Wireline, open source and The Prof

You may be good-looking, smart and respected, but that doesn’t make you hashtag-worthy.

Massimo DiPierro, on the other hand, is a web development-platform creator, a corporate consultant and the kind of college professor who inspires impromptu viral hashtag campaigns.

DiPierro, a member of Wireline’s technical team, teaches computer science at DePaul University in Chicago. By all accounts he’s popular and he’s hands-on and he’s charismatic. And in 2014, after 12 years on the faculty, he was up for a full professorship.

The word got out and the depth of this popularity was revealed. Students and former students and peers took to Twitter in support of his promotion. Someone came up with the hashtag #massimoforfull. Soon there were scores of tweets offering praise and recommendations and good wishes, many quite touching.

It worked.

He assured this blog that there were reasons he got the promotion other than the Twitter campaign. If one had to guess, the strongest would be Web2py, the open-source framework for developing database-driven web applications that he created originally for his students. The idea wasn’t to reinvent the wheel, just to make it spin a bit quicker and with less resistance.

“There are a lot of people that want to build a new Facebook. That’s not interesting to me,” DiPierro said. “I’m a professor. I like to make something hard easier. That’s the challenge that interests me. I want to discover the roadblocks the students find, and we learn and we try to overcome those roadblocks.”

He kicked the concept around for two or three years, he said, then sat down and coded for six months. When it was done he made it the center of his classroom, where his students built and tinkered with and perfected their work..

Many continued to use it after graduation. Soon outside developers discovered it and the community of users grew. After 10 years it’s still going strong, with about 20,000 users.

“Massimo’s Web2py was one of the pioneers in full-stack web frameworks,” said Lucas Geiger, chief executive and founder of Wireline. “In the 2000s it was what got me working professionally in web application development. So I owe a lot to what I’ve learned about web programming to Massimo.”

It’s a project, not a product. It’s open-source, free to download and modify and use and he’s never made a nickel off of it. “I think of myself first as a professor,” he said. “I made Web2py to use in my classes to help students. That it became popular is a pleasant surprise.”

What Web2py gave in return was this global community of users. These users still reach out to DiPierro when there’s a mod to discuss or an idea to pursue, and they will mind-meld and experiment until the answer appears.

That’s the real reward, he said. He enjoys and nurtures the relationships that have formed over the years through this community — these thousands of people who have adopted a project that he himself created and whose only function is to serve.

One begins to see how he could inspire a hashtag campaign.

This community has made it possible for him to find his side hustle as a corporate consultant. It’s how he came to Wireline.

Web2py could last for many more years, and for as long as people use it the professor will be there. But the man needs to build. He’s intrigued, he said, by the idea of a successor to Web2py

“My goal is to build tools that make building web applications as easy as possible,” he said. “Actually, that’s how I see Wireline.”

They have elements in common. Wireline is also an open-source development platform, a much broader one that will include an online bazaar for the apps built on the platform.

“How do you create a marketplace? It goes in the same direction,” he said. “You take something that is very complex and make it as easy as possible.”