Out of the basement, into the bar

The frontier of humanity’s largest communication resource — the internet — can be a lonely, quiet place. So, a group of Laramie programmers decided to combat the isolation in true university-town fashion — coming together for beers and seminars.

Tech Talk Laramie is a group of tech-savvy residents who meet twice a month at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery to drink, speak geek and learn about tech-pioneers around the state, Tech Talk Laramie Board of Directors President Fred Schmechel said.

“There was a need for people to come together,” Schmechel said. “At first, it was mostly, ‘let’s have beers and talk.”

Tech Talk Laramie Chief Technology Officer Patrick O’Toole said programmers and other techs tend to be introverts, who don’t push themselves to socialize.

“When I came to it, I was definitely looking to reduce the ‘siloing’ of talent we have in Laramie,” he said. “You benefit when you stop banging your head on your computer, head out for a beer and talk it over with your friends.”

Until Tech Talk, O’Toole said there weren’t many options for tech-centric communal problem-solving.

“Visibility for tech workers in Laramie is difficult,” he said. “There’s no community to be the flypaper.”

Founded about a year ago, Schmechel said the group experienced a sharp increase of participation after hosting a “hackathon” in April at the Wyoming Technology Business Center.

Despite the often negative connotation associated with the word hack, he said the term is a staple in the tech community meaning to approach a problem creatively.

“Hacking is innovation in programming,” Schmechel said.

During the event, the group built a marketplace application for matching customers to tutors and other local services.

“We got it done, but it’s not ready for market yet,” he said. “It should be up in about a year or so.”

As the group grew, Schmechel said they noticed a possibility to become something more than just friends sitting at a table venting about work.

“We see an opportunity — if we had funding — to create some programming,” Schmechel said. “I’m not talking about coding, but having speakers come into town and talk about what they’re doing in the field.”

While the group was granted nonprofit organization status by the state, he said they hoped to receive 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS before 2018. With the various funding avenues available to nonprofits, Schmechel said the group hopes to attract tech industry speakers from around the nation to Laramie.

Even without funds, he said Tech Talk was moving forward with the idea of building a group Laramie’s tech community could go to for social and learning opportunities.

“We’ve hosted meetings about freelance coding, did a crash course on coding with Ruby on Rails and toured (University of Wyoming Information Technology Advanced Research Computing Center),” Schmechel said. “Later this month, we’ve got Mike Kmetz coming down from Teton Composites to talk about their new tech.”

Meeting on the first and third Thursday of each month, the group reserves the first meeting for socializing and local problem solving.

“As someone who works in technology, you want to know what wheels exist before you go and invent a new one,” O’Toole said. “So, you might ask the group, ‘Hey, I’m trying to do this right now — is this a solved problem?’”

Schmechel said the second meeting typically centers on a single facet of technology in Laramie.

“It’s more focused on specific topics,” he said. “Coming up, Nate Storey is going to be talking about the role of technology in Bright Agrotech and Plenty.”

As the role of technology grows in the marketplace and community, Schmechel said Tech Talk could become a home for people working on the ground in the tech industry.

“I see this group as being very representative of tech workers in Laramie, not necessarily tech entrepreneurs,” he said.

Go to www.techtalklaramie.com to learn more about the group and how to get involved.

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