Marketing, motivation and Insomnia cookies: How to get — and keep — tech talent in Philadelphia

Comcast panel

Does Philadelphia have what it takes to get classified with the likes of Austin, Boston, Seattle and other cities in terms of startups and tech jobs? And how can you get a role in the scene?

Those were the subjects explored Thursday night during Billy Penn’s “How to get — and keep — tech talent in Philadelphia” event. The event was co-sponsored by Comcast and the Knight Foundation, and more than 100 people attended to enjoy drinks and hors d’ouerves and listen to a panel speak about the tech scene. Panelists Crystal O’Neill, president of SEER Interactive, Danielle Cohn, senior director of entrepreneurial engagement at Comcast, and Archna Sahay, manager of entrepreneurial investment at the city of Philadelphia, discussed their paths to tech jobs, the importance of connections and the need for Philadelphia to market itself as a tech hub. Here are some of the highlights from their discussion:

Think culture when you’re searching for a job

Skill is always going to matter, but so does fit. O’Neill said at SEER Interactive they hire people based on how they mesh with the company’s culture because her company works so closely together. “It is a small family, a team,” she said.

O’Neill added that people who want to work in startups should be flexible, motivated and curious. In terms of where to find them, she said to follow companies on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels. Cohn recommended becoming involved with the group Philly Startup Leaders.

Try to stand out when applying

At SEER Interactive, O’Neill told the story of an applicant who sent her well-crafted portfolio along with a dozen “still-warm” cookies from Insomnia. “We received an email (from her) and she followed up on it,” O’Neill said. “We were completely blown away. We didn’t have a position for her, but we created one. Now she’s part of our business development team.”

You don’t necessarily have to go as far as buying cookies, though. Cohn said she was impressed by a woman who handed her an envelope of what she assumed was her resume and other credentials before the panel started on Thursday night. Sahay commended someone who had not received an internship but continued an email relationship with her.

Concrete ways to keep tech jobs in Philly

O’Neil recommended startups to build relationships with each other so that when employees are looking for new challenges they can find their next job in Philadelphia with greater ease instead of wanting to move to New York or San Francisco or elsewhere. Cohn said a major key was keeping people inspired by giving them the opportunity to always be building toward great things.

How Philadelphia can raise its profile 

Perhaps keeping tech and startup talent in Philadelphia would be easier if Philadelphia had a better reputation nationally for these types of jobs. Cohn said the city needs to attend well-regarded tech events like South by Southwest in Austin and market itself as cities like Washington D.C., Chicago and others do. “We have to show up and be bolder and louder,” Cohn said. “And that’s OK to do that. And we need to spend money to do that.”

Sahay said the city is starting to do a better job of this and is trying to “attack it from every single place and make everyone see this energy we are talking about.”

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