Re-creating the watercooler
Isolated Durango computer coders find caffeine-assisted camaraderie
Two years after it began as a small networking group for a few technology-loving members, the Durango Tech club has become a major presence in the town’s tech scene.
The group has 350 members, dozens from out of state who want to stay connected to Durango’s technology scene, and recently it even spawned its own subgroup, the Durango Coders.
The Coders was an effort to “get together the coding nerds” to talk about different programming languages, code snippets and hardware types, said founder Dan Marlow, himself a Durango Tech club member who works for the web-hosting company GoDaddy. The group also has been a success story, with weekly coffee meet-ups, Friday lectures and 30 members signed up on its online meet-up page.
While both groups focus on the ins and outs of work in the digital world, their founders also recognize that much of their appeal is in recreating a small slice of office life for the local techies, many of whom work for themselves or are remote employees of companies halfway across the country.
It’s part of a larger recognition within the working world that face-to-face social interactions are vital as a way to spark ideas, spawn new collaborations and refresh the mind after hours sitting alone in front of the computer screen.
As more and more work goes virtual, people have begun to realize they are losing out on the natural collaboration that traditional workplace inherently offered, Tammy Johns and Lynda Gratton wrote in a Harvard Business Review article about virtual work.
“(Workers) work lives often lacked a sense of community and the richness of collaboration,” the authors said. “Anxious for innovation, they missed the kind of ideation that results from serendipitous encounters and hallway conversations.”
Groups such as the Durango Coders and Durango Tech aim to revive that element of casual socialization, said Marlow and Jim Mackay, co-founder of Durango Tech.
Both groups hold casual coffee meet-ups and Durango Tech hosts a happy hour with no agenda besides chatting over a beer or wine.
“I thought: I’m not the only one who wants to get out of the house and talk shop,” Marlow said.
The coffee hours provide a place for group members to share problems, help each other brainstorms solutions, swap stories and learn from each other, he said.
Members cited the chance to interact with like minds as a major appeal of the group.
The group is an opportunity to “hang out with other nerds,” said Travis Kimmel, a freelance web programmer.
“You don’t really get the watercooler thing when you’re at home,” he said.
Even though people are working on different projects, the meet-ups hosted by both groups allow members to get feedback on their ideas from a variety of angles – something that’s hard to replicate when working alone, Mackay said.
Creating communities for people lacking the physical office also is a goal of Durango Space, the 2-year-old co-working facility on Main Avenue.
“Our take is you can work solo at home, but most people eventually want to find other people,” said Jasper Welch, co-founder of Durango Space. Part of the facility’s goal is to create a community of members and co-workers by hosting social activities, meetings for groups like the Tech club and community events like Open Studios.
“We’re trying to create social interactions, not force them,” Welch said.
Beyond bringing like minds together, both tech groups also provide a way for people who don’t have a physical workplace here to connect with and give back to the community. Durango Coders is helping the Durango Public Library design an application that automatically will transfer digital versions of The Durango Herald into the library’s archives, and Durango Tech created a mobile application that allows visitors to learn more about the exhibits at the Durango Arts Center.
“There is the stereotype that nerds are computer geeks that like to hide out in their caves,” Marlow said. “But we’re not like that, and Durango in particular is not like that.”