The first thing you see on the Prairie I/O website are the words, “Welcome to Silicon Prairie.”
No, not Valley. Prairie. Sure it may seem like a lofty self-title coming from a smaller city like Fargo, but then again, Prairie I/O* co-organizers Matthew Sullivan and Josh Christy have some lofty goals.
Like a few other local techies have voiced, Sullivan and Christy want to make Fargo the tech headquarters of the Midwest. And they’re doing so by creating Prairie I/O, an organization that aims to unite the tech community of the Fargo-Moorhead area.
You may have read our previous articles on other existing tech meet-ups and events, like NSFargo, and the Hack Fargo hackathon event. What Prairie I/O aims to be is the umbrella that encompasses these meet-ups and events, according to Sullivan and Christy. Their hope is that Prairie I/O becomes a resource that can help organize, finance, and otherwise support other meet-ups, as well as a way for techies to meet and learn from each other.
In short, they want to get nerds talking.
“What we’re trying to do with Prairie I/O is…we’re really trying to help grow, improve and educate the hardware and software community in the F/M area,” said Christy, founder of Codelation. “You’ve got so many tech people that are very smart, driven people – very high-level technical skills – but they may not know about each other or know about what we’re doing. So it’s a community driven platform.”
They’re hoping to connect the local techies by first creating a Prairie I/O membership platform, as well as organizing a weekly meet-up which they are calling Interface Fargo.
The meet-up is formatted similar to 1 Million Cups, in that a presenter speaks for 15-20 minutes and then opens up to Q&A. The demographic they are aiming for, however, is high-level tech engineers; the presenters will share coding challenges they came across, how they overcame that problem, what languages they used, and why they solved it the way they did.
Sometimes they may even present a problem they are currently facing, and use the meet-up as a resource to get feedback and input on solution ideas.
Christy and Sullivan were adamant that these presentations represent the entirety of Fargo’s tech community as well. Prairie I/O is committed to being language agnostic, and independent from any company.
“OnSharp does a different language, Myriad does a different language – we don’t care about that,” Christy said. “We just want to get the people in the same room together so that we can grow that infrastructure, and make Fargo a tech capital in the secondary market. Because if we have a stronger tech community here, a high-level tech community here, Myriad benefits, Intelligent InSites benefits, we benefit, everyone does. It grows the community, it’s an attraction tool – there’s so many pluses to it. So that’s what we want to do. We want to help other people create really cool things and we feel that community is the best way to do that.”
“I couldn’t have said it better,” said Sullivan.
At first glance, the two are an unlikely pair – Christy is actually Sullivan’s boss at Codelation with a wife and kids at home, while Sullivan is a sweatshirt clad NDSU student. But earlier this Fall when they realized they both had an idea for a tech meet-up, they combined their efforts and have proven to be a solid team. Sullivan has the more wild ideas, and Christy has the ability to spin those into a reality.
The idea for Prairie I/O, came to both of them for a similar reason. To break down the tech silos that currently exist in the community.
“Every single time I hang out with people who are in the same field as us, so other engineers, or students, they feel so disconnected from everything else,” Sullivan said, describing how he began plans for what he originally called “The Passion Project.”
The fact that tech people weren’t out there socializing with each other was no surprise to either of them. As Christy said, tech people as a whole aren’t really “social animals.” Christy and Sullivan are tech people themselves. They get that.
“I don’t know how many times you ask an engineer something and you get this big long explanation, and you’re like ‘I understood like, four words,” Christy said.
But at Prairie I/O, those lengthy answers are okay – in fact, encouraged.
“It’s almost like creating a safe environment to where you can be nerdy,” Christy said.
Even the birth of Prairie I/O is rooted in the tech mindset. When first mapping out his idea for what Prairie I/O was to be, Sullivan said he was a bit overwhelmed, having never been particularly skilled at organization. Instead he decided to view it as he would a programming problem, he said.
“I was like, ok this is what we need to accomplish- here are the functional requirements, here are the non-functional requirements,” he said. “And all these things that you’re taught as a software engineer in school – break it down into its smallest pieces, and how are you going to accomplish those pieces in a completely over-detailed way, and then tackle it.”
Christy explained that they have three stages mapped out for Prairie I/O. Right now they are in the growth stage: spreading the word, and building their user base. Their next stage is improvement, where they will continue to fill in the holes they see in the tech community, and ask their member base how they can continue to grow in a beneficial way. The third stage they call the Educational Stage, wherein they hope to educate people on the outside of the tech community.
As for their Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), they have this: Growing Fargo to be the tech headquarters of the Midwest with Prairie I/O as a thought leader, and having 20,000 people learn something new to grow their career through their meet-ups.
They have no idea if that number is obtainable or not, Christy said, but if they educate that many people than, “we’ve made an impact.”
But first, they’re starting with you. They reached their goal of 50 members before 2015, but now they’re looking to hit 100. And if they can get the nerds talking, they hope to see what they’ve seen happen in other meet-ups: collaboration, friendships formed, and inspiration turned to action.
“If we can start something that will help people, pay-it-forward will kick in,” Christy said. “Maybe somebody that was at a meet-up will start a company. If you can start that ripple – that’s what we’re looking for.”
“Making waves,” Sullivan said.
Sign up for Prairie I/O today, here.
*The I/O in Prairie I/O stems from the domain name .io, which Christy explained as a “friendly top-level domain for tech people.” (It’s IOSS for input/output.)
Photos courtesy of prairie.io and Marisa Jackels.