Opening doors that open doors for people

Adapted from Scott Heiferman’s introduction at the Tech Meetup at the White House on Friday, April 17, 2015 #whmeetup

We are invited to the White House today because the people in this room are forging the future in a non-obvious way. People here are opening doors for people who are opening doors for each other. (I stole that line from Seth Godin, and I love it.)

And speaking of doors, Megan, thank you for opening the doors to the White House to us today, and for seeing the potential in people. You, your team, and the President are making a difference by hosting us today.

We are here to talk about opportunity. To see and imagine how Tech Meetups will create more opportunities for more people.

There are 30,000 Tech Meetup organizers in this country and we’ve gathered 50 of the best here today. These Meetups help people get training, get jobs, get funding, launch businesses, and help companies take off. They inspire and change lives.

I’m not just the cofounder of Meetup, i was a Tech Meetup organizer. I started the NY Tech Meetup two years after we started Meetup, the platform. (Meetup was used by people like Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in his run for the U.S. Senate. Whatever happened to that guy?) Meetups were booming, but there weren’t many Tech Meetups.

I was inspired to start the NY Tech Meetup having heard that Steve Wozniak (Steve Jobs’ co-founder) say that if there were no Homebrew Computer Club, there’d be no Apple. Homebrew was a community where you could demo and find the others. It gave them opportunity. Maybe Silicon Valley wouldn’t be what it is today without that community back then.

So I started the NY Tech Meetup, and at our first Meetup, only one person showed up. I asked her to be my co-organizer. Her name was Dawn Barber, and she helped it grow in its early days to where it is today, with over 40,000 members.

She’s here today. Dawn, you created opportunity for people.

Now there are Tech Meetups everywhere, and I’m so excited to see you all here, from Alabama to Alaska — poised to grow your local tech economies. I’m excited to see all of you.

I’m excited to meet Fitzgerald Steele of the Iowa Web Developers Meetup — and not just because Iowa’s my alma mater. In 2008, floods devastated Eastern Iowa, the 5th largest natural disaster in the United States. Fitzgerald says, “Out here in the Silicon Prairie, we have tons of creative and technical talent, but we needed to build culture and critical mass. So our Meetup — really the network of Meetups — has grown. Together, we are imagining and re-creating the culture of this area.”

Fitzgerald, you’re creating opportunity for people.

I’m excited to meet Carolyn Finch from Charleston Women in Tech Meetup. I heard about how mentorship is a key part of her meetup. She says, “These mentors are an essential uniting factor to make these young women feel welcome and encouraged to discover and pursue a career in the tech industry.”

Carolyn, you’re creating opportunity for people.

I’m excited to see Jamal and Felicia from Code Crew. They lost their non-tech jobs in the recession. They saw available jobs in tech and decided to try and learn programming. They realized that their best chance to learn was with a study group, so they started the Code Crew Meetup. Today they’re fully employed developers, and they credit their Meetup with changing their lives in a transformational way. Code Crew has helped dozens of people get high-paying tech jobs. They’re local celebrities in Harlem, due to the scale of their Meetup (7,000+ members).

Jamal and Felicia, you’re creating opportunity for people.

I’m excited to meet Ketan Kakkad of the Minnesota Web Design Meetup. He became a leader of the Meetup in 2011. He was told by people that a tech community was “not a Minnesota thing”…. But now, Tech Meetup groups in Minnesota are booming.

Ketan, you’re creating opportunity for people.

I’m excited to meet Paola Maldonado, the Organizer of the NYC Tech Latinas Meetup. She’s a former administrative assistant who learned programming skills at a Meetup. Now she’s an iOS developer at Buzzfeed.

She started the NYC Tech Latinas Meetup to pay it forward.

Paola, you’re creating opportunity for people.

These stories bring to life a line I love that I heard from President Obama: “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

We want a world filled with real local community so the power is in people’s hands.

The 50 Tech Meetups represented in this room have harnessed the power of community to create high-octane engines for economic growth and engines of innovation. They’re true communities, fueled by the magic that happens when people of shared passions and interests get together in person to pursue their dreams together.

At Meetup HQ we’re most proud of sparking Meetups that might not otherwise get going… so that people meet who may not otherwise meet… and good things happen that may not otherwise happen.

How does opportunity really happen? For some, it’s the right schools, the right pedigree, looking the part. But it doesn’t have to work that way.

As we’ll see today, community unleashes opportunity. And now people have more power than ever to create community.

And these 50 Tech Meetups, these 50 communities, would not be flourishing today if it weren’t for the tenacity, the energy, and the vision of their organizers. They probably don’t get the credit they deserve for that leadership.

Take a moment to think of someone who believed in you — who gave you opportunity. Meetup organizers, that’s you for your members.

I hope everyone learns from each other today. That’s what Meetups are all about. The person sitting next to you is smarter than you … about something.

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