When I announced, with obvious glee, that I was invited to present to the Omaha PowerShell User Group, I got a few virtual eye rolls from folks online. “Omaha. Must be fun after New York City. Hehe,” I heard. “Hope you like cows.”
It was fun! (NYC was awesome, too.) But, while I see lots of cows in my rural Utah home town, what I saw in Omaha was less surprise and more reinforcement of the idea that the mid-western U.S. is a vibrant, high-powered, and exciting IT environment. It’s also a really beautiful place with great people and a reasonable cost of living.
If you’re starting a tech business or looking for an IT job, do not overlook the Midwest.
Before you make any Omaha jokes, please note the huge crowd that the Omaha PowerShell User Group draws. When 45 people signed up for my “Thinking in Events” hands-on lab, I was blown away, but organizers Boe Prox and Jacob Benson said it was good, but not that unusual. This is a large, well-established user group with lots of talent. People routinely drive in from Lincoln, Nebraska, Council Bluffs, Iowa, and beyond; some well more than an hour away.
The folks who filled our big room at Microsoft were mostly IT guys along with a sprinkle of developers, but spanned the full spectrum of PowerShell knowledge. They knew their stuff, as evidenced by the great questions and really thoughtful post-meeting discussions. Their line-up of meeting talks is excellent by any standard.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been impressed by the tech scene in the Midwest. During a recent trip to Ohio to teach PowerShell at Westfield Insurance, I had a terrific vegetarian dinner in Medina, Ohio, near Cleveland, with .NET MVP Sarah Dutkiewicz (@sadukie). Sarah helps to run a high-powered development bootcamp in Cleveland and participates in a constant stream of Ohio-based software and IT events. The local governments and universities are also investing heavily in 3D printing, especially additives for liquid printing technology. “This is Additive Valley,” explained a promoter for a local college, while waiting in a long line for a rental car.
This happening theme is evident in Omaha, where the strong IT industry is founded on insurance companies, universities, global consulting companies, and data centers for Yahoo and Google. And, of course, Microsoft, right in Aksarben Village (spell Aksarben backwards) – a trendy multiuse spot with businesses, nice shopping, and great food (Thai and Sushi in Omaha? You bet!). These businesses are attracted by a deep well of local technical talent, business-forward tax and investment policies, and a bonus — no local accent – which makes Omaha a great spot for support.
Omaha is positioned on the eastern border of Nebraska on the Missouri River, just a bike ride to Iowa, another lovely and underestimated locale with world-class resources like the U. of Iowa at Ames and Grinnell College.
“Omaha is Silicon Prairie and Big Omaha,” according to Kerry and Kevin, IT guys from Sogeti, who were chatting about SharePoint and Azure at the local Starbucks. They were members of the Omaha .NET User Group, but not yet the PowerShell User Group. (We fixed that!)
As for the loveliest parts of Omaha, I spent my last hour in town cycling along the Missouri River shoreline on a rented city bike. I pedaled across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (@BobTBridge) into Iowa, and visited Carter Lake, a kayak-perfect body of water that was left behind when the mighty Missouri changed course. (This changed the state borders — interesting story.)
So, the next time you’re tempted to make a joke about the Omaha and the Midwest, think again. It’s an IT center, and it’s on the MOO-ve.