Envy Labs Shows Aggressive Orlando Tech Scene

A few days ago, I dropped by Orlando’s media and development firm Envy Labs to get a glimpse of the city’s tech scene.

Orlando has had a tech scene for years. Defense heavy-hitter Lockheed-Martin has called the place home since the late 50s. Entertainment giants Disney and Universal have large IT/data processing and operations groups on the Southwest side. The University of Central Florida has a strong engineering and computer science school. And let’s not forget those 23 Full Sail University graduates who were credited on 12 Grammy winning releases this year. Both of these schools are on the East side of town.

Envy Labs is one of the new breed of of tech firms popping up downtown. Eric Kovar, the company’s business guy and a long-time local entrepreneur, introduced himself and took me on a tour.

To give you some atmosphere: In the “lobby”, the couches were contemporary with a solitary swatch of carpet. A quad-rotor copter and little humanoid robot waited for someone to pick up their controls. There were neither cubicles nor a drop-ceiling, anywhere to be found.

Several big screens were positioned around the space, as were several overhead wire trays. A gorgeous panorama expanded out to the North and Lake Eola, ten floors below and a couple of blocks over, appeared off to the East.

A New Business Approach

Gregg Pollack is the company’s founder. Seven years ago, Pollack arrived from San Diego to start a new job. Shortly after settling in, he received a call from the home office, saying he was being re-assigned to a location in the Northeast. He told them he wasn’t moving and started his own consulting business.

At first, he didn’t turn down any work. He also went to every Java user group, meetup and local tech event that he could find. Today, he has more than a dozen developers and specializes in new application development, particularly using Ruby and Ruby on Rails.

Pollack believes that creative types, like developers, do their best work in a flexible environment. There are no salaries at Envy Labs. Instead, developers are paid for every hour worked. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are office days. On Tuesday and Thursday, many work from home. Everybody is on a billable-hour system. Since many of his colleagues are also his friends, he just couldn’t see himself “managing” their work. Everybody has a say in company decisions, and they all manage themselves.

For clients, the system makes for transparent accountability. There’s a planning session every Monday where work is laid out for the week. Pollack says this type of work simply doesn’t lend itself to long, detailed development schedules. The overall end goal is worked out with the client and then adjusted every week. A status email goes out to the client every Friday. Pollack says his system has worked pretty well, and he’s happy with the results.

The team also produces podcasts, video event coverage and screencasting. Pollack’s a big proponent of education and has a project called Code School, which features a “learn by doing” methodology.

I asked Pollack if he had any recommendations for up and coming developers who want to learn Ruby. His favorite resource: Railsforzombies.org.

Envy Labs will host BarCamp Orlando, in April and its techevents.us newsletter is published on the first Monday of every month.

How are things in your your city? Send me suggestions and you just might see coverage here on Dice.

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