Oklahoma City will never be a tech hub

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When people talk about tech communities, they tend to have the coasts in mind – Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston, Brooklyn. Few cities in the middle of the country stand tall as pillars of tech – Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, and increasingly Kansas City and Omaha being the exceptions.

I know a lot of people who want Oklahoma City to join that club, to be a place where startups prosper and talent gravitates towards. It’s something I want too.

But, given current conditions, Oklahoma City will never be a serious tech hub, because Oklahoma City is in Oklahoma.

“What are these ‘priorities’ you speak of?”

While Oklahoma’s infrastructure decays and our schools are being shut down due to lack of funding, our legislature is busy moralizing and drafting reactionary, idiotic laws that anyone with even a middle schooler’s understanding of constitutional law would immediately recognize as indefensible.

Bridges and roads are literally falling apart. Schools are closing and already underpaid teachers are being laid off in a system that is 48th in the nation. Mental health services and poverty assistance have been completely gutted.

Core services are in a death spiral, yet the state legislature seems determined to spend all their time banging their heads against a wall instead of addressing actual problems. I’m not sure what litmus test they are using but it’s certainly not “Who does this help?” or “What does this improve?” or “What problem does this solve?”

It’s a continual cycle of:

  1. Pass law
  2. Law challenged, millions of dollars wasted
  3. Law struck down
  4. Return to line 1

Whether you agree with the ideas behind each piece of legislation or not, it would be hard to argue that repeating the same process over and over and expecting a different result is a sane tactic.

Attracting tech talent

Building a strong tech community is at least partially about attracting and retaining talent. Oklahoma City is doing a decent job of that right now, but the state is failing miserably.

I’ve heard several people say that Oklahoma City is becoming the “Austin for tech people with families”, which I think misses the mark. Austin is “Austin for tech people with families.” Oklahoma City is turning into “Austin for people who don’t care about having nice things or their children getting a decent education.”

It doesn’t matter how much OKC progresses or improves when everything around it and connected to it is burning to the ground.

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Look on Twitter and Reddit and you’ll find tech people anguishing over whether or not they should stay in Oklahoma. I’m faced with the same question, even more so now that I have a child. I wake up every day asking “Is it worth it?” and “Is there anything I can do to make this better?”

Unfortunately, the answer is increasingly, “no”.

I have family and friends here. My wife and I have built a life here. Neither of us really wants to move, but we also want the best for our son and the prospect of that being Oklahoma is dimming.

At this point, I honestly have no idea what to do. I vote. I write letters and make calls. I work within my sphere of influence to make things better, but it’s like chipping away at a boulder with a plastic fork. None of it seems to help and that’s both tiring and heartbreaking.