Originally posted on Forbes.
In the wake of the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy (insert city name here) movement, it was at once surreal and empowering to ‘occupy’ the New York Stock Exchange on Saturday at a recruiting event for technical talent. Joined by my partner Jesse Thomas, JESS3’s Technical Director Bonnie Aumann and founders from 52 other east coast-founded companies, our mission was to talk to 500 engineering students from top east coast universities and make hires for internships and full time positions.
The event, aptly named The Silicon Alley 500, was put on by Next Jump and NYSE Euronext. Being on the trading floor with so many companies I admire and use like Etsy, Chartbeat, Rent the Runway, Harvest, bit.ly, Gilt Group, Tumblr, MyCityWay and Kayak was incredible. The nearly 300 year history of the building coupled with the incredible significance of the opening / closing bell, terminals and ticker feeds was nothing short of electrifying.
That was on the inside. On the outside, there were dozens of armed policemen at every corner and thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
I had to stop and wonder: would they be mad at me and the other people from SA 500 for being on the inside? We we “the man” they were rising up against? Would it turn into some sort of ‘throw the red paint on the fur-wearers’ moment, PETA-style? And then it dawned on me: I believe we are a part of the solution. The 500 eager engineering students. The way Jesse and I run JESS3. The way the founders of the other 52 companies attending run their companies.
While I respect the occupiers for their tenacity and am all for civil disobedience for causes in which you believe, I have always been one to work within the system to change the system.
Here’s the way I look at our occupation of Wall Street:
1. We are disruptors, too. The SA 500 companies are building businesses that are disrupting the marketplace and, therefore, the stronghold that the “old guard” has on things like information, data and communications. Further, the age of social media has brought about an unprecedented amount of transparency, authenticity and accountability. Companies are being forced to “engage or die,” in the words of Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis, which also means being more transparent with internal and external audiences alike.
2. We are cultivating new and better value systems. The SA 500 companies are a part of the “new guard” of companies who place higher value on taking care of employees, giving back to our communities and being overall stellar corporate citizens. These values are the kind of values companies like Etsy and Next Jump exude.
3. Engineering is the new power field, Wall Street beware. In the past, it has been all about the legal, political and business worlds. Those fields are arguably as important as they’ve ever been, but engineering is emerging as not only the area for the highest labor demand, but also as the field that is paving the way for tomorrow’s technologies. And tomorrow’s technologies have the ability to penetrate even deeper than our legal, business and political systems; they impact and influence how we interact, learn, share, commune and even think. Engineering students, like the 500 that flowed through the NYSE floor on Saturday, have the ability to help us all write a new future — from the products they make, to the companies they found, to how they treat the 99 percent.
I was also proud to see so many female engineers and founders at the event, a much more near-balanced-ratio than I was expecting. Without a doubt, the power seats of today’s startups are held by technical founders and the power seats for negotiations and job opportunities are held by engineers. Of the 85 resumes we collected from students, 47 percent were from women. That’s near parity. Incredibly excited to see the change before my own eyes.
After a weekend occupying Wall Street, I am optimistic that things can and will change. From the outside and from within.
Disclosure: JESS3 is proud to call MyCityWay and Brian Solis clients and friends.