Need Peers? Make Them. Programmers Building Programmers

Hack Upstate
Sep 11, 2015 · 3 min read

I’ve been a part of Syracuse’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for a few years now, both as an active participant and as an observer/writer. The programming scene and the entrepreneurial scene are inextricably linked due to the fact that so many early stage ventures are in need of tech talent and because in this medium size city the two audiences tend to have a large amount of overlap in talent and services.

I also have a startup in this city that has worked closely in our local incubator and accelerator, I worked for Syracuse University’s IDEA office assisting students with getting their ventures started, and I currently work for CenterState CEO, the local economic development agency focused on the growth of the 12 county Central New York region. So, although there are surely those more informed than I am, I think I have an in-depth knowledge of both the entrepreneurial and developer scenes in Syracuse.

And this summer, something new has happened.

It’s easy to forget that Hack Upstate only started a couple years ago and was created in response to the lack of developer talent available at Startup Weekend. Since then, the city has seen the Hack Upstate event grow and connect developers from all over Upstate New York. Open Hack has created a well-connected group of developers in Syracuse. We’ve begun to see more hackathons for those who are already skilled at programming, like last year’s AT&T Civic App Challenge and Hack Hunger & Homelessness.

Active members of the community have worked very hard to create more connections and visibility for developers.

Unfortunately, the talent pool, though very deep in skill, is rather shallow in the number of developers in Upstate NY. Event attendance is growing, but it often seems that is due to further reach across Upstate NY rather than deeper reach in communities. By this point, participants are very familiar with each other and various skill sets are well known.

So now that connections are stronger and the talent in Upstate NY is visible, we are seeing that there is still not enough of it. So how do you remedy that?

I think we have now reached the point where we are beginning to see programmers building other programmers to create a larger talent pool and more peers.

I also think we are just at the beginning of this cycle, one that will take two years to be properly seeded, but I think that watching the beginning of it is really exciting.

Between the New York Code & Design Academy’s paid web development course, Ladies Learning Code’s Python sessions, and now Tom Hart’s How to Be a Self-Taught Programmer class, we are starting to see options for learning programming skills. Of these, Ladies Learning Code is actually creating future educators; one of the tenets of the program is to teach participants to teach the next set of classes.

I don’t think this is too early to call; I think that the Upstate NY development community is just now beginning to realize it needs a much larger population, and the onus is on the current participants to create it. And I think that is why we are seeing a variety of learning opportunities crop up. If anything, I am hoping to see even more in the near future.

I also think that those who choose to educate stand to benefit greatly by the relationships already put in place through Hack Upstate and Open Hack. We now have a greater awareness of the problem, and more people have access to those that are willing to sponsor and help fund solutions.

I think that this is a great opportunity for the local coding community to take a page from the local entrepreneurial community’s book and start to focus on skill sharing in a regular and strategic manner.

So, reader, person who is a member of this community, what can you teach? Because now is the time to get started building your peer network. There are willing participants, it’s up to you to introduce them to skills as well as the community they will be joining. The first movers have started creating the path, it is up to you to help pave it. This is an incredible opportunity; you personally have the chance to shape the region’s development community.

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