Waters: Tech sector not juggernaut here some make it out to be be — yet

While it's growing, the tech sector in the Okanagan still has a ways to go. The products produced however are another story.

Yesterday’s announcement of money to help train the folks who write the code used to create computer apps, programs and websites, once again shone a light on what is becoming much more than a cottage industry here—technology.

Sure, in the vast scheme of things the industry here is small when compared to larger centres such as California’s Silicon Valley, Boulder, Colorado, Austin,Texas and even Vancouver.

But as Lance Priebe, CEO of Hyper Hippo Games pointed out, those comparisons differ when you are talking about the products produced here verses the local industry itself.

And Priebe should know. In his case, two of his creations have done pretty well internationally — first Club Penguin, which became and international cyber hit with kids before the Walt Disney Company recognized it to be so and scooped it up for a cool $350 million.

Priebe’s next venture, Hyper Hippo Games, currently has a venture capitalist game on the web — available through Apple’s App Store and Google app store and it is seeing an estimated 800,000 people around the world playing it every day. Not bad for a little tech firm in Kelowna. B.C.

And, as Priebe points out, there are thousands of people here toiling away every day creating computer games, apps, websites and technology hardware that ship around the world.

Speaking at his company’s headquarters on Bertram Street, he points up and says on the floor about Hyper Hippo Games’ office is a company that makes the cameras Google uses for its popular Street View application. Who knew?

But while the proucts compete internationally, when it comes to the industry itself, high-tech in the Okanagan is still small compared with more established centres.

The government may talk about lifestyle and the ability of those in the tech industry to live where they want because their work can be so easily transferred around the world but thatnot always the case here.

According to Priebe, there is a lot of movement by tech sector workers within an area, with workers going where the work is. If a project wraps up at one company, workers often move on to the next company to work on whatever project it has on the go.

But here, there are just a few larger companies so the ability to do that is limited. That’s especially true for folks on the “fringes,” those who provide specialized work that is needed but not all the time.

There is a shortage here of talented code-writers and programers.

With so many tech sector companies being very small shops, the opportunities to move around — as opposed to staying with a larger company — are limited. Not so in larger centres.

The Okanagan tech sector appears to have a bright future but it may not be the juggernaut some in government would have us believe – at least not yet.


Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.



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