The Venue: The Eisenhower Executive Office Building
The building has been around since 1871 and is gorgeous. The staircases have over 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters and are capped with domed stained glass rotundas. The Executive Office of the President's Library is also housed in the building and according to Megan Smith it is very "Harry Potter looking." Bryan and I wandered out the east balcony and almost to the doorstep of the West Wing until we were discouraged by armed Marines.
Kicking Off the Meetup
Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, followed with a pitch to empower Americans with the skills to land any of the 500,000 unfilled tech jobs in the United States. He lamented that many individuals considered these types of jobs out of their reach due to their lack of specific degrees or not being located in a perceived "tech hub." He pointed out that local tech meetups are a great way for these individuals to gain tech skills outside of traditional academic means and find better opportunities.
Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder of Meetup, wrapped up the kick off talking about how tech meetups can help make people's lives better by inspiring them, getting the jobs, getting funding for startups, and more. It was interesting to hear how they were surprised and Meetup that certain types of meetups they thought would be very popular never took off and ones they never dreamed of became huge communities. His energy and excitement was infectious as he enthusiastically described some of the tech meetup organizers attending the event and how their organizations were creating opportunities for people.
Felicia and Jamal O'Garro were both laid off and decided to start a meetup to learn how to code and find better jobs. They found many others in the same situation and now Code Crew NYC has over 7,000 members and have taught of 1,000 people to code. This was a very inspiring story about alternative methods for teaching people tech skills outside of traditional institutions.
Andrew Coy of Digital Harbor took over failing rec centers and turned them in tech centers where they now serve over 2,500 youth in Baltimore. They help teach them skills in electronics, 3D printing, etc. to help prepare them for better paying jobs in the tech industry.
Denise Ross & Clarence Wardell are using data to improve policing, build trust, and engage the community. This session seemed very timely with all the recent incidents around police aggression and their initiative was striving to use policing data to help bridge the divide between police departments and the communities they serve.
Laurene McCann gave an inspiring talk about using tech to make a social impact. Here quote "Build with, not for" struck and chord with me and inspired me to come back to Nashville and do more work with our local tech community rather than for it.
Zack Leatherman from the Nebraska JS Meetup said one of the things that inspired him to start his group was the flight of top tech talent from his state to other higher profile tech hubs.
Brett Greene's meetup does a cool thing where they color code attendee badges based on why they are attending the event. They get one color if they are looking for a job, another if they are looking to hire people, another for people seeking funding, etc. I am totally going to steal that idea.
These are just a few of the fantastic people that shared their stories of how their tech meetups are giving people better opportunities. I posted links to all of these spotlight sessions on my Twitter feed if you want to see more of them.
Our second session was about collecting and analyzing data about under-served children and using it to identify ways to give them better opportunities. Sixto Cancel's organization, Think of Us, is already using videos that present a style of "choose your own adventure" decisions that can be a very engaging way to survey children who may otherwise not respond well to being asked a series of rote questions. I brought up an idea inspired by a social group my autistic daughter belongs to where we create an online community where kids can create their own characters much like a game like World of Warcraft and then participate in any number of different challenges to earn experience, badges, achievements, etc. This would tap into kids natural love for video games and act as a catalyst to get them to be engaged. This could be made into a generic platform that could be used by both non-profits and for profit companies alike (which is also a way to get funding for it!). Shelonda Stokes of Greibo.com was excited by our discussion so much that she is going to seek out organizations to help build that platform.
There were many other great sessions that I did not get to attend but thankfully, Michael Calvert of MongoDB setup a Slack.com channel for the White Meetup attendees to continue our conversations.
Thanks to Everyone Involved
Thanks to the Nashville Technology Council for recommending me for the meetup, and my awesome management at Holland Square who enthusiastically footed the bill for me to go!
Thanks to Bryan Hunter for being my partner in crime and to Sal Novin for rounding out a kick ass Nashville delegation!
Big thanks to my wife for not killing me when I sprung this trip on her last minute!
Thanks to all the new people I met who inspired me with their stories!
Let's keep this going and hopefully I'll see everyone at the next White House tech meetup!