From Dublin to Bangalore and in dozens of cities in between, programmers of all levels are meeting up and coding together.
Following the burble of voices, you climb the stairs to a long, rectangular room: The Beauty Shoppe’s new wing, nearly complete. Helping yourself to a soft drink, you look around for some connection, an old acquaintance or a friendly stranger. Amid aromas of fresh paint, hoagies and potato chips, some 40 people murmur in small clusters, laptops ready.
The room also seems waiting for a connection, some spark. High overhead, wires dangle from electrical sockets, ready for someone to attach the fixtures and screw in a light bulb.
For anyone interested in technology, OpenHack Pittsburgh offers a monthly opportunity to collaborate on unusual projects and rub shoulders with programmers of different abilities, specialties and interests.
As OpenHack Pittsburgh begins its second meeting, one of the participants, Chad Whitacre, pops the big question.
“So, does anyone have something they’ve brought to the table?” Whitacre asks. Eyes dart around the now hushed room. “Something they have a burning desire to work on, and want to share with the group?”
Anything goes. “It’s really project-agnostic,” says Whitacre. “And if you’re new to programming, this is a great place to be: We’ll pair you up with someone with some expertise.”
Out of the 40 attendees, a half-dozen brought projects to share, and take turns introducing themselves. They represent a broad range of skills, from students to experienced professionals, with interests from cloud software to mobile apps to hardware hacking.
OpenHack is loose-knit national organization launched last fall by Nick Quaranto, a programmer based in Buffalo, N.Y. Speaking via e-mail, Quaranto says he was curious whether programmers would value planned social interactions like this. “Can we get programmers to come out of their shells twice a month for an evening to hack on stuff?” Quaranto asks. “What kind of community can we build?”
This raises an interesting question. Programmers could in theory collaborate just as easily online. So why do they seem so happy about getting together for face-to-face interaction?
“Being around others who are being productive is infectious,” says Quaranto. “Hashing problems out over a whiteboard (and possibly a beer) is hard to replicate online,” he adds. “Things just tend to happen, and I love that.”
Those “things” are the spontaneous juxtapositions and random conversations, a happy chaos that makes up an important part of public life.
While new, OpenHack builds on an existing culture of tech meetups Quaranto had observed in cities like Boston. “I figured that if I wrote down and published how the Boston events used to run, other cities might benefit,” he says.
Word spread quickly on Twitter, and OpenHack now plans 49 meetups in cities around the world. (Some are just getting started, according to Quaranto.) Most events, including Buffalo’s, draw around 20 people; thus far, Pittsburgh’s, with 40 attendees, is among the most popular.
In Pittsburgh, the event is organized by programming professionals Justin Reese and Carol Nichols, and draws participants from local programming organizations. After just two meetings, it’s too early to guess what ideas might emerge from Pittsburgh’s OpenHack interactions.
To continue growing, it just needs to remain truly open, says Quaranto — not cliquish. “I’m sure if they focus on making sure new people feel welcome by at least introducing them and what they hope to work on — every meetup — it will help.”