At Wednesday night’s New York Tech Meetup, Jessica Lawrence took the stage for the first time as the organization’s first employee.
This is a big deal. There will be much talk of the significance of her hire, in particular the fact that, yes, she’s a woman running an organization dominated by men. But it goes deeper than that.
I run a company that has zero employees. Like the NYTM, New Work City was born out of a community effort, and neither were really designed to be real businesses.
As I’ve witnessed firsthand, when a small volunteer-run organization finds rampant success, a lot of things fall through the cracks. Obvious and fixable flaws might sit, visibly un-repaired, for a long time before they get addressed.
The NYTM is no exception. With over 17,000 members and a monthly event that instantly sells out 850 spots, there has been much debate about the struggle to score tickets, the process by which presenters are selected, how people get elected to the board and more.
Beyond the basic operational questions, however, is the debate about how the NYTM should use its formidable platform to enact change on a larger scale. In a decimated economy, the new businesses that arise from new technologies are going to drive a recovery that will rescue countless people from not just unemployment, but underemployment and suckemployment.
(Suckemployment is when you’ve got a job, but you hate it and are probably being mistreated and underpaid. In case it wasn’t obvious.)
NYC needs amazing new technology. The world needs it too. The NYTM happened to find itself as NYC’s hub for this, and now it’s taking the necessary steps to rise to the occasion.
When Meetup founder Scott Heiferman stepped down as organizer in 2008, he set in motion a series of events that put the NYTM on a path to becoming the organization it had to be. The subsequent formation of the nonprofit entity around the NYTM was a necessary and critical step. Now, as a real organization, the NYTM has scraped together a salary and hired its first full-time employee.
In her work as CEO of the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, Jessica Lawrence has dealt with a lot of the challenges a growing community organization faces. She also produced the country’s first Coworking Unconference at SXSW this year. She also happens to be friendly, upbeat, intelligent, and professional.
And the fact that she doesn’t have a background in technology? She’s already working on that. In her opening speech, she pledged to learn how to code.
After the NYTM was over, she opted to spend her time not avoiding the masses of people, but spending time among them at the public afterparty.
The fact that she’s new to NYC is also a huge advantage. She comes to the city without any biases and can approach everything she does with a completely fresh and objective perspective. The obvious flaws are going to get addressed, and the fine folks behind the NYTM will be able to rest easy knowing someone’s on top of things. More important, however, are the things the NYTM will be capable of doing that nobody’s thought of yet.
Why? Because if you look at the NYTM’s mission, anyone who is working full-time on the NYTM is working full-time on making the city and the world a better place. There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of interconnectivity between many of the organizations in the city in various industries, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that it’s never been anyone’s job to address it. We all want to play our own roles in making NYC tech better, but it couldn’t be anyone’s top priority in quite the way it will be here.
Now, Jessica can focus on these kinds of things without the distraction of having to do something else to make a living. She will be free to answer the question of why people that should know each other don’t, and why organizations that should be working together aren’t. The potential impact of that is hard to calculate, but it will be significant.
I just hope she knows how to handle a very full inbox.