‘Nerds’ are cool, in demand and working to address Tallahassee’s tech gap | Opinion

From the Tallahassee Democrat

So, about 35 years ago, they made movies about nerds. Something about revenge.

That was back when computers were a new phenomenon and words like streaming and hosting had very different meanings.

Now, nerds are cool. And more importantly, they are coveted.

A workforce with talent gaps as wide as the mouth of the St. Mark River has an acute problem in the technology segment. Here at home, led by the Tallahassee Chamber, a group of folks is doing something about that.

You may have read a story a few months ago from Tom Harrison with Tallahassee Primary Care Associates (TPCA) about what’s being done to address the medical talent gap. A related group is attacking the tech gap. One of the tools both groups are using is Talent Pipeline Management (TPM), a program developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

In short, TPM is a collaborative of folks in specific fields – in the case of what I’m writing about today, technology. Anybody in that field can join the group.

There are 64 tech companies in Leon County and 12,816 jobs in the tech sector.

We are setting aside our competitiveness and talking about challenges with recruitment and retention. We ask lots of questions: What roles are most in-demand? How many positions are open? With whom are we competing for talent? And many more.

The first phase is gathering info.

Which brings us back to the nerds. One thing we discovered is that tech folks don’t always fit in the way workers in other segments do. Hobnobbing at cocktail parties isn’t their style. This is partly because a lot of tech pros don’t have the types of associations or club where business friendships are made.

So, I’d like to acquaint you with “NAT” — Nerds Around Tallahassee.

NAT is an association for tech workers – a way for those folks to come together knowing that they speak the same language. The first meet-and-greet event at the rooftop bar Charlie Park drew a whopping 40 attendees. Yes, this is a need being filled.

And this is a “bottom-up” way to address the talent gap. We are creating a community of talented, professionally aligned local professionals.

Meanwhile, the TPM team continues to learn and research and seek partners. Next, we want to fully leverage the local ecosystem, bringing together tech organizations, TCC, FAMU and FSU and more partners, to plan for the future.

Speaking of education, the tech talent gap presents a unique opportunity – and challenge – for our schools, from which so much is already being asked. How do we move with dexterity to address the quickly changing needs of the tech economy? How do we balance the need for the “three R’s” with the reality that so many 21st century jobs require us to identify and teach those at a young age who can eventually fill those gaps?

It’s also a challenge for state and local leaders. But whoever is responsible, there must be a recognition and response to the reality that this is a technology-driven economy and society, and we must find ways to squeeze into our academic curricula more preparation for that new world.

In the meantime, if you hear a bunch of geeks living it up near Cascades Park anytime soon, know that it’s those nerds exacting some revenge on all of us.

And thank goodness for that. We need them now more than ever.

Eddie Gonzalez-Loumiet is CEO of Ruvos and the 2022 Chair of the Chamber’s Talent, Workforce & Education Committee.