If you want to make movies, go to Hollywood.
If you want to make musicals, go to Broadway.
If you want to make apps, go to Appsterdam.
The state of our industry right now is one of free-floating companies and individuals, most of whom fall into one of two camps:
- American developers in and around California who would like to escape the current political climate of the United States—at least for a little while.
- European developers who would love to apply their talents across the Atlantic in Silicon Valley, but for the immigration policies of the United States.
I love California, I really do. My family has been there for six generations, but the peninsula of land connecting San Francisco and San Jose that we call the Valley has more than a few problems. Not the least of which is the fact that California is tremendously expensive.
San Francisco in particular has a pervasive piss smell, a constant reminder of the massive homeless population who stand as a stark and constant reminder of a system gone horribly awry. The over-abundance of venture capital has also perverted the climate there, drawing us further and further from the garage-level innovation of years past.
What has made the Valley successful is not funding, but engineers. Anyone who visits northern California, perhaps for WWDC, comes away feeling tremendously inspired from being surrounded by people who do the same thing they do—people with the same mindset, the same attitude, the same values. If only we could turn off the news!
Simultaneously nurtured and stifled in this environment is our movement: the movement of artisanship in software, the movement of apps, hand-crafted not with the intention of making a successful exit, but of making a quality product.
Every industry finds itself in this state after its initial explosion. The next step is for things to cool and contract into something sustainable and interesting. What is needed is a center of gravity for things to coalesce around. What if we could take the best part of the Valley—everyone together at the same table—and move it to a better environment?
I have traveled the world looking for the most livable city on earth, a place with the ideal balance of quality and price, history and vibrance, culture and innovation. That place is Amsterdam.
It’s the community, stupid.
The success of Apple’s platforms has been in no small part due to its unique developer community. Our community is unique not just in technology, but in business. This isn’t just my opinion—our community is studied by sociologists, at Cornell and the University of Amsterdam just that I know of. We are not just people united by common interest, we are the next evolution of capitalism.
What sets us apart is cooperation, instead of competition. Two developers might be working on the same problem, but it’s not the same app, or they’d merge. They each have their own vision, and punters will be attracted to one or the other based on the strength of that vision. If one developer happens to have better table view performance, they will share that code with their colleague, because table view performance is not our business.
We cooperate, because we are friends. If one of us does something to piss the other off, we don’t call out the lawyers, we call up our friend, and talk it over like people. We don’t just attend conferences, we get together at conferences, go out together, and have a good enough time together to generate blackmail material sufficient to nip litigation in the bud.
If you’ve been to a conference, you’ve probably thought, as I have, how nice it would be if everyday life could be like that—being surrounded by peers, able to get help solving a hard problem, then get accolades for doing so. There is a gestalt to sitting face to face with a group you just don’t get over the wire. With Appsterdam, our community is not just a nice idea, but a nice place.
Building the infrastructure
Appsterdam is envisioned as a tripartite effort between local App Makers, together with the government of Amsterdam, who want nothing more than to make the city the center of technology in Europe, and the University of Amsterdam, wherein we’ll build a developer-led software engineering program like they have at Stanford.
Local organizations are providing facilities for working Appsterdammers, as well as a meeting space where we’ll hold workshops, courses, and a lunchtime lecture series where Appsterdammers can share what they’re working on, reveal their solution to a hard problem, or just come to listen, learn, and network. Speakers will receive training and feedback to prepare them to speak at conferences and lecture at universities.
People look at WWDC selling out in record time and ask themselves how we can solve that problem without making the conference any bigger. With so much of the industry’s experienced speaking talent centered in Appsterdam, it becomes the perfect venue for a second big conference. Whether it’s called WWDC, NSConference, or something else entirely, it will be an annual App World’s Fair.
Another large part of the infrastructure comes from the community itself. Every true Appsterdammer has an air mattress and an extra bike ready for visitors and migrants alike. Each newcomer adds to our capacity to receive new people.
Delivering a message
When a community settles down, the world takes notice. Consider great migrations of old: the Bohemians, the ’49ers, the Mormons, or German scientists in the ’30s. The birth of Appsterdam will both be recorded in history books, and send immediate ripples around the world.
Our clout will not only give us political leverage and a voice for our ideals, it will give us the ability to stand on each other’s shoulders and look Apple in the eye for the first time.
How do we make it happen?
The plan is a continuum with three phases. The first phase, happening now, is for the pioneer expat to make the first move, document the process, and start building the infrastructure. I am that pioneer, and that is exactly what I am doing until WWDC.
The next step is for people to start coming over. The first wave will be people who already have an established company and product line who could be doing what they do from anywhere. As more people come, we gain experience and expand our capacity to deal with complications like families and pets.
Once we get a couple dozen new people mixing with the dozens already here, we’ll reach a critical mass. As people from around the world hear about what’s happening and start planning their moves, the rise of Appsterdam will become self-sustaining.
How do I get started?
Visit Appsterdam. Make it a working vacation. Americans can visit for three months without a visa. Pack up the family for a summer vacation in Europe. Absorb yourself in the thriving community. Take in a lunchtime lecture. Take advantage of working space during the day, then take a romantic stroll along the canals at night. Delight in the melting pot of local cuisine, or ride your bikes to the central library and satisfy your hunger on a patio affording the city’s best view.
Even if nobody moved here, just having everyone in our industry come to one place for part of their year adds up to a net community strong enough to attract people, launch new ideas, and fuel sustainable growth.
Our time is now. Our place is Appsterdam.