Tech-Bro Culture in the Waterloo Region hits Peak Arrogance in Vidyard’s Michael Litt

Vidyard, 8 Queen St. S, Kitchener

I’m not sure how many of you have had a chance to read the latest in dude-bro complaining in the Globe and Mail, but for a booster of the local community, Michael Litt, CEO at Vidyard, seems to find a certain amount of enjoyment in complaining about the Waterloo Region. In his op-ed, Litt takes to offering the tired high-tech trope that the Waterloo Region doesn’t have enough culture to make this a vibrant community. Indeed, his thesis is this:

“Importantly, it’s not technology but rather community resources that the region lacks.”

He then takes aim at our health care system, complaining that “Currently, both of the region’s major hospitals sit in downtown Kitchener, making them hard to access from outlying areas,” a note that is increasingly at odds with the Waterloo Region Strategic Plan, which is to grow up from the cores out, instead of simply building more and more single dwelling homes on already disappearing prime farmland. While his complaint that there are a lack of specialists in the Waterloo Region may be true, this comment shows a deep lack of respect for our world-class cardiac care program at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the success of the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre, built with support from former Blackberry co-CEO, Jim Balsillie. Additionally, McMaster University Medical School already runs a teaching program out of a building just down the street from Litt’s office; the Kitchener downtown core is also home to the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy.

Turning to the never-ending saga of rail links, Litt rightly lays bare one of the biggest barriers to our Region’s dominance, the lack of reasonable train access to Toronto. This ought to be laid squarely at the feet of the Ontario Liberal Party, who has made “all-day, two-way GO Train” a perpetual election promise spanning the past four provincial elections. With newly-minted Transportation Minister Kathryn McGarry suddenly picking up the beat of a brand new GO link to Cambridge, I would suggest that our communities may need to do a re-think on who they’re sending to Queen’s Park.

While Litt also took aim at the community’s education system (test scores aren’t high enough for his liking), the suggestion that the Waterloo Region needs to “up-level” its arts and culture scene was the most offensive to me. Indeed, this community’s worst kept secret is that the Waterloo Region tech scene continually refuses to significantly invest in local arts and culture, and has a reputation for their complete lack of financial support for local not-for-profits. Having been a part of a number of organizations that have tried to engage “Tech-Bros” in community building, I was deeply disappointed that Mr. Litt would take such a negative view of our community. He said,

“That’s why it’s key to up-level Kitchener-Waterloo in terms of nightlife, restaurants, art galleries, theatres, concert venues and more. A thriving cultural scene appeals to high-level recruits from outside the community, entices young local graduates craving a dynamic lifestyle and, really, benefits everyone who lives here.”

The word “up-level” is a really curious, and if I dare say it, insidiously dangerous word choice. As James Howe notes in a Facebook comment on Vidyard’s wall (where a previous version of this piece appears as well,) we already have really amazing arts and culture in the Waterloo Region, it’s just that, to our community’s benefit, they may not be the traditional haute-culture type of entertainment that high society has come to expect over the centuries. In my estimation, the gentrification of our arts community would be a terrible thing, as it would alienate the many people who already contribute to a thriving arts and culture community.

In other words, just because we can’t compete with Sydney’s Opera House doesn’t mean that we can’t together contribute to make what we already have even better!

Here’s an idea: What if Vidyard was a sponsor for the Kultrún World Music Festival through Neruda Arts? An amazing festival, Isabel Cisterna Pino has put a lot of time and energy into creating a thriving world music scene here in KW. As one of the most diverse communities in Canada, the Waterloo Region is a significant destination for refugees and migrants, many of whom are looking to integrate more fully into the local economy. Unfortunately, our tech community doesn’t seem to really want to ‘give back’ to the communities that are already here, and this festival joins many others who have either shrank, disappeared, or had to re-organize in order to keep serving our cultural communities.

If Michael Litt means what he writes, I look forward to seeing how Vidyard will step up to the plate and sponsor some of the already existing arts and culture of our community. And if new recruits from cities across the world don’t want to come to Kitchener-Waterloo because we don’t have a museum for Italian Renaissance art, then that’s their problem, not ours.

This Region’s Tech Community needs to stop complaining that the Waterloo Region isn’t “hip enough” to attract top talent, get off their soap boxes and invest in our community in more ways that just writing tech-bro op-eds in the Globe and Mail. Indeed, Litt himself has previous written about the dangers of this monolithic approach to building a company, for both Fast Company Magazine and the Globe and Mail.

While Vidyard’s program, PlugIn seems to be doing some good, remember that this community is greater than any recruiting tool you may have designed in the name of doing good. Mr. Litt, if you’re serious about making this Region a thriving cultural mecca, then I expect to see Vidyard as Lead Sponsor for Kultrun. Until that happens, STFU.