Bridging the Gap: An Interview with Chicago User Group Leaders

by Alexandra MastersonFebruary 20, 2015

It’s no secret that Chicago is an incredible city with a vibrant history, passionate sports fans, and very cold weather. However, what many people are starting to realize is that Chicago is also an up-and-coming home for the Tech Industry: with companies like 1871 and WeWork serving as incubators for newly hatched start-ups, the space is ripe with young companies and skilled developers. So the question has to be asked, who is keeping this rapidly developing community together?

The Chicago tech community has hit with full force and it seems that the lead players in the programming arena are attempting to bridge the gap between a multitude of diverse languages to create a cohesive Chicago programming family. Some of the faces behind these Meetups are Bob Paulin and Freddy Guime of Chicago Java User Group (CJUG); Mike Hall of UGtastic; Jerry Cattell of Chicago DevOps; and Dean Wampler of Chicago Area Scala-Enthusiasts. Earlier this month, we hosted a Meta GOTO Night with the leaders of the Chicago tech community in the hopes of learning about what was needed to improve an already thriving developer community. What we came away with was a sense that there was a lot of optimism for the future and also a consensus that in order for Chicago’s blossoming tech community to thrive, there needs to be more communication across the lines of languages and companies. We think that this is where GOTO Chicago comes in to play.

Not only do developers need to get out of the office and gather with developers from other companies, an opinion held by Dean Wampler, they need to do so in a supportive environment: There is also less of a community spirit, in the sense that relatively few developers see the need to meet regularly with their peers outside their jobs, to learn from each other… I would like to see these barriers go away.” But what seems to be truly lacking in Chicago at this moment is what Mike Hall calls “cross-pollination” of communities. It seems that, thus far, individual languages have been working to strengthen their own user group without looking outside of their community. Mike Hall notes that he’d “like to see the Chicago community turn into one big amorphous blob of tech where there isn’t any ‘I’m a Ruby developer’ … or ‘I’m a Java developer’ … No, let’s simplify the equation and just say ‘I’m a developer’.” Now is the time to reach out and connect the dots between Java, Scala, Agile, DevOps, and so many more and to start the discussion of what exactly they want Chicago tech to look like. The more communication there is, the better chance they have on selling Chicago as a place where people to stay for jobs, rather than leave for cities like San Francisco or New York. Freddy Guime said it best, “the end-game is to help/consolidate and nurture the different user groups to make for a great ecosystem.”

The consensus is pretty clear: that in order for this ecosystem to grow, there needs to be nurturing, diversity, communication and development. There need to be opportunities for everyone to gather together and really talk about what’s happening and what’s lacking in Chicago tech and then from there take collective actions to make those changes happen. Because, as Bob notes, “a thriving community benefits everyone: employers, staffing companies, students, and of course developers at all stages of their career… the more we can help our developers learn and grow the better the projects they can create.”

GOTO Chicago

With GOTO Chicago, our goal is to offer a space where this is possible: we’ve asked for recommendations for speakers and topics from user-groups, and are trying to make our program tailored to those needs. We offer opportunities for local tech students to participate as crew, where, in exchange for a days worth of work, they get a free registration to the conference. We also aim to highlight the benefits of all languages and platforms, and not sell anyone on one specific product. It is through conferences like GOTO that developers can learn, connect and grow to make Chicago a better environment for tech.