The History of Austin Tech
Austin is home to a thriving technology industry that has grown rapidly over the past few decades. This vibrant tech community has attracted businesses and individuals from all over the world, creating a unique ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship. But the thriving city we live in today did not happen by accident. Community leaders like George Kozmetsky, Carol Thompson, Pike Powers, Laura Kilcrease, Angelos Angelou, and many others established a foundation in the 1980s and 1990s that set us up for all we enjoy today in the tech community.
The Beginning: IBM and Texas Instruments
The roots of Austin’s tech industry can be traced back to the 1960s, when IBM and Texas Instruments established their presence in the city. These two technology giants were attracted by the University of Texas at Austin, a leading research institution, and the city’s low cost of living. IBM opened its first office in Austin in 1967, and Texas Instruments followed in 1969. The arrival of these companies paved the way for the development of the city’s technology ecosystem.
The Birth of Austin’s Silicon Hills
During the 1970s and 1980s, Austin witnessed a surge in high-tech companies, which earned the city the nickname “Silicon Hills.” This growth was fueled by the establishment of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), a consortium of leading tech companies, in 1983. MCC’s presence in Austin attracted more technology businesses to the city, and many startups began to emerge, focusing on semiconductor manufacturing, software development, and computer systems design.
The Sematech Consortium and the Rise of Semiconductors
In 1988, the Sematech consortium, a collaboration of semiconductor manufacturers, was founded in Austin. This initiative aimed to strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. semiconductor industry and to accelerate technological advancements in semiconductor manufacturing. Sematech’s establishment in Austin drew significant attention to the city and its thriving tech industry. As a result, major semiconductor companies like Motorola (now NXP Semiconductors), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Samsung invested heavily in the region, opening fabs and research facilities.
The Dell Effect
Perhaps one of the most influential forces behind Austin’s tech boom was the rise of Dell Technologies. Founded in 1984 by Michael Dell, a University of Texas at Austin student, Dell quickly grew into a global powerhouse in the personal computer market. The company created a ripple effect that attracted many other technology companies, vendors, and suppliers to the area. Dell’s success also spawned a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in Austin, leading to the formation of numerous startups and the growth of venture capital investment.
In addition to Dell, several other companies have contributed to the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit in Austin; IBM, Texas Instruments, Tivoli, Trilogy, and others spawned former employees who went on to found and lead countless other companies in the region.
Throughout the 1990s, the technology industry in Austin continued to grow, with many new startups and established companies setting up shop in the city. The reputation of Austin began to become well known to everyone across the country who worked in technology. Through the efforts of civic leaders, local government, and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the city became not only a place to start a company, but also a leading place to open satellite offices or move a company’s headquarters. Additionally as the employment opportunities grew, the city quickly attracted young talent to fill these jobs.
The supportive environment for startups and entrepreneurship that emerged in the 1990s has become part of the city’s culture. This has fostered a strong community of angel investors and venture capitalists, who are willing to invest in promising startups. We now boast a thriving ecosystem of all the services needed to run a technology company.
In recent years, Austin has continued to grow as a hub for technology innovation. The city is now home to a wide range of companies, from established tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, to innovative startups and cutting-edge research institutions. This diverse ecosystem of innovation has helped to establish Austin as one of the most dynamic and exciting technology hubs in the world.
One of the key factors driving the growth of the technology industry in Austin is the city’s strong focus on education. Austin is home to several world-class universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, which has a highly regarded computer science program. This focus on education has helped to attract top tech talent to the city, fueling innovation and growth in the industry.
Another factor driving the growth of the technology industry in Austin is the city’s supportive business environment. Austin has a highly entrepreneurial culture, with a strong network of support for startups and small businesses. The city has also offered a range of incentives and tax breaks to businesses in the technology industry, making it an attractive destination for companies looking to establish a presence in the region.
The secret sauce to Austin has been the high quality of life. While the city was more affordable a decade ago, it is still not as expensive as the Valley, New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. The city offers a diverse and vibrant cultural scene, with a thriving music and arts community, as well as a range of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities. This high quality of life has helped to attract top talent, making it an ideal destination for tech workers and entrepreneurs.
Companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Vrbo, Indeed, ZenBusiness, and many others are leading the way in our current economy. With groups like Opportunity Austin, Capital Factory and others making waves to keep Austin moving forward.
The history of the technology industry in Austin is a story of growth, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit. From IBM’s early establishment in the city to the thriving tech ecosystem that exists today, Austin has emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting technology hubs in the world. With its strong focus on education, supportive business environment, and high quality of life, Austin is well positioned to continue driving innovation and growth in the technology industry for years to come.
It is important that we continue to share the stories of our history and make sure that the tech leaders of Austin do not take for granted those who came before us to create the “Austin Tech Miracle”. We now have competition for corporate relocations, as other cities work hard to attract those jobs. Plus, the political environment in Texas, while often pro-business, is not always congruent with those we are trying to attract to our region. We cannot take anything for granted and need to work as a united community to ensure we are establishing a future for Austin that continues to let the tech industry thrive.
The Austin Technology Council
The Austin Technology Council is a 30 year old organization that was founded (originally as the Austin Software Council) to put tech on the map as the future economic driver in the region. By hosting networking and educational events ATC has worked to bring the community together and help create an ecosystem that can support the growth of local companies. As we move ahead, ATC wants to convene grassroots leaders to have meaningful conversations about the next phases of Austin. If we can come together as a community to cultivate the forward looking attitude that our leaders had thirty years ago, we will establish a new foundation for those who will be founding companies three decades into the future.
