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The Tech Issue — 2017

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JEFF DREW | REV. DIANE SULLIVAN
  • Jeff Drew | Rev. Diane SUllivan

George W. Bush was president on Wednesday, January 23, 2008, the day Seven Days published its first Tech Biz Issue. It was timed to coincide with that Saturday's first Vermont Tech Jam.

The head of the executive branch isn't the only thing that's changed in the intervening years. A decade ago, smartphones with apps and internet access were still novelty items; iPhones weren't yet available in Vermont. Back then, the world's biggest social network was MySpace; Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat hadn't even been invented.

Twitter, which now has 328 million users, had just a few million at the dawn of 2008. The president was not among them.

There's at least one constant, though — Vermont companies are still struggling to find enough highly skilled, tech-savvy employees here. The Vermont Technology Alliance, a local tech industry trade group, reports that its members alone currently have more than 150 jobs to fill.

That's the main reason the Vermont Tech Jam, organized by Seven Days, endures. Part conference, part career fair, part tech expo, the free event showcases some of the state's tech successes and gathers growing local companies, training programs and supportive organizations together under one roof for two days of education and networking. The 11th Tech Jam — featuring more than 60 exhibitors and three programming tracks — takes place this Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21, at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.

The Jam gives Seven Days our annual opportunity to write about tech companies and trends — as if we needed a reason. These days technology dominates the headlines regularly, with new revelations about massive data breaches, Russian operatives buying political ads on Google and Facebook, and companies testing driverless cars.

Seven Days always looks for the local angle — like our very first Tech Issue, this year's contains a profile of an ambitious Burlington-based company trying to revolutionize its industry. Back then, it was Dealer.com. This year, Alicia Freese writes about Localvore, which is positioning itself as the "anti-Yelp."

Our first Tech Issue highlighted the innovative game design program at Champlain College. This year's introduces a new approach to computer education altogether — Molly Walsh interviews the founders of a new coding boot camp called Burlington Code Academy.

In 2008, then-music editor Dan Bolles wrote about a music instructor using the popular game Guitar Hero to teach students to play the instrument. In 2017, now-assistant arts editor Bolles rides in a Tesla and gets behind the wheel of a Chevy Bolt to explain the surge in popularity of electric cars. Meanwhile, music editor Jordan Adams profiles Soundtoys, which has been rocking the audio effects world since way back in the 1990s.

This issue also includes stories on Vermont's embrace of blockchain technology and on the state's decision to treat Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

So much is going on in the local tech scene, we can't cover it all. This issue comes out in the middle of the second Innovation Week, which celebrates the Burlington area's tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out btvignite.com/innovation-week for a list of all 25 events.

Innovation Week culminates with the Tech Jam; the latter's program guide is inserted in this Tech Issue. The 2017 Jam hosts a cybersecurity workshop for small businesses, organized by the Attorney General's Office; a panel discussion with a group of manufacturing and Internet of Things experts who will explain the challenges and opportunities created by increasing automation; and a conversation about what it means to be a "socially responsible" tech company, which could apply to everything from diversity in hiring to user-experience design.

This year's Jam also includes a Vintage Tech Showcase for baby boomers and Gen Xers nostalgic for the bulky, boxy home computers of the 1970s, '80s and '90s — like the one pictured at the base of the tree on the cover of this issue. The display includes working models of an Apple IIe and a Commodore 64.

Those old relics put all of these changes in perspective and will hopefully get Vermonters thinking and talking about what has been gained — or lost — in the transition to the Internet Age.

It'll also be fun to show those old computers to kids who don't remember a time before the Tech Jam.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Back to Our Roots"

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