Atlanta Tech Village Founder David Cummings Discusses the Future of the Tech Workforce

Recently, the Atlanta Small Business Network was on-location at the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit where anchor Jim Fitzpatrick spoke with David Cummings, Founder of the Atlanta Tech Village. Today, the Atlanta Tech Village is the fourth largest tech space in the U.S. and has deep connections to Atlanta’s business and investment community. Cummings is also a serial entrepreneur who has founded several successful companies including Pardot, SalesLoft, and Terminus to name a few.

Stay tuned for more coverage from the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule.

David Cummings:
Great to be here. You’re much too kind. It’s been awesome to see the adventure of the Atlanta Tech Village over the past few years.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

David Cummings:
Another two more years, year and a half, we’ll be on our ten-year anniversary. It’s amazing to see how the time goes by and it’s incredible to see all the startups that have emerged from the Tech Village.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. So, let’s talk a little bit about the panel that you’re going to be sitting on today, Future of the Workforce, right? Talk to us about what that’s going to look like.

David Cummings:
The future of the workforce, this is a popular topic that we’ve been going back and forth on in the entrepreneur circles. Historically, the workforce has been organized in a nine to five, in the office … really, leftovers from the factory days.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That’s right.

David Cummings:
And obviously, most of the workforce today from the tech side of things is the creative class. It’s writing code, it’s supporting customers, it’s building products.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

David Cummings:
And so, from a future of the workforce, I think there’s a lot that’s going to change here on the horizon. And we’ve had some trends over the years that have been heading this direction, but really the pandemic has been the major shift that’s pulled the band-aid off and caused a lot more focus and energy around this topic.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Do you think that’s a good thing?

David Cummings:
I do, absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, yeah.

David Cummings:
I think from a society point of view, the more flexible the workforce, the more people can work from home, work from different locations, I think just the quality of life is better. And so, the office component … but then the continuing education component. I think the continuous learning and the retraining, I think is going to be a really important topic as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. We’re hearing more and more companies are actually doing away with their headquarters altogether, and having a completely virtual workforce. Is that something that we’ll see more of?

David Cummings:
Absolutely. From the startup point of view … obviously these are smaller companies that we primarily work with, we’ve seen many more go to a remote first environment. So digital first, so you can work anywhere at any time. And then we’re also seeing collaboration hubs as the way that they bring people together on occasion. So imagine having a collaboration hub in different cities so that people that do want the office setting can do so, but people that want to work from home or work from the beach or wherever it might be, can also.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. When you think about a remote workforce like that, and then you think about the culture that you’re trying to build inside of a company, it seems to go against each other. And I mean, that’s a tough thing to do, right?

David Cummings:
The culture side of it is the thing that is incredibly tough to do. The most common approach that we’ve heard from entrepreneurs so far is getting together on a quarterly or biannual basis as an entire company. And then from a team point of view, getting together once a month or once every other month. So there still is a face-to-face component when possible, but I think it’s going to require a lot of re-imagining what it means to build culture.

David Cummings:
As an example, one of the components of it that I actually think is going to be beneficial on the employee side, is it’s going to be so much easier to find the right job. Right now, most people are constrained geographically to find a great role. And so opening up across the nation, across borders, I actually think it’s going to make it so that people can find a better job or the best job for them, and not be constrained by what’s just down the road from them.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. There’s even been situations where people will go into their employer or their manager and say, look, I know that I’m up for a raise, but instead of a raise, is there any way that I can move out of state and move to Colorado or maybe down to the beach or what have you. And if I can do that and you’ll work with me on that, then I’m good with that. I don’t necessarily need to have more money, but if you’ll allow me to do that … Have you heard of situations like that, and do you think that’s a trend that will take shape?

David Cummings:
Absolutely. I don’t even think it’s attached to a raise. I think people are just saying, hey, I would like to move to be closer to my parents or be in a different geographic area. And I think from a raise point of view, I think for employers the big question is going to be, do you pay employees the same, no matter where they live? So if you live in New York City and you want to relocate to Atlanta, Atlanta has a dramatically lower cost of living. Do you pay them the same rate? And so that’s a really hot topic right now as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That is a hot topic. One also that’s got to be looked into because there’s other ramifications. If that’s a female or a minority or what have you, and somebody says, well, I can get away with paying them less money because they’re in some rural area versus a New York City, right? So then it’s got …

David Cummings:
And government roles have always done that. So their cost of living calculus is different for federal government based on where you live. In the private sector they’ve followed that same trend. But I think on the tech side … tech has such unique scalability of the person’s work. So a great programmer truly is 10 times more productive than an average programmer.

