Trifecta of Awesomeness? Yeah, we have it right here.

The Power of Partnering Developers with Academia

Michael J. Wyant Jr., Chief Technical Officer of Tech Geekery, Inc. and writer at Upstate Interactive.

There’s a thrill that surrounds developers when they’re deep into a project. It’s an odd buzz of creativity, technical jargon, and intravenous caffeine. Half the time, the developer is pressed close to their monitor, fingers flashing, the only interruption a quick sip of a drink or an annoyed grunt. The other half the time, they’re camped in groups around a laptop discussing programming methods and various random workarounds for unexpected issues.

Also with massive amounts of caffeine.

Honestly, I’m always a bit confused how more programmer laptops don’t end up bathed in coffee/tea/soda, but that’s neither here nor there.

The interesting part is that these disparate individuals — men and women with various backgrounds and upbringing — have been brought together through a shared set of skills and common history. Regardless of education, these people can truly speak to each other in a context that many them share.

The concept of an acknowledged shared history is the basis of Cultural Identity, after all, but the idea of large scale cultures bred solely on the idea of programming languages is still somewhat new. Events like Hack Upstate bring these otherwise dissimilar folks together for one massive day of nerdery and creation.

I don’t care who you are, that’s kind of cool.

And apparently Cornell agrees with me since they’ve decided to be a sponsor of Hack Upstate IX. According to the Ithaca Journal, back in September of 2016 they even received a couple grants to focus on high technology — specifically, the Center for Bright Beams, a particle beam company (!) — and a batch of cash for a “business alliance focused on improving the success rate of tech startups at colleges and universities across the Northeast”.

The same institution that is building out a PARTICLE BEAM COMPANY is sponsoring a hackathon. Let that sink in for a second…

Can you imagine what the overall impact would be if we had a closer merger between this new shared Cultural Identity of the “Developer” and the established mold of academia? Personally, I think we’re on the cusp of something great, mostly because I had the opportunity to see this merge spark to life almost a decade ago.

Back in 2007/2008, I worked at a non-profit in San Francisco. They brought me in for one very special reason: build out a fiber network that could be hooked into a statewide ten gigabit backend (CENIC) which, from there, would be attached to National LambdaRail, another fiber network that’s owned and operated by educational institutions. To put these speeds in context, remember that the original iPhone came out with EDGE/2G data speeds of about 15–70kbps. When the iPhone 3G came out a year later and we could get 700kbps download, it was a game changer.

Sounds kind of nuts, doesn’t it? I mean, before the first iPhone came out, we were connecting fiber lines together for this wacky “Field of Dreams” belief that if we could make high-speed data accessibility a reality, that the ever-wily “they” would come. From there, we’d… do something.

While we did manage to perform some pretty amazing collaborative projects — live HD streaming of video projects and live editing of said projects in 2008 (!) — the mysterious “they” remained in hiding. Eventually, I left that job and, as far as I can tell, the fiber network idea slowly disappeared as the company focused on a Public Access channel they snagged.

Why did I bring that up? Because there was a component we missed back then. We had most of what I call the “Trifecta of Awesomeness”: we had infrastructure people (me) and we had creative folks (the rest of the staff at that company). What we were missing were programmers. Developers. A core component of digital technologies, as most of us know nowadays, is programming and we didn’t have it. Don’t get me wrong, we did some pretty fancy things with Final Cut Server (R.I.P.), but a good developer would have made us look silly.

This, incidentally, brings us back to Cornell. Back then, the successes we enjoyed were from working directly with higher education or public education facilities around the country. It wasn’t so much that these universities showered money on us or crazy recognition, it was the fact that they were willing to experiment.

Their faculty wanted to learn.

In much the same way, we now have an educational institution sponsoring an event that consists of people coming together and hammering out crazy projects as fast and effectively as they can because they want to know if they can.

They want to learn.

They want to solve problems.

They want to succeed. So do we.

I say that it’s time to open the gates and start selling tickets — to close out that Field of Dreams metaphor.

The developers are ready to play.

And the Trifecta of Awesomeness? Yeah, we have it right here.

Sign up for Hack Upstate IX today!

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