There are east coast (below Boston) hackers--draw us out...

I just read Matt Mireles's new post, The City of Founders Without Hackers, where he calls out NYC as having a startup-friendly developer shortage. I also read Tobin Schwaiger's response, A City of Technical Founders Without Non-Technical Talent, where he says the problem lies more with low quality non-technical founders.

I have a lot of experience with these issues in Philadelphia, and I'd like to offer a third perspective. I moved to the Philly area four years ago and knew literally no one in the entire city. I came from MIT, where I was part of a very startup/hacker-centric community for the previous nine years.

It doesn't take that many people to make a difference. The biggest thing I've learned is that we're talking small numbers here. Early startups need one or two hackers, and so with a hundred good hackers you've actually got a lot of potentially good startups. 

NYC metro is 19M people; Philly metro is 6M. When I first moved here my premise was that in a city that big there has to be a hundred good hackers. All we have to do is draw them out. I think Matt is onto this:

On one hand you have what is becoming a relatively tight network of business-minded founders & investors; on the other you have a loose federation of hackers who seem to be not only disconnected from the business people in the community but also weakly networked amongst themselves. This is a HUGE problem. 

Hackers don't want to go to traditional networking events. We're a largely introverted bunch (or more specifically, INTJs & INTPs). These personality types hate bullshit and phoniness and a lot of stuff you see coming out of wannabe entrepreneurs at traditional networking events. And in general we don't like to "network" for the sake of networking anyway--we like to talk about hacking. 

So really the problem is not that we don't exist or that good non-technical founders don't exist. It's that both groups are small in number and we're not meeting.

As a hacker myself who didn't know anyone here, I made it my goal to draw out fellow hackers. After some fits and starts, I finally settled on a monthly startup hackathon group. We've met 26 times, and last month was widely regarded as the best yet.

The group and its events have no agenda--no scheduled speakers or whatever. It's just a time to get together and hack or talk about hacking/startups or to get feedback/help on projects. 

The first Philly startup hackathon had 4 or 5 people that I got from posting on news.yc. It stayed that way for a while. I looked on craigslist and emailed some people from there (startups looking for hackers or co-founders). And then slowly it grew and grew to where it is now. Currently there is 160 people in the group and 10-40 show up at each event (who shows up varies by location, time of day, etc.).

And this is not the only group or place in Philly to meet hackers, though it is the only one I know focused on startups. You can also find hackers at technology meetups and at co-working space. As NYC is a much bigger city, I'd be really surprised if there were not equivalent groups. I know a little about Baltimore and Atlanta, and I know there are similar groups there as well.

You can't just show up and snag a hacker. It's a relationship building exercise. Instead, you show up month after month and get to know everyone. You keep tabs on what everyone is doing. And eventually, and naturally, it all plays out. 

I've personally hooked up a bunch hackers and startups over the past couple of years. Once you're in the hacker network, people like myself will connect you to other hackers. But you have to have a presence. And patience.

If there is no good hacker group to get such a presence, then start one. I recommend a format like the one I described above, i.e. no agenda monthly hackathons.


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