David Cummings:
And so I think on the tech side, especially in some roles like programmers, we’re going to see the compensation side of it be consistent at the high end, no matter where they live. Right. And then roles that are a little more plentiful on the talent side, I think are going to be more driven by geographic location in terms of the salaries and compensation.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. It’s a new normal we’re in, that’s for sure. Hey, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the actual summit, the TAG 2021 Summit. I know you’ve been a huge advocate of TAG over the years, and certainly played a bigger role in it. How important are associations like this, and events like this, in an entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur’s life and those that want to become the next David Cummings?

David Cummings:
I think they’re incredibly important. I joined TAG almost 20 years ago. I first got involved in their Content Management Society, and then evolved and participated in their Entrepreneurs Society as well. And so from a community point of view, bringing people together with like-minded interests, I think no matter whether we’re in a pandemic or not, is incredibly important. People want to share best practices, they want to network, they want to meet new people. And so TAG, as one of the largest in the world, I think is incredibly valuable for our community.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. What’s the state of technology and entrepreneurship and startups … I know it’s a loaded question. But what’s the state of it here in Georgia, and specifically Atlanta?

David Cummings:
Atlanta is white hot. It is on fire on the general tech jobs, so think of big companies like Microsoft expanding to Atlanta. But then on the startup side, we have so many unicorns now. Unicorns are startups that have a valuation of a billion dollars or more. We have so much venture capital coming into the region. I think just from a tech and tech startup point of view, Atlanta is going gangbusters right now.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. I spoke to one entrepreneur … or one venture capitalist I should say. And I said, did the pandemic slow things down? He said, no, it had actually accelerated them. Did you find that to be the case?

David Cummings:
It did. We found that to be the case. The primary reason is a lot of the startups that we’re involved in, help business people do things better, faster, or cheaper for businesses.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. Yeah. That makes sense.

David Cummings:
And so it’s part of the digital transformation, right? You’re working from home, you’re working from anywhere. You’re using technology to be more scalable, more efficient. And so for a lot of our startups, the pandemic was actually a big net benefit to them.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. So what are … Everybody’s going to ask me, how come you didn’t ask him? What are the trends you’re following? What are the companies and the elements out there that you look for during times like this?

David Cummings:
Some of the areas that we’re really excited about, one is robotics. So one of the companies that we work with does robotic lawn mowers. So think of humans mowing the same piece of grass over and over again. Robots are uniquely suited to repetitive tasks. And so if you have to mow that football field every week during growing season, over and over again, surely a robot can do a better job. So robotics is a really important area.

David Cummings:
And then of course, AI. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are really hot right now. And those are really broad categories, and so applying them to different industries is too broad.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Those are not the byproducts of a pandemic, right? Although the two elements that you just mentioned, it’s a workforce that isn’t effected by any kind of a pandemic or illness out there, right?

David Cummings:
Right. And on the AI and ML side, what we’ve seen is most industries have a variety of products that they already use. And so it’s really the applicability of AI and ML inside of their current processes to make them more efficient, to make them smarter, to make it more intelligent.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. What are some of the lessons learned from your standpoint? You work with so many companies, so many wonderful companies that have grown on to be those unicorns that you speak of, which is incredible. And you really, I think helped put, in a big way … many people would agree, Atlanta on the map for technology and the startups with Atlanta Tech Village and such. What are some of the lessons learned, do you think, coming out of COVID for the startup community and for entrepreneurs?

David Cummings:
COVID really drove home the main reason why startups do win, and that’s speed and agility. When the whole world shuts down within a matter of a week or two, you better be able to change on a dime.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

David Cummings:
And so startups are uniquely suited for that. That’s why startups can outmaneuver the incumbents, the big companies. So speed and agility is so important. And I think the pandemic really just magnified it, the startups that were able to pivot into work from home, work from anywhere, startups that were able to take a in-person sales process and make it all digital. And so really just being able to change on a dime is what startups are all about.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
For sure. Now this event today is virtual, and there’s people from all over the world that are logging on and attending this event. Do you think this is something that will be a mainstay in the future for TAG, to have their events like this? Would that be something you’d like to see, or back in person?

David Cummings:
I think all events, going forward, need to have a hybrid model, right? Have an in-person component and have a virtual component. The virtual component is great because again, this idea of geographic diversity being so important in a variety of different reasons that people can or cannot make it to an event. And then the in-person side, it’s so much better to be in person. But again, to appeal to such a large important part of our economy, I think having the hybrid model makes sense going forward.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. Mr. David Cummings. You all know him here in Georgia, and specifically Atlanta, with Atlanta Tech Village. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. I very much appreciate it.

David Cummings:
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.


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