A Tale of Two Tech Scenes: Baltimore and Charleston


[This post was featured on Technical.ly Baltimore after a visit to Charleston, SC, my home from 2004 – 2012.  Read the original post here]

Just south of Myrtle Beach lies the hidden gem that is Charleston, S.C.

If you’ve ever visited this place, chances are you appreciate its unique and timeless territory. Here, amidst the beaches, bar stools and historical sites, you’ll find an energy that’s new, exciting and ever changing: the Charleston tech community.

Known for its hospitality, award-winning chefs and Bill Murray run-ins, talent has never lacked in the Holy City. Now, among mid-sized U.S. cities, Charleston is one of the 10 fastest-growing software development regions in the country, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

Dubbed “Silicon Harbor” by Fast Company just last year, Charleston’s large companies, like Boeing, Benefit Focus and Blackbaud, are putting Charleston on the IT map. There’s just one problem: there are far more jobs than there are skilled web designers and developers to fill the positions. (Sound familiar?)

In Charleston, Sally Kingston, campus director at The Iron Yard, is working on a solution.

“When we launched in Charleston, we ran into a problem,” Kingston said. “The growing software industry was here, but the talent wasn’t. So, we decided to create it.”

Inside the Iron Yard

Inside the Iron Yard

The Iron Yard is dedicated to helping students build successful careers through code education, startup accelerators and coworking spaces all over the south.

With current courses in front-end engineering and Ruby on Rails, The Iron Yard is working hard to help supply the demand — a demand so high that instructors Nick Bucciarelli and Calvin Webster left their well-paying jobs to teach at the organization’s Academy.

“These guys are swatting off jobs and money left and right just to educate our students,” Kingston continues. “They’ve seen the talent gap for themselves and are in a position to build up the Charleston tech community. They’re here to help solve the problem.”


Back home in Baltimore we’re a bit more up to speed.

A near locally-bred corollary to The Iron Yard is Betamore, the self-described campus for technology in Federal Hill.

“Like The Iron Yard, we’ve seen the need for a more tailored workforce for jobs and opportunities in our region,” said Betamore cofounder Mike Brenner. “One year into Betamore, we launched the Academy to fill this void and train folks in web development.”

“We’ve seen everyone from prospective entrepreneurs that want to prototype solutions using technology, to existing employees looking to use our Academy as a more relevant offering for professional development,” Brenner said.

Window display at the new DIG SOUTH office on King St.

Window display at the new DIG SOUTH office on King St.

“The Iron Yard is so key to being here,” said Robert Prioleau, a founding partner for Charleston digital marketing agency Blue Ion. “You have designers who are into WordPress and can hack the code, but they have to learn programming first. Then you have your back-end, tech-savvy devs who know nothing about design. Whether someone is looking for a career change or wants to learn a new skill, whatever gap exists, The Iron Yard provides the resources to help fill it.”


A tech community needs a way for people to learn and understand what technical work needs to get done.

  • Learn. Here in Baltimore, other coding classes, like the newly launched Girl Develop It, highly encourage women to enter the tech force. Just next door to Betamore is the Digital Harbor Foundation, a tech center fostering innovation for Baltimore’s youth.
  • Support. Baltimore has a whole slew of folks working to better our city by hacking its open data.
  • Attend. While annual events like Technical.ly’s Baltimore Innovation Week, BohConf and Bmoresponsive bring new faces into the tech scene, meetups serve as a consistent education supplements, presenting the opportunity to meet potential employers.

Technical firms rely on these resources to help fill their growth.

To help find ways of reaching new talent in Charleston, Prioleau and his partner Rich Yessian revolved the construction of Blue Ion’s office space around the hosting of future events. “We wanted to accommodate presentations and industry-type gatherings to be leaders in the community on educating,” said Yessain. “No cubicles or closed doors here.”

Blue Ion’s main event is Refresh Charleston, a chapter of the national organization working to refresh design and development within each community — I organize Refresh Baltimore.

“Refresh establishes moments where people can see what each other is doing, therefore creating the reality for the scene to grow,” Prioleau said. “Our tech community needs more of that.”

Refresh Charleston at Blue Ion. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ion)

Refresh Charleston at Blue Ion. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ion)

Helping pioneer this movement in Charleston is designer/developer/event organizer Karl Phillips.

In the past year, Karl has not only created and organized WordPress Charleston and Refresh, but he recently brought in WordCamp Charleston and will host the Build Responsively Workshop and Web Afternoon this fall.

“Historically there have been limited avenues that allow for continual learning, inspiration and encouragement to stay sharp while networking outside of the workplace here in Charleston,” said Phillips. “Those who seek to find these avenues would usually have to drive to surrounding cities to hear presentations and learn. I decided to change that.”


So where does Charleston go from here?

Locals can only hope the city will shy away from its old Southern ways without loosing its undeniable charm. One thing Charm City and the Holy City have in common: our tech communities are self-organizing and are building the resources needed to create a way for more to succeed.

“It’s amazing how you provide a space for it to happen, and it happens,” said Kingston.

Charleston's Broad Street. (Photo courtesy of Bette Walker Photography)

Charleston’s Broad Street. (Photo courtesy of Bette Walker Photography)

Philadelphia for The Weeknd

I love experiencing a city for the first time. Never had never been to Philly and, considering I am a huge fan of The Weekend and have a couple friends there, I bought tickets the second he announced a show on the East Coast and planned to make a day of it. Never heard of The Weekend? He’s about to blow up.

The plan was to check out the sites during the day, head to the show at 7, and drive back to Baltimore that night. First stop, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Four hours later I met up with a friend, had a late lunch, and then headed to TLA for the show.  An online review on TLA said no matter where you stood in the venue, you’d be able to see the stage.  This was true.  The place was about the size of a high school auditorium, maybe even smaller.  It was intimate, it was dark, and it was perfect.

Considering the show literally sold out in 20 minutes (to an exclusive audience of The Weeknd’s Twitter and Tumblr followers) the energy was unreal. After securing a spot on the mezzanine with some friends I met in line, I headed downstairs to get a drink – just as P Diddy and Meek Mill were taking their seats in the sectioned off “VIP section”.  I’ve never seen so much Ciroc in my life.

I can’t really explain my exact thoughts on The Weeknd’s music at this very moment other than I have had an insane amount of respect for him as an artist.  From the moment I first heard him, I’ve been hooked.  Most people like music they can relate to… this is pretty much the complete opposite.  Besides a couple jerks I tried to date in high school, I couldn’t relate to this cat at all.  I just liked his deep, dark, insanely sexual and taboo story.  He tells it in the most captivating way possible.  Just a early twenty-something lost soul in Montreal making music, no plans, no fame, just passion, talent, and (eventually) a new friend named Drake.

Here’s some random videos (not taken by me) of the show – an experience that was well worth the trip.