The Mag Stripes: Changing the Tune on Workplace Culture
A salesman, project manager and operations director walk into a bar. While this might sound like the beginning of a joke or the ending of a hard day at work, it’s actually the set-up for a creative approach Patrick Michalik took to improve company culture and give back to the Austin community by forming an philanthropic band with his co-workers at Netspend.
“The Mag Stripes,” named through a company poll as a nod to Netspend’s standing as a global leader in pre-paid credit cards, formed in 2015 when Michalik, VP of Banking and Settlement Operations, received a professional development grant for Netspend’s “Best of the Best” award and requested it be put towards creating a group to perform at Austin’s annual HAAM Day, an annual fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
“Live Music has always been a part of Netspend’s culture. We would always have bands play at our frequent all-hands parties, including a great local cover band for our rooftop IPO party at Maggie Mae’s in 2010 and Styx performing for us after we were acquired in 2013,” Michalik says. “Our leadership team was really excited about a philanthropic use of the grant. And, it started a trend of Best of the Best recipients using their awards to support their favorite local charities.”
We caught up with Michalik to learn more about the band and the influence it had on Netspend’s culture. Read more in the Q&A below:
How did you go about forming your band? What departments do your band mates represent?
Fifteen Netspenders have participated since we formed the band in 2017. We have had several line ups. We encourage different team members to join and contribute. We have played Rock and Roll, Motown, and R&B / Soul music. We typically have a core band of guitar, bass and drums and rotate singers and other instruments.
We have had members from many departments, including operations, product, project management, customer experience, and account management. It has definitely created some camaraderie that otherwise would not exist.
How has having a band influenced Netspend’s workplace culture?
Netspend is a great place to work as indicated by the many well tenured people. I have been at Netspend for close to 12 years and many of my colleagues pre-date me. Being a member of the Mag Stripes has been a lot of fun.
In addition to playing in the battle of the bands, we have played a few all hands gatherings and played some local charity events where Netpsenders are encouraged to attend. I think the band is a cool aspect of Netspend if you were to ask the average team member. At one point, we had an empty server room in our call center where we would get together and rehearse during the day. Some of our customers calling in may have heard some live Motown music in the background, but that’s just a Netspend thing.
Do you believe you’ve benefited professionally from forming a work band?
Yes, I was pretty introverted at work prior to the award and starting the band. Very few Netspend team members knew that I played in bands frequently in Austin. So, it really opened up some opportunities to meet and speak with various team members that otherwise would not have happened.
Does having a band make networking easier?
I am now a member of HAAM’s Pearl Society and often serve on their committees. Austin is known for its local support of live music and through my expanded involvement, I have met various influential Austinites over the years.
Tell us about one of your favorite performance moments.
My favorite moment was winning “best showmanship” in our first battle of the bands. We put on a great 60’s rock and roll show at ACL Live. We had a great lineup with back up singers, keyboards and a trumpet. We brought a fog machine, dressed accordingly, and had a choreographed performance. It was really fun.
Check out the Mag Stripes in action, performing “Colors,” by the Black Pumas.
ATC Announces New CEO Ahead of its 30th Anniversary
AUSTIN, TX — The Austin Technology Council (ATC) has selected acclaimed speaker, author and consultant Thom Singer as its next Chief Executive Officer, ushering in a new era for the local business council as it reemerges in a post-covid era and prepares for its 30th anniversary.
Established first as the Austin Software Council in 1992 by the Austin Technology Incubator and IC2 Institute, ATC currently represents more than 200 companies, providing a platform for communication and value-based programming to lead, support, and connect those working within the tech industry, which represents nearly a third of the local workforce.
“Austin is known as a leader in the world of technology, and we cannot take that for granted,” Singer said. “I want to see ATC continue to be a catalyst for future growth and am seeking engagement from leaders who want to embrace the best parts of our tech community. We need expanded dialogue and collaboration to continue to lead.”
Singer assumes the executive role as ATC finds its footing again post pandemic, resuming full event operations, including its upcoming 30th anniversary celebration, Battle for Austin Tech, and introducing first-ever Austin Tech Awards, a series dedicated to honoring those who are shaping the future through technology and innovation. Companies with a local presence are encouraged to apply by July 1.
Singer will also lead the organization in planning its annual CEO Summit, a single-day conference designed to prepare c-suite executives for the year ahead. This year’s keynote will be Sarah Jones Simmer, CEO of Found and former Bumble executive, preceded by a day of panel presentations on relevant industry and business topics.
“Thom has made a career of helping technology companies and associations throughout and will be an inspiring leader for our community as technology continues to drive the Austin economy,” said Scott Francis, CEO and Founder of BP3 Global and chair of the ATC board. “Who better to connect, network, and community-build than someone who has made a career out of helping other people make transformative connections in their professional careers?”
Singer comes to the non-profit after more than a decade of work as a speaker and trainer on topics such as business relationships, networking, and leadership. He’s delivered more than 1,000 presentations, written 12 books, and hosts several podcasts. His background includes sales, marketing, and business development for Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial ventures, as well as executive search consultancy.
“Continuing to expand the sense of community that has done so much to define Austin’s tech industry will be challenging but crucial as companies face a more distributed and decentralized workforce, and I expect ATC to play a key role in that transition,” said Lawrence Waugh, CEO of Calavista Software and ATC board member. “I’m excited to work with Thom on that, I think he’s the perfect person to advance the amazing work that Amber Gunst (former CEO) has done over the past 4 years.”
The Austin Technology Council is a unifying voice and collaborative platform for innovation and technology, supporting the growth goals of its member businesses by providing knowledge and access in the areas of capital, talent, business mentoring, and networking. For more information, visit austintechnologycouncil.org.