[中文版:你所不知道的阿姆斯特丹]

Technology, Innovation & Youth: A Not-so-obvious Impression of Amsterdam

Amsterdam. A city full of cute and slanted old brick houses. Museums, canals, the Red Light District, a city that attracted 6.3 millions tourists in 2014. The locals refer to Amsterdam as “a big village.” The city’s estimated population is 800,000 – not a place you would normally call a metropolis.

I first visited Amsterdam in 2004, and now I’ve been here for 13 years. Coming from Taiwan—a country with 24-hour convenience stores—my first night was a shock when I found out all shops were closed, except for restaurants and pubs. There were no convenience stores, no night markets. About 4 years ago, a few supermarkets finally adjusted their closing times to 9 pm. I remember some of my coworkers commenting, “One step closer to civilization!”

Even though it might not be the first thing you think of in a relatively small city, countless tech innovations are going on in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is actually kind of famous for its innovations and discoveries. In fact, I would even call it the city of tech startups. Just take a look at The StartUp Map for example. In a city of 800,000 residents, there are about 800 startup companies. That’s a pretty impressive ratio.

As a developer, I often attend conferences or meetups to acquire more tech knowledge. It didn’t take long before I found out there are tech meetups for every kind of domain knowledge you could imagine – Perl, Ruby, Javascript, Python, Go lang, bitcoin, 3D printing, Virtual Reality, machine learning, and even Beer and APIs, just to name a few.

Really, everything is happening here!

I often walk down the old brick streets of Amsterdam, looking at those adorable historic houses and think to myself, it definitely looks like an old city, but it’s also a very young city. The people running these startups are in their 20s or 30s. When you’re at a cafe (the ones where they serve good coffee), you’ll always find people working on the next best thing on their laptops. This complementary balance of old and new still impresses me.

If bricks and mortar are the hardware needed to build a city, then the people and companies are the software that keep it going.

The road of innovation is built on failures, and this is especially true in the tech industry. Tech startups are all about innovation, and need support – not only from the consumers who buy their products, but also from the environment, the government, and the community. All of these things come together to make the product better.

Amsterdam—and Booking.com—provide the support for their employees to be able to innovate based on trial and error. New ideas are tested briefly, and if they don’t work, people have to accept that fact and move on to the next challenge. With this, we can turn our micro-failures into macro-successes.

That must be one of the secrets to why the city’s “software” is so ready to keep innovating in this lovely place we at Booking.com call home.

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科技、新創、年輕世代:你所不知道的阿姆斯特丹

阿姆斯特丹。這城市中到處都是歪歪的磚造老屋,看來可愛。博物館,運河,紅燈區… 許許多多有名的景點吸引遊客,在 2014 年,有六百三十萬人次到此一遊

我初次造訪阿姆斯特丹已經是 2004 年的舊事,12 年過去了,這城市幾乎沒什麼改變。雖有一些更新過的建物,但大部分的街景看來一模一樣。

當年剛來旅遊的頭一天,於晚餐時間出門時,竟然找不到任何商店可以購物;打烊了,只剩下餐廳及酒吧尚在營業。相較於在台灣那無數間 24 小時全天營業的便利商店,那真是很實際的文化衝擊。阿姆斯特丹並沒有全天營業的便利商店,也沒有夜市可逛。大約四年前,有幾間超商的營業時間稍作調整,延至晚上九點打烊。有同事笑評這是「走向文明的一步」。

這地方看來並不是個十分現代化的都市。連荷蘭人自己都會說這裡是個「稍微大一點的鄉下地方」。此地居民約有八十萬人,確實遠不及世界上其他大都會區域。

但阿姆斯特丹卻是科技新創公司之城。在市區,有無數的創新正在進行中。但是走馬看花的觀光,卻很容易忽略這一點。

從這張新創公司地圖中,你可以清楚看到他們的所在位置。在這個人口八十萬的小城之中,就有八百間新創公司。看來,我們對於這個國際觀光勝地的刻板印象,確實該更新一下了。

我偶爾會參加一些當地的社群聚會,看看有什麼技術新知。稍加搜尋就不難發現,幾乎所有的技術主題都有社群舉辦技術性聚會。Perl、Ruby、Javascript、Python、Golang、iOS、Android、bitcoin、資料科學、Web開發、Docker、IoT、3D列印、Serverless 架構、UI/UX、虛擬實景、搜尋引擎、機器學習、甚至是Beer 加 APIs

確實,所有主題都能在這裡發展。

那些新創公司的創業人大多是二、三十歲左右。確實,在咖啡店(咖啡好喝的那種)裡殺時間時,總是能看見不少人仍然對著筆記型電腦工作。我喜歡走步在阿姆斯特丹那些舊磚路上,看看那些狹長可愛的老屋。邊走邊想:這城市真的看起來很老,但另一方面又是很年輕的城市。

若說磚屋是建構這城市的硬體,那麼其中的人及這些大小公司就是這城市的軟體。硬體年齡和軟體年齡的差異如此之大,這一點也吸引我的注意。

但說荷蘭這個國家,其實確實是與「創新」的印象連結在一起的。三不五時就會有新聞提到某某荷蘭公司的創意產品、新設計、新發現。或許那是因為,公司法人若能提供開發創意產品的記錄,其實是能夠享有 稅務優惠的。而在新想法不斷發展同時,這城市的外觀則是很完整的保存這,幾百年來如一。為了讓新與舊彼此相容,所付出的努力,想必可觀。

要長久地經營公司是不容易的。多數的新創公司在四年內就會告吹,但這並不是問題,創業的本質就是如此。新的想法萌發之後上戰場測試,如果不管用,就接受現實,繼續前進。

創業之路是以無數失敗鋪成,科技產業更是如此。現在新創的科技公司多是在發展其創意,並且需要許多支援。不只是需要消費者購買其產品,也需要環境、政府、社群,才能將產品開發得更加完善。有了來自多方的支援,才能將微小失敗換轉變為成功。

想必這就是讓此城市的軟體保持年輕的祕訣了。