Code Youngstown - A Retrospective
Code Youngstown is an organization that connects software engineers, developers, and coders in the Youngstown, OH area.
I've been helping out with Code Youngstown since 2017, and am very proud of the work we've done over the last 5 years.
I've decided to use this milestone as an excuse to document the history of the organization, with the hope that it could help orient us towards the next 5 years.
2014 - 2016
Code Youngstown was started by Nick Serra in 2014.
The first Code Youngstown event was an Open Hack Night held September 24th 2014 at the now defunct Nove Gatto Gallery in the Erie Terminal Building in downtown Youngstown.
I found out about the event through the awesome posters that were put up around YSU's Meshel Hall.
At the time I was pouring most of my effort into putting together the first iteration of HackYSU, and was very excited to hear of parallel efforts being taken by other Youngstownians to prop up our local tech scene.
The event was well attended - the ~30 guests included representatives from the YSU ACM (of which I was vice-president of at the time), Drund, the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), YBI startups including Lightning Grader and Turning Technologies (now Echo360), and others.
Nick brought branded Code Youngstown swag - rubber bracelets, t-shirts, and stickers - that made the entire event feel "real" and "official".
Because it was Code Youngstown's first event, Nick had everyone go around the room and introduce themselves. I remember very specifically that this was the coolest part of the meetup for me - it was a realization that people were actually doing tech in Youngstown, and that it had a future.
This gave me further confidence that putting on HackYSU was the "right thing".
The event ended with the creation of a Facebook page and group to help everyone stay in touch.
A follow up event, dubbed "December Meetup", was held at the YBI December 16th 2014.
It too had an awesome poster, which was shown off on Code Youngstown's very first Facebook event.
Unfortunately, this event had a much weaker showing - ~20 guests if I recall correctly - due to various things at play, including less time and resources put into marketing.
Subsequently, Code Youngstown went on an informal hiatus.
2017 - 2020
During the two year hiatus, Nick and I kept in touch. It helped that I started working at Drund, for whom Nick was doing contract work for at the time.
HackYSU 2015 went off without a hitch, and the team went to form the Youngstown Penguin Hackers (YPH) student organization to run it.
Work on YPH and HackYSU 2016 revealed the need for a hub for YPH alumni to continue to network together and potentially give back to YPH in the form of mentorship and corporate sponsorships.
A plan formed between Nick and I - and after HackYSU 2017 was held April 17th-19th 2017, we began efforts to revive Code Youngstown.
A Meetup group was formed, the Facebook group was dropped in favor of Slack, and an official website was spun up.
A new format was created: we'd host events every other month - socials in the summer and winter, and tech-related talks in between.
The new format and tooling were inspired by my experience networking in the northeast Ohio area - namely PGH Code & Supply (a coworking space that maintains a Slack group, and hosts meetups and conferences), the now defunct Akron Launch League + Friends (a family of organizations that shared a Slack group with the goal of fostering a tech startup hub in Akron, hosted a conference called Launch League Flight before shuttering, closely tied to the OSC Tech Lab coworking space), and StartInCLE (a Slack group and monthly meetup for NEO-based startup founders, hosted a couple conferences).
Our first event was a set of tech talks at Drund - over 30 people showed (if I recall correctly) to hear Mark Beacom and Adam Magana talk about Drund's tech stack.
Our second, a social at the YBI, exceeded all expectations and had over 40 guests (IIRC).
People were joining our Slack and following us on Meetup. People were looking forward to our events. We had somehow managed to achieve some kind of community-market-fit.
In mid 2018 I started transitioning from Drund to working on my startup, so we decided to start changing things up and trying to have every event at a different tech-related place in Youngstown, to introduce people to organizations and businesses they otherwise would have never had the opportunity to interact with.
We were welcomed into Youngstown tech staples like the Oak Hill Collaborative, Turning Technologies, TBEIC (now Brite), and SenSource with open arms - and I'm very thankful to all of them for supporting us through the years.
You can see our full event history over on Meetup.
Things slowed down at the end of 2019. I was exhausted - my startup was failing, contract work wasn't paying the bills, and Code Youngstown got put on the back burner.
Then COVID hit. It felt like everything - including tech conferences and events - were going remote, and we didn't feel like we could compete. And so, Code Youngstown went on another hiatus.
2021 - today
We didn't feel comfortable hosting any Code Youngstown events until summer 2021 - after vaccines were widely available.
Our first event was held outside in Mill Creek Park. From there, we started having our events at Westside Bowl, whose high ceilings and conservative COVID policies made us feel comfortable continuing to host events.
We were able to have a handful of events before the seasons changed and COVID picked up again.
It's now summer 2022, and we are trying to get a handful of events in at Westside before COVID picks up again (assuming it does).
I think Code Youngstown has the potential to contribute to the Youngstown tech community beyond our events and Slack group.
Currently, a lot of the value of Code Youngstown is locked inside of Slack.
For example, the job listings that are shared in the #jobs channel. A public job board possibly modeled off of Code & Supply's might help make that value more accessible.
One other thing that is currently locked behind Slack is the ability to reach out to local talent for contract work. Having a public directory of local individuals and firms avaliable for contract work could be valuable.
Speaking of directories, one project I've been working on is a list of local companies that employ programmers. I'd like to grow that into something that could be public facing.
Similarly, a set of Built in Youngstown branding and a directory of projects and digital products built in Youngstown (like the now defunct Built in CLE project) might also be a cool way to showcase local talent.
I also think that Code Youngstown should serve as a platform for local software engineers to share their stories.
The Code Youngstown Podcast, led by Neil Primmer, was a great first shot at this - I'd love to see that revived or something else take its place, like a collaborative blog.
That leaves the three elephants in the room: a conference, a hackathon, and a coworking space.
I don't know if any of these would necessarily be connected to Code Youngstown, but I think all three are staples that the Youngstown tech community is missing.
There's a lot I could write about what putting together a conference, a hackathon, and a coworking space could look like, but instead I'd rather instead put out a call to action:
If you want to see a conference, a hackathon, or a coworking space in Youngstown, or want to contribute to Code Youngstown in some other way, shoot me an email. I'd love to chat with you about making it happen.