An antidote to the bummerization of high tech Ottawa - geezers like Denny Doyle and Tony Patterson suggest we look ahead
By Nathan Rudyk
With the sale of Cognos to IBM this week, the young-ish tech pundits of Ottawa have expressed yearning for the big company era of the 90s. With headlines crying "Branch plant City" and "Silicon Subsidiary North" there's a lot of concern that our entrepreneurial mojo has been sold to the highest multinational bidder and we'll never again give birth to what Celtic House VC Andrew Waitman in his Money Matters column calls "companies of scale".
BarcampOttawa's energetic organizer Peter Childs blogged about how Cognos "surrenders control of its destiny to IBM" and how the sale "makes clear ... how little depth the Ottawa tech sector has". The Ottawa Citizen's Mark Anderson, after laying out the compelling business case for the Cognos acquisition, writes about his "ineffable sense of loss" and pronounces the local tech scene "deadwood". Ouch!
For an antidote to the bummerization of high tech Ottawa, check out what the geezers have to say - guys who were around when cows dotted the fields between the Mitel and MDS Nordion campuses, and who helped will the sector into one that employs tens of thousands versus hundreds of workers - and more entrepreneurs than ever before in the city's history. In this month's National Capital SCAN, in article titled "Past is prologue for OttawaTech", Denny Doyle quipped to SCAN founder/editor Tony Patterson that "“If things are so down, how come there’s no place to park [in Kanata].”
Doyle worked as an engineer in high tech Ottawa when Methuselah was a girl, founded hardware manufacturer Digital Equipment Canada, and has an Order of Canada for his contributions to tech as both an investor, entrepreneur, author and mentor. He's also released his long-awaited Doyletech family tree of locally-generated technology companies with research that shows last year high tech employment rebounded to 78,000, almost 7% above the previous peak reached in 2000, with more growth this year. BUMMER!
Patterson meanwhile, says "I’ve been writing about technology in Canada for more than forty years and I’ve been working in the field for more than twenty. I think these present days are just a lull before the tsunami. We’re on the verge of the most spectacular technology boom the world has ever known." BUMMER MAN! Oops. I mean, go man go!
Although I'm closer to the vintage of Childs and Anderson than Patterson or Doyle, as a former employee of both IBM (co-op student, 82-83) and Cognos (co-op student then newly minted communications coordinator, 84-85), I do remember those cows between Nordion and Mitel. I scurried back to TO for a few years (a woman was involved, and it all worked out three kids later!), but after serving the branch-plant product launch needs of clients like Xerox Canada, EDS Canada, Microsoft Canada, Dell Canada and IBM Canada among others, I came back to Ottawa in the pre-boom early 90s to do much more satisfying work for a host of Ottawa tech start-ups - work that meant more than a decimal point of difference.
Many of those companies, like JetForm and Databeacon, got swallowed by larger fish like Adobe and Cognos, as did my own start-up, digIT Interactive, by Quebecor's nurun. When an exit occured, we didn't antipcate the future with dread. We went and created another one. I think - no, I know - the geezers have got it right. Tech Ottawa's got it goin' on. But don't take anybody's word for it. Check out the November podcast of OCRIRadio.com where we talk to two next generation Ottawa tech firms - eSight and IPeak Networks. Most of the founders are by-products of previous exits. And they're not planning branch-plant futures for themselves.