Can a coding contest jumpstart Buffalo Niagara’s tiny tech sector?

Can a coding contest jumpstart Buffalo Niagara's tiny tech sector?

Can a coding contest jumpstart Buffalo Niagara’s tiny tech sector?

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There’s no disputing that the Buffalo Niagara region isn’t Silicon Valley.

It’s not even close.

But officials at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are hoping to shine a spotlight on the region’s undersized tech sector and try to give it a boost by hosting a global contest for the technology industry’s top developers, designers and data scientists in October.

The Topcoder contest will bring more than 85 of the world’s top technology development and design experts to Buffalo for the contest, but the competition also will attract attention from top technology companies, which often view the annual event as a way to identify talent within the coding industry.

“This is very prestigious within the coding community,” said Sean Heidinger, the manager of the dig co-working space at the Innovation Center on the Medical Campus. “It’s similar to March Madness in the programming world.”

Local organizers, however, hope the contest will be much more than that, providing an opportunity for the region to highlight its technology assets, ranging from the University at Buffalo supercomputer to the fast-growing medical campus and the region’s significant banking and financial services sector.

“This could be a great opportunity,” said Matt Enstice, the Medical Campus’ president and CEO.

“We have a lot of great software engineers and coders engaged with what we’re doing on the Medical Campus,” Enstice said.

The contest also will allow the region to focus attention on UB’s Center for Computational Research and the supercomputer capabilities at UB, along with the Jacobs Institute, a medical innovation center located on the Medical Campus, he said.

“We want people to see that there is a lot of opportunity in Buffalo,” Enstice said. “We want more of these software engineers and coders to be living in Buffalo.”

At the moment, the region’s technology sector is undersized by national standards, which means the Buffalo Niagara region is missing out on much of the impact the fast-growing sector is having on the economy in other places, especially in hot spots like Silicon Valley in California and cities like Austin, Texas.

The information sector, which includes some but by no means all activity within technology professions, barely grew in the Buffalo Niagara region from 2009 to 2015 – a time when the overall economy here expanded by more than 6 percent, according to federal economic data.

The amount of personal income generated by the information sector actually declined by 1 percent during that time, even though jobs within that sector pay better than the average job in the Buffalo Niagara region. The average compensation per job in the Buffalo Niagara region rose by 15 percent during that time.

Organizers are planning to hold a series of related events during the coding competition, which will be held at the Medical Center’s innovation center from Oct. 20-24. Those events will include contests and meetings with local students to encourage them to pursue studies in the coveted science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields as well as an “innovation summit” with local and visiting technology leaders at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

The contest, which was held last year in Washington, D.C., will bring together winners of regional competitions held in seven cities, such as Austin and Pittsburgh, as well as Beijing and St. Petersburg, Russia.

While the contest could be overshadowed in bigger cities, such as Washington, organizers hope that bringing it to Buffalo will shine a brighter spotlight on it locally.

“It’s going to be a big fish in a small pond,” said Sam Marrazzo, the chief information officer at Amherst employment agency Superior Talent Resources, who came up with the idea of trying to bring the contest to Buffalo.