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Saturday
Jan312015

The Red Pill Chronicles: Why I decided to be a HackerNest Splinter Cell Organizer

 I want to tell you the story of why I decided to be a HackerNest Splinter Cell Organizer.

Acknowledging that I am a newbie blogger and being mindful of my readers’ valuable time, here is my top-five list of reasons why I decided to embark on this particular adventure:

Recognizing the needs of the many

It happened one evening, as it often does, at a casual dinner with friends. While chatting about the challenges and obstacles of working as a consultant/entrepreneur, we bemoaned over the fact that, in the tech industry, it is more common than not that you work out of a home-office.

The parlance, over a nice meal and a glass (or two or three) of Moldovan Red, explored both the benefits and drawbacks of working in isolation.  We shared stories of amazing experiences of ‘being in the zone’ and highly productive without being tethered to a time-clock. Another common element to our exchange was the feeling of longing for those little moments of IRL (in real life) interaction with coworkers—those seemingly insignificant water-cooler conversations that, every once in a while, lead to big ideas and can be the catalyst for innovation and game-changing approaches to solution design.

Plates that had all but been licked clean (soooo…maybe I did use a slice of bread to mop up the sauce from mine but hey, why waste it?) were being cleared, we continued to chat about our personal ‘day-in-the-life’ experiences.  We began to solve for our own design challenge—how do we create a way to have those interactions we had just described with our peers?

As the gnocchi settled in our bellies, we participated in what I have come to learn is a type of ‘design thinking’ session. We lobbed questions in rapid-fire succession at each other, often shouting over each other at the same time. Our passion for this particular focus area was brought to fevered-level.

  • “Do you have a local office that you have the option to work out of once a week or so?”
  • “What type of groups or meet-ups do you attend?”
  • “With the limited time you have in a given day and all your commitments, both professional and personal, what type of additional activity would you be willing to participate in?

Tiramisu consumed, linguistic climax reached, we were all sated for the moment and a silent epiphany cloaked our table. It seemed simple really. A social gathering  or happy hour of sorts would be an opportunity for our fellow code-ninjas, hackers, makers, designers, and others of that ilk to mingle and talk about the nerdy stuff we like. No loud or awkward bar scene, no networking jungle, no brain-intensive skill workshop…just cool people coming out of their basements or bat caves to speak geek with like-minded peeps. The need of the one became the need of the many (ok, maybe only three at this point but with the strong likelihood that it was soon to be the need of the many).

Finding inspiration

That night, instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I was strategizing how to bring our brainchild to fruition. I recalled an inspirational blog post I had recently read from Abby the IA (an amazing gal I had met briefly several years prior at one of the events included in her inspirational blog post). Reflecting on this post ignited a spark in my subconscious and induced a dream-like state. I was in the The Matrix* but instead of seeing patterns in the code, I found the sequence by which to connect a group of dots to complete a picture.

In my conscious state, I began to realize that ‘connecting the dots’ was a metaphor.

The ‘dots’ for me to connect were my knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired both through my career as a multidisciplinary designer and my experiences as a life-long learner. By connecting these dots, I would reveal the life-path that was previously hidden.

Following the path

The business analyst in me began the work of researching what groups may already exist in the Phoenix area. As I scoured both Eventbrite.com and Meetup.com, and Googled key words, I began making copious lists of events and gatherings. I accosted colleagues and strangers to validate my findings of “what people actually choose attend” and “why.”

Truth be told, this approach was by no means a formal research study. It was more of a guerrilla-style approach (leveraging some useful information gleaned from a PHX Content Strategy Book Club pick last year Just Enough Research by Erika Hall).

What did my analysis (however bastardized) reveal? While there is a huge directory of tech and social events available to attend at an overwhelming variety of days and times, only one stood out as the right-fit for my list of requirement and would suit the particular ‘need of the many’ I was focusing on.

The highlights of this list included:

  • A social gathering that would be relaxed (not intimidating to introverted, social-skill challenged techies)
  • An group open and relevant to a broad audience (not limited by coding language, framework, design methodology, professional certification, hobby, fetish, race, creed, or religion)
  • A community environment where like-mind individuals can mingle, share ideas, tackle issues through innovative application of technology,  and have an opportunity to partner if the mood is right (not an old-school ‘networking’ event)

Aligning with the right-fit organization

[Queue the dulcet sound of the celestial spheres here.] At last the secret was divulged to me. HackerNest. This is the one group. The one group to rule them all and in the darkness bind them!

For those of you who are unaware, HackerNest is an international non-profit organization focused on building strong, supportive “Silicon Valley”-type tech communities.  They do this by running Tech Socials, hackathons, and a marketplace for tech education. The HackerNest mission: "Poverty alleviation: Engineering structural change through technology, community, and access to education."


I was really excited to find a local HackerNest group, referred to as a ‘splinter cell,’ because their mission aligns well with two of my passions: technology and education. My excitement was dulled when I discovered that my local HackerNest Splinter Cell was not active. In 2013, there was initial interest from another individual and the HackerNest Phoenix group presence was established on Meetup.com.  However, no events had been hosted or were scheduled. I contacted the HackerNest Ambassador and after several emails and an awesome Skype session with my Onboarding liaison based in Kula Lumpur, the choice was put before me:

  • To learn more about the organization and step up to be the city organizer for the Phoenix Splinter Cell
    -or-
  • To take the virtual equivalent of the 'blue pill', wake up in my own bed and believe whatever I wanted to believe.*

I believe I chose wisely…the truth will soon be revealed.

Taking the Red Pill - Making the commitment to help unit the Phoenix Tech Community

The HackerNest formula: laid back atmosphere + free drinks + brilliant people = fireworks

It should be noted that my past volunteer experience with professional groups to organize events, albeit limited, had made me rather cynical about the event offerings and members in the Phoenix area specifically (RSVPs translated poorly with regard to planning and event logistics). I was reticent to take on such a huge role to lead a local group (fearing I lacked the necessary skills, charisma, and magnetic personality to fulfill my responsibilities).

Here is a Hat-tip (#HT) to the HackerNest organization for putting together a useful onboarding program and resources to support their Splinter Cell teams. With their support and the kindness of strangers (and by that I mean local tech community people that have connected with me in the last few months) I am now prepared to make the commitment to be the HackerNest Phoenix Splinter Cell Organizer. While it is daunting to be the only person on my organizing team currently, I am confident that soon others will join me and volunteer to help unite the local tech community.

After a few false-starts in pulling together the inaugural HackerNest Phoenix event last fall, I am pleased to announce that Infusionsoft in Chandler has offered to host our very first Tech Social (#HackerNest, #HackerNestPHX #TechN3rdsUnite)

Save the Date for March 3rd: Come out to the HackerNest Phoenix Tech Social and be a part of a historical event!

If you are reading this sentence, then I would like to thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed my story. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Red Pill Chronicles as I share more stories from my adventure as a HackerNest Phoenix Splinter Organizer.


~Xanthé (@DezignMaven)


*The Matrix . Dir. Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. 1999. Warner Bros., 1999. DVD