Featured on Dec 27, 2010
"Megaphones that spread misinformation should be muted, or optionally disassembled by smashing."
I'm a developer who spends most of his time in Emacs building infrastructure for Meetup, hacking on random projects, and organizing Hack and Tell, a show and tell for hackers. I read a lot of technical books and papers, dabble in Clojure, Scheme and Python and tinker in other functional languages when I have some free time.
- Title: Software Engineer at Meetup
- Age: 28
- Location: Park Slope
- Contact: http://apgwoz.com/
First, the obvious question... why not vi?
I was a vi (not Vim mind you, really old school vi) user for about 5 years, until one day, while wearing a GNU t-shirt, a grad student in the labs at Temple asked, "you're a fan of GNU, why aren't you using Emacs?" I commented something cliche like "why would I want to run another operating system?" What struck me is that he mentioned Emacs could simulate vi with viper-mode. Surely an editor powerful enough to simulate another was worth checking out.
The reason I still use GNU Emacs today is that it is really an editor toolkit for building an ideal editor for X. There are many "stock" editors of course (clojure-mode, python-mode, etc), some editors which you don't normally think of as editors, such as the IRC mode rcirc (or erc) and even editors for Twitter. I've customized it to the point where it really fits well for what I do, and yet, there is still so much to learn and tweak to make it an even better experience. Plus, it's a Lisp system; how can I argue with that?
Can you tell us more about the technology stack and infrastructure at Meetup? What safeguards are in place in case Oprah just told her entire audience to signup for Meetup right now?
Meetup.com itself is served via Apache httpd and Tomcat. The application is written in Java (the API in Jython) using mostly homegrown parts (e.g. custom ORM). We've got a pretty large replicated MySQL cluster and make extensive use of Memcached. We also started playing with Varnish late this summer and are serving some things out of it (with more on the way).
In October of this year, Oprah launched a Meetup Everywhere, and the site held up fine after she mentioned it in a short promo. I think we'd hold up fine if there was a longer promo too--it's a pretty solid architecture and an even more solid operations team.
If you wanna know more about our architecture and infrastructure, we started a dev blog, Making Meetup, which will have more posts about that kind of stuff in the coming months.
How would you respond to someone who approaches you saying, “I have this great idea and I’m working on getting funding for it, but I need your help to find someone to build it otherwise I’m going to outsource it.”
People come to me all the time and ask me about ideas they have. I have a ton of neglected side projects and no plans to leave my current position at Meetup, so the best I can do right now is help them get the idea better fleshed out and offer thoughts about technology to look into, etc. I don't know if you've noticed, but NYC right now is literally exploding with people who are starting companies, and early stage startups looking to expand their team (Meetup is no different).
Do you think the “NY Tech community” is too full of hype and not enough technical substance? How can we help educate potential entrepreneurs about the balance between ideas and actual execution?
That's a good question. At the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in May, at about midnight, some budding entrepreneur came to our table and asked us if we knew of anyone, or if we ourselves wanted to be CTO of her company. I don't remember specifically what the idea was, but I do recall it being a mishmosh of things like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Amazon. I think her goal was to compete with every company on the Internet and hope for the best. That obviously won't work.
On the other hand, I recently met with someone who took part in the first Protovore, to discuss his idea which he hopes to launch early 2011. Technically, I think everything will work, and it could be extremely useful, but I'm not sure for how many.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, there is definitely a balance that needs to be found here. You can't have some great technical solution to a problem no one has, and you can't have some wacky "be all, be everything to everyone" idea and expect it to work either. What you can do, however, is create something minimal and evolve it to fit the needs of the users.
You wrote that NY “Tech events suffer from too much company promotion and not enough about the actual tech.” Where are you with this problem now? Have you tried the Apollo theater approach of booing/sweeping people off stage?
I started Hack and Tell as an experiment to remedy this. The basic idea is that we'll give you 5 minutes to talk about a personal project, but we the audience get 5 minutes to hammer you with comments and questions. You can't, however, talk about your startup or anything related to work.
There's a funny story here too that relates to company promotion. John Britton, who works for Twillio, asked if he could give the 5 minute demo he gave at the NY Tech Meetup. I declined saying that it violates the spirit of Hack and Tell's no startup pitches rule.
So, a month or two later, Sean O'Connor gave a demo of an app he made which makes extensive use of Twillio. It was even better promotion of Twillio than John's presentation would have been, but it didn't at all violate the Hack and Tell spirit. Why? Because Sean built his app to scratch an itch, to learn, to make something cool in his free time, the endorsement he gave for Twillio was not coerced.
I don't go to tech events to be part of the audience in an infomercial, and companies that give presentations directly from their about page sans technical details, lessons learned or other useful information (and or insanely great demos) are only putting a bad taste in the mouth's of the audience. So companies, here are 2 rules for giving a talk to a technical group:
1. Don't send marketing to give a technical talk. We're going to ask questions, and if you bring it up, it's fair game to ask further details about. Do your best to not balk.
2. If you are talking about your platform with which we can use to build stuff with, don't show us the documentation, or read through it--we can all read. Tell us where to find it quickly, and then show us flashy demos that demonstrate what it can do. If the demo is tricky, show us some code to clear it up a bit. Then, make that code available so people can play with it afterwards.