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Meetups in the Corridor are becoming more than a learning and social opportunity for socially active techies.
The meetups are increasingly being viewed by smaller tech companies as a fertile recruiting ground and are providing techies with more career mobility by opening doors and career vistas.
The Iowa Mobile Developers meetup group has been going strong since it started in April 2010, according to Karl Becker, president of KB Productions LLC in Marion. It has 100 members.
Participants get together about once a month to view presentations and demonstrations, and discuss mobile application development for platforms such as the Google Android and Apple iPad.
The group often meets in a conference room with a large oval table at the University of Iowa's BioVentures Center and views a mobile app demonstration on a projection screen.
Becker said he tried to format the meetup after the podcast, "This Week in Tech," with himself taking on the role of moderator.
"The whole thing is a roundtable," Becker said. "It's not just letting people talk at them but having a conversation."
The meetup usually lasts from 6:30 to about 8:30 p.m., after which some members tend to head for a nearby tavern to continue their discussions.
Becker had developed his first mobile apps as a hobby before leaving his previous position at Rockwell Collins to become an independent developer.
He was looking for kindred minds to discuss his new interest, and he's been surprised to see the meetup become a recruiting ground for local businesses seeking employees or independent contractors to work on mobile apps.
"Generally they're contacting me," Becker said. "I've been surprised. People are looking to hire app developers the last couple of months."
Syncbak, a Marion company, was on the lookout for talent this past Tuesday as it offered a presentation to the meetup. The company's technology uses proprietary hardware that enables both Syncbak and its broadcast partners to stream personalized TV via the Internet to authenticated viewers on connected devices.
Tech entrepreneur and developer Steven Mitchell of Componica LLC in Coralville became an active supporter of the group, helping it secure meeting space in the BioVentures Center. He's also identified potential talent for his company through the group.
"If something like this hadn't come into existence, I probably would have packed up and moved away out of boredom," Mitchell said.
The meetups sometimes take on the tone of "an AA meeting for people who work in big soul-crushing corporations," Mitchell noted.
It's inspired some developers who are less than thrilled with their situations to change jobs or strike out on their own, according to Mitchell and Becker.
Another growing tech meetup group in the Corridor is Iowa Web Designers & Developers. Web designer Breahna Galbreath of Revive Design Studios in Iowa City asked Becker because of his success with Iowa Mobile Developers to host the group early this year after its initial host bowed out after the first meeting.
She agreed to help Becker host the group, which now has close to 80 members, including one who travels from Cedar Falls.
Galbreath said the meetings are inspiring and motivating. Some members are just getting started in web development, but others are experienced web designers or developers. The latter often present their projects for discussion and sometimes present them before they are completed in order to obtain feedback and suggestions.
"I've met great friends, too," Galbreath said. "It's constantly growing and I'm constantly impressed by it. I didn't expect it go be that big when we started out."
The groups tend to have a geeky social dynamic, Mitchell said. The somewhat pedantic and detail-obsessed nature of software developers can show up in things such as a discussion among Iowa Mobile Developers participants about the proper recipe for onion soup and whether it's low-carb enough to be useful in the Atkins diet.
Still, Mitchell said, it fulfills a need for developers to talk about their interests that nobody else would share.
"Who else is going to want to talk to you about these things?" Mitchell mused. "Probably not your co-workers - definitely not your family."