Head of Digital Alberta dishes about the challenges of a tech sector in oil country

The Calgary Herald has an interview today with Larry Jacques, head of Digital Alberta. Digital Alberta is an industry organization dedicated to promoting and strengthening Alberta’s digital media community. They offer professional development, mentoring, networking, advocacy, and promote the industry within the province and without.

Jacques message is a Dangerfield-esque one: no respect, he’s saying, no respect at all; as in, Albertans don’t realize how important the technology and digital media sectors are for their province’s continued economic success and don’t give the sector the respect it deserves. There’s more to Alberta than just taking black stuff out of the ground, he says.

As well, because Alberta isn’t a big centre for technology like Vancouver, Toronto, or especially California, Alberta has to work to retain their own, which isn’t always easy.

Q: One of the common complaints heard from technology folk is the lack of opportunity and recognition in Alberta. How difficult is to keep talent here versus California or Toronto?

A: We do have a drain and that’s one of the things that our group is trying to address. People will go to British Columbia or Ontario of Quebec, or to the United States, where there is a larger market. Our focus is trying to keep them here by providing education on what’s available in the province, what companies are here, which ones are willing to mentor, so they don’t have to leave.

Collaboration also is vital. Instead of film producers going to B.C. or the U.S. to get their digital components created, they can access excellent resources here.

Q: What other challenges face the digital economy?

A: Access to funding and the industry itself. The industry as a whole has created the ability to work from home and do everything from a home office. Well, if you’re at home all the time, you’re not meeting people or networking, you’re not getting out and showing your product.

Trying to get them to be part of an active community is a challenge. A lot of them are very shy, and a little leery. We as an association are trying to bring them out, and listen to the sort of things like how to get your company to the next level, let alone out of your basement.

There’s a hunger out there for that knowledge. It’s not a knowledge that can be learned in school or in your basement. You have to get out there and find someone who will help you with that.