I am not sure when a meetup becomes an institution, but a 10-year-old monthly gathering of tech heads in New York City called NY Tech Meetup has definitely crossed the bar. It has more than 40,000 members and claims to be the largest tech meetup group in the world.
Every session I have attended has had more attendees than the previous one, although the format remains the same; three batches of three presenters describing their breakout tech inventions and then answering questions from the audience, plus one bonus presentation to mix things up.
The audiences are much more diverse than one might expect. Although young people tend to predominate, there is a good mix of people of all ages and, at the last session, July 1, maybe even more women than men. I sat next to a couple of fellows from Morgan Stanley who were looking for investment opportunities.
But the July 1 event was particularly interesting to ENR because it was the first one in a decade to feature an app specifically developed for construction. FieldLens, a mobile field management app, took the stage. Doug Chambers, CEO, and Julian Clayton, product director, played a bit of a Penn and Teller routine as they demonstrated their software, easily holding their own in the realm of “cool” and getting a lot of respectful questions from the crowd.
“I was pretty nervous up there, to be honest,” confessed Chambers afterward, but he said he was thrilled to hear that it came off well, in part because he credits NY Tech Meetup with giving him the courage to launch his startup in the first place. I asked him why he thought such events, which happen all over the country, but which almost never mention construction, still had value to the industry.
“I attended my first NY Tech Meetup in early 2011 when FieldLens was just an idea,” Chambers says. “That tech meetup inspired me that I could do this too, and being on stage the other night was a pretty amazing feeling.
“There is no question that everyone in our industry can draw the same inspiration I did—whether they want to build a piece of technology themselves or use something amazing they see in the consumer tech space in their construction lives.
“Obviously the proliferation of smartphones and technologies like cloud computing, 3D printing and drones, for example, weren't developed specifically for construction. But forward-thinking people in the industry see the incredible potential here, and we’re seeing these technologies being applied to solve problems in the construction industry. It is just awesome to be a part of that.”
Chambers founded his startup later that same year. After a year in beta, FieldLens commercially launched in March 2014.
The entire July NY Tech Meetup program is viewable online, and while nine-tenths of of the presentations have no direct implications for construction, many of them still get your mind pondering possibilities. And that’s the point.
Check out The Satellite, for one, which is a project being developed with New York Polytechnic School of Engineering to create a ultra-high resolution visual experience of “seeing” the earth in a live view as if you were standing on the International Space Station.
Another was Syncmotion, which launched the day of the event and doesn’t even have much of a website yet. Its treasure is a wireless chip designed to be attached to pretty much any physical object to sense motion and report to a server, where software compares the motion observed to the motions of previously analyzed activities. Think hammer swings or saw cuts. It is a basic enabler for collecting performance data via the Internet of Things.
Tech meetups are not about being nerdy. They are about dreams, energy and imagination, and they are cool. The next NY Tech Meetup is August 4.