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Sept. 21, 2010, 10 a.m.

Adopt a Hacker wants to find couches for coders

The startup scene in NYC is blossoming. While the city has always had a tech culture — “Silicon Alley,” etc. — increasingly, in addition to fashion and finance and media, technology is becoming one of its big industries. The challenge now, say Jonathan Wegener and Ben Fisher, is to attract new tech talent to the city — coders and other hackers who will help to build New York’s startups into even more of a force than they already are.

Enter Adopt a Hacker, a new project that wants to connect coders to the NYC tech scene — with the hope of making them part of it.

Though the name is cheeky, the purpose is not. “It’s tough to get a job in New York City if you’re not physically here,” notes Fisher. “A program like this offers the opportunity to make the leap a little less scary. And for some people, it enables them to take a chance on something that they generally wouldn’t.” Using platforms like Facebook Connect and LinkedIn, the project puts coders from outside of New York in touch with those already living and working inside it — to share connections, couches, cups of coffee, whatever. The platform, as the founders put it, is “a recommendation engine for human contact.”

It’s also a recommendation engine for NYC itself. Adopt a Hacker’s website features a “Why NYC Rocks” page; the project is of and about the city and its tech scene. The goal, Wegener and Fisher told me, is to foster connections that make New York a more inviting place for coders and other hackers who might have something to contribute to the city’s burgeoning, blossoming tech scene. Hackers, in particular, who aren’t already in the city — coders in far-flung places or “hiding under rocks,” Jon says. (“I personally define a hacker,” he notes, “as someone who builds products — they could be a developer, they could be a designer, they could be a project manager — but someone who just builds things, and has a passion for building things and creating things.”) There are lots of projects that aim to incubate young tech talent, but up until now, he says, “nobody has really had a program to look for talent outside of New York.”

Already, the effort has received over 100 responses from New Yorkers offering their couches, with several dozen people requesting visits. As Fisher puts it: “The end goal is to bring more tech talent to New York, and to show firsthand how awesome the tech scene is.”

Though the project is focused on tech, the basic idea — a kind of uber-simplified Match.com — is one that journalists (“hacks,” to use the Hacks/Hackers lingo) could also, well, adopt. In a rough-and-tumble media environment like ours, collaboration isn’t just a nice thing to facilitate; it could also make the difference between a news startup’s success or failure. The ability to look beyond a geographical area — to tap the ideas and expertise and talent of journalists and programmers and anyone who might be a good advisor, wherever they may live — could give news organizations the creative ideas, and external perspective, that will help them to thrive. Adopt a Hack, anyone?

Before Adopt a Hacker launched, Wegener notes, “I’d been getting emails from people curious about the NY tech scene who didn’t know how to get started.” Many of them noted their intimidation about New York — much of coming from the simple fact of not knowing people in the city. “Unless you go in there and immerse yourself in the culture,” Fisher points out, “there’s a lot you don’t know.” Inspired by the logic of Big Apple Greeter, a program that pairs visitors to the city with local experts, Wegener envisioned a similar Big Brother/Big Sister-type platform tailored to the tech community. “We think the best way to get people to move here is to have someone guiding you around the city — having someone give you their couch for a few days,” he notes. One couch at a time, the hope is “to show people that New York is an awesome place to be.”

POSTED     Sept. 21, 2010, 10 a.m.
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