Tech, politics and the future of Seattle: Big election highlights the city’s great geek divide

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Amazon and other tech companies have transformed the city of Seattle, but tech workers aren't as engaged with the rest of the community.
Amazon and other technology companies have transformed the city of Seattle, but tech workers often aren’t as engaged with the changes taking place across the community. (Photo by Puget Sound Aerial Imaging, Special to GeekWire.)

What would happen if Seattle tech workers were more engaged with the community around them? And what would it take to get the rest of the city more in tune with the tech community?

Erica C. Barnett and Heather Redman
Erica C. Barnett and Heather Redman

Those are two of the central questions in this special GeekWire podcast — featuring a wide-ranging discussion about technology, politics and the future of Seattle.

Our guests are Erica C. Barnett, a longtime journalist on the Seattle political beat; and Heather Redman, an entrepreneur and investor who is involved with the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, a group affiliated with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce that has been encouraging the tech community to get more involved.

The backdrop for the discussion is the Nov. 3 general election, featuring a move to district elections for the Seattle City Council, potentially shifting the balance of power on the nine-member group. Also on the ballot is the Proposition 1 transportation levy, with major implications for the way we move around the city.

We talk about all of those issues and more in the podcast above.

At the heart of the conversation is the question: how can we get people in the tech community to care more about politics? As noted earlier this year by Gus Hartmann, a Google engineer and former City Council candidate, “the little fuckers don’t vote, to put it bluntly.”

[Update: Hartmann got in touch to clarify that he was referring specifically to young tech transplants, not the tech community at large. He also wanted to make it clear that it was a loving reference to young tech transplants.]

Part of the reason is a clash of cultures and mindsets, Redman said.

“When I think of what would be the least comfortable intersection between two groups. I think of politics and engineers, because engineers like things to be black and white, engineers like things to be data driven, engineers like a right answer, etc. They also like to dig deep,” Redman said. She added, “I think it’s a real mindset. So that’s why I would love to see more data driven journalism, as I think folks would get more connected and more involved that way.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that many in the startup community have their hands full with … their startups.

“These companies do not have a lot of runway, and so those folks are heads down, not heads up,” Redman said. “I’d like to see them be more heads up. They do care about all these issues, but they have that sort of general American learned helplessness about ‘I can’t do anything, it’s not going to change, and by the way, I only have 4 more months of payroll.’ So we’ve got to fix that.”

Barnett noted, “Part of the problem that I see with the tech community is that, especially in the larger companies like Amazon, they sort of live in their company’s community, they don’t live in the outer community as much. … I don’t know what the solution is except for companies to not be so insular, and not say, everything you need is here.”

Listen the entire discussion in the audio player above, and catch highlights on our weekly GeekWire radio show, airing on KIRO Radio (97.3 FM) at 7 p.m. Saturday night and available as its own podcast on GeekWire this weekend.

And don’t forget to mail in those ballots by Nov. 3!

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