Pieter-Jan Vandormael

Pieter-Jan Vandormael

Get out and participate! Okay, that’s all the provocation I’ll put in this message. Though it sometimes look like Belgians need a lot of it to actually do something and focus. The Belgian Webmission is not your ordinary group of tech tourists. It’s self-organizing individuals that want to rise beyond the masses, and either have done, are doing, or will be doing things that make a difference on an entrepreneurial level. And for this they are right in the forefront of European innovation.

Young Belgian software engineers have the capabilities to make all the products that are being made in San Francisco. Heck, they could even do it better in terms of technical quality. What lacks is often a sense of style and priority. You don’t pick these up without mingling in the right communities. Seeing other people ‘drink the koolaid’ (even in its negative self-destructive meaning) also helps. Finally, communicating and working together in interdependent roles needs to be learnt too.

My story with the Webmission is somewhat a-typical. Then again, most stories about the Webmission probably are. I first learned about it via social media and word of mouth during Google I/O in San Francisco in 2010. At that point I had been intensively occupied with Android mobile apps. I decided the “Webmission” could include mobile as well. In 2011, I therefore joined the next mission from the start and tried to help to organize the new events in California. Trying is as important as anything when a group is self-organized.

While in San Francisco again for Google I/O in 2011, I had to balance a bit between the activities of the Webmission and the GTUG Geek Tour that I was also helping to accommodate (renting a car etc.). I think not holding back on helping out any group that asks you, helps to grow your network even faster and adds cross-pollination. Similarly it never was on my mind that I was one of the few Dutch-speaking members of the Webmission. A few places we visited with the Geek Tour, we revisited with the Webmission and it helped me to get a closer relationship with our hosts and different perspectives on the local ecosystem. One particular example I remember is when Xavier Damman looked surprised when he met one of the Belgians a few days ahead of the actual visit of the Webmission to the Mashery (and old Storify) offices.

As I didn’t have a sufficiently developed product to pitch, I guess one has to be dedicated to support those that have. To this day I still can’t stop repeating the pitches for the (now) companies that I went through this process together with, such as Checkthis, Auctelia, Storify, ShallIBuy and so on. Even though I received some good feedback on the Android apps I maintain, not having a startup-ripe consumer-targeted product is the main reason for me not to participate in the Webmission this year, and leave a space for others.

So if you are at the point in life where you think you could learn from this and contribute to it at the same time, start organizing and bundle your forces with the Webmission. It helps you put into perspective what you thought you knew about software engineering. For you it shouldn’t be about nice venues, good weather or friendly people, but about getting and learning the tools to make a difference, AND using them. Good as it will have been for you, the Webmission should not end when landing in Zaventem. Become active in user groups in Belgium, be social, be high-tech, spread the word, pull your weight, so that you undo the silent majority about real tech entrepreneurship and adoption. Or if you immediately fly off again, back to Silicon Valley to pursue your dream and new reality, that’s okay too.

Pieter-Jan Vandormael,
Android developer, BruGTUG co-organizer, open source supporter
Participant San Francisco 2010 and 2011.

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