To define the marketing, advertising, web, and tech industries in Calgary as small would be more then accurate.
The above is not a statement about the level of talent, or the potential for greatness, as some of the most talented creatives and developers that I know are based in YYC and are doing tremendous work. There are also some awesome things that are starting to incubate this growing community.
However, aside from one massive interactive firm, 3-4 great agencies (all with 30 staff or less), and a couple of stock photo sites - there isn't really a lot of options for a world-class writer, programmer, designer, IA, or programmer who wants to be paid accordingly (apologies to all those Calgarians that disagree).
As a web entrepreneur it has been particularly tough at times to reach the people that I need to make my business grow. The people that have "been there" in the web space can be counted on one hand and, of those, there is a high likelihood that their experience comes from the stock photography business (Eyewire, iStockphoto and Veer all started up in Calgary). I am not directly connected with any of those people (yet). In many cases when a new technology starts up in Calgary, it will go elsewhere to become successful (ex: StumbleUpon).
The most common expertise in Calgary is Oil & Gas related, and the most common advice I'm able to get is "you should go on the Dragon's Den" (a Canadian "business" reality show where investors will offer up $100k for 51% of only the very best companies brought forward... usually in some sort of dramatic combined effort that will fall apart after the cameras are off). I am thankful for all the advice I can get, but I am hungry for more.
I am traveling for personal reasons, not for work. Aside from sending some emails back to Canada, tinker with my Google AdWords account, and sketching out some plans for my company, there isn't a lot I can do work-wise until I'm back in Calgary.
One of the things I can
do while traveling is meet people, so I've tried to go to as many networking events as possible to try to meet some like-minded folks and perhaps one or two people that can help me when I make my return to Canada. When I was in NY I went to 5-6 events and met some fantastic people in the process.
Anyways, one event that I went to was at Bloomberg LP. They are hiring UI specialists and had a networking event for UI, with a speaker from Amazon.com. The speaker was quite good, although the information he was able to share was a little limited. He admitted so by telling us that he knew information that would answer some of our questions but was limited to telling us information that was already public knowledge. Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile evening and just to give a sense of what a networking event for those involved in UI in NY was like... it was attended by approximately 200 non-affiliated industry people (in YYC having 200 industry folk at an event likely means 80 are made up of 2 companies), had free wine and hot food, and was held in Bloomberg's offices.
Here are a couple of pics from the event and the link below is the presentation (on slideshare w audio).