech industry, and the reservoir of it that exists in New York. I may be the CEO of a tech company, but I didn’t have the traditional training in engineering that many of my colleagues did. Actually, I’m an accountant by trade. I think I’ve been a better entrepreneur because of that background, but when I got my start, it was revolutionary.

Back then, when New York was starting to emerge as a tech hub, jobs and skills were far more siloed. If you were a young coder, you’d start your career on the West Coast. Bankers and advertisers needed to go to Wall Street and Madison Avenue, while aspiring medical researchers gravitated to Boston.

Now, our sectors are integrated. Tech isn’t so much an industry itself as it is a part of every industry. It’s AdTech, MarTech, FinTech, MedTech, EdTech and more. This has made New York a vital hub of interaction between industries and the leading breeding ground for the hybrid talent that has driven tech forward in recent years. This is part of what originally drew Amazon to New York. With a booming advertising business, Amazon would have benefited greatly from comingling with the brands that buy its ad space, and drawing directly from the pool of professionals who know how to sell it.

Hybrid talent also tends to think creatively and expansively about the world around them, which has never been more important as tech companies seek ways to avoid living in a bubble so that they can understand their customers and build things that more people need and want. If you live in a world where everyone wears Allbirds and expects delivery of meals at the touch of a button, it’s hard to realize that most people have different needs.

Don’t get me wrong: Silicon Valley is an incredible concentration of smart people doing innovative work. But New York has a diversity and creativity that Silicon Valley can’t match. Expanding your pool of hybrid talent doesn’t just mean hiring people who have a variety of core competencies. It means building a workforce with more varied experiences. It’s a signal that companies are open to people who don’t live and breathe tech, and that different perspectives are welcome. They’re willing to bring people in who will disrupt the disruptors. And that is a very healthy development for the tech industry.

This hybridization—in both skills and culture—is critical for the future of tech. That’s why Amazon or not, New York will continue to be a center of the global tech industry.

Bill Wise is CEO of New York-based Mediaocean. He is on Twitter @BillWise.