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Making Programming Magic Together

Inside OKC’s collaborative tech community



Ryan Hoegg, Amanda Harlin, Jesse Harlin.

 

To begin, there is a blank screen. At the end, there is fully functional computer software code and huge databases that help companies and organizations deliver their services every day.

In between, there is “magic.” That’s how JavaScript code developer Amanda Harlin describes what she gets to do every workday.

“You get to be a magician – an actual magician – helping whoever needs it,” she says.

To a client who needs her code skills the most, it must seem that way. One month hardly anyone knows who that client is, the next, they are connecting with people everywhere to sell, influence or show the world who they are and what they are about.

Amanda’s husband, Jesse Harlin – also a JavaScript developer – finds surprises that can seem somewhat magical.

“The reason I got into this was because I was trying to make generative music,” Jesse says. Generative music is produced by computer systems and is evolutionary by its programming. “I liked the idea of making a piece of music that I knew I would like because of constraints, but it would surprise me.”

Those of us who are not skilled at programming might think of all programs as static and only changing when more code is applied or changed.

But coding software to generate unexpected results produces an outcome that may even surprise the author of the code, as Jesse pointed out. “I liked the idea of a video game that had generative content because I could play a level having been the person that made the game. I would be surprised at what it gave back to me, and it would be enjoyable.” Magic.

 

But Amanda knows that this kind of magic isn’t just an illusion. It’s real and makes a difference in people’s lives. “The most exciting thing is that you can make something that matters. There are problems that you can solve right now,” she says. “You can make an app to help first responders after a tornado. You can make maternity prenatal apps that help [mothers-to-be] talk to their doctor better. There are so many things that you can do to help communities through open-source software.”

Her comments show a growing sense of civic-mindedness among programmers that is prominent on the Oklahoma City tech scene.

When she’s not working for a paying client, she is busy with groups such as Nerdy Girls-OKC and Nerdy Girls-Tulsa that promote confidence among girls and young women who are interested in computers and the code that makes them run.

This strong civic sense is something that is not unique to Amanda.

 

Today, the local tech community has a core group of code specialists who have a clear sense of the civic value of their skills. The Code for OKC project is an example of a nationwide trend of code-writing and big-data skills being used for the public good.

How does a citizen look into the Oklahoma City budget and figure much of anything out unless they have experience evaluating city budgets? In reality, they don’t. And Code for OKC volunteers believe that the budget of their city represents all of the city’s citizens, so it should be understandable to them. That’s why the group is developing code to apply to the budget database of Oklahoma City that will eventually let citizens easily pick and choose what kind of online information they want to see, and in what form.

Outside of the Code for OKC group, one person is especially excited about the possibilities: Doug Dowler, budget director for Oklahoma City. Rather than being on the defensive, he is all for the volunteer group’s efforts.

“My perspective is that it means more transparency and openness in local government, and giving citizens easier access to our information,” he says. “With our budget book, we try to put a lot of things in there that meet best practices for all of the information and transparency. Well, it ends up being 700 pages long before you get all of that done.”

Since his department works to develop a budget with integrity, he wants it to be understandable.

Lucas Watson talks with a Techlahoma Meet Up group of coders at The 404.


“So I really appreciate what they’re doing to make the budget information more accessible,” he continues. “And they have more of those tools from the technology perspective that help make it easier to digest and understand.”

 

But where does all of this collaboration come from among coders and big-data gurus? The short answer: It’s a part of the culture of the profession to collaborate rather than compete.

Jesse and Amanda Harlin started a foundation called Techlahoma to give people who develop code an organizational mechanism to gather and learn from each other. Its biggest event, and main fundraiser, is the annual Thunder Plains conference in Oklahoma City. This year’s packed opening and closing sessions challenged the popular image of the lone coder.

The reality of the profession in general and Oklahoma City’s tech community in particular is all about humans communicating with one another to develop code that anyone can understand five years hence. User groups seek to learn from each other on their own time, to increase the understanding of the code that they write. There is no pay for this, but a big pay-off of growth.

 

James Gray, a code developer for the Ruby code language, has been writing, blogging, podcasting and speaking about computer code for a number of years. He agreed that there is a tendency toward isolation because the profession draws introverts. But he went on to point out that, “the further you get in programming – the better and better you get – programming has very little to do about computers and a lot about people. Programming is very much a communication-oriented, people-centric thing. Teaching computers to do something, that’s the easy part. Getting people to understand what’s going on, that’s the hard part.”

Allen Smith and Mark Smith are independent consultants who help companies manage massive quantities of data. Their days are filled with helping large, fast-paced corporations, such as Sonic, make growing data streams yield quality results faster. So what do they do for fun? This summer they joined a user group to test out new data programs with baseball statistics as they attended OKC Dodgers games.

Allen says, “It was fun! We had a great time learning new ways of looking at data and watching baseball all at the same time.”

This is what programmers do. What would be work for the rest of us is both play and work for those who are immersed in this life. And the results benefit us all.

 

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Calendar

October 2017

DogFest Walk n' Roll is a family-friendly, dog-friendly walk and festival benefiting Canine Companions for Independence, which is the oldest and largest dog assistance organization in the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Earlywine Park
3033 SW 119th Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73170
View map »


Sponsor: Canine Companions for Independence
Website »

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ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
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This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

OKCMOA’s Roof Terrace gives visitors the ultimate downtown experience every Thursday evening from April through October with live local music, the best views of downtown OKC, a relaxing...

Cost: $5

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Contact Name: Becky Weintz
Website »

More information

ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

Show More...
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The Light The Night Walk is a fundraising campaign benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and their funding of research to find blood cancer cures. This event celebrates and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Devon Boathouse
725 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
View map »


Sponsor: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Telephone: 405.415.7035
Contact Name: Suzanne Chew
Website »

More information

Tired of the same old Halloween parties?  Come Haunt the River and enjoy the decorated boat, haunted tunes, light snacks and cash bar. This is an adults-only cruise and boards at 7:45...

Cost: $35

Where:
Exchange Landing
1503 Exchange Avenue
SW, over the bridge from Farmer's Market
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Website »

More information

ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids, wear your costumes and ride the haunted boat. Organizers will have candy, activity books and costume contests. View the ferry schedule online for departure times. Pay regular ferry price...

Cost: Free - $15

Where:
All OK River Cruise Landings
Oklahoma City, OK  73109


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Website »

More information

Saturday cartoons aren’t just for the children anymore. Share the classics with your crew every Saturday on an Oklahoma River Cruise. Kids 6 and under ride free.

Cost: $15 (free for kids 6 and under)

Where:
Exchange Landing
1503 Exchange Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Website »

More information

ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

ROCK OF AGES is a high-energy rock musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s. This worldwide hit musical takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos...

Cost: $30-60 (military/child discounts available)

Where:
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1727 NW 16th St
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
View map »


Sponsor: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.524.9312
Contact Name: Cynthia Bedford
Website »

More information

Tired of the same old Halloween parties?  Come Haunt the River and enjoy the decorated boat, haunted tunes, light snacks and cash bar. This is an adults-only cruise and boards at 7:45...

Cost: $35

Where:
Exchange Landing
1503 Exchange Avenue
SW, over the bridge from Farmer's Market
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Website »

More information

A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

This portrait of early Oklahoma revolves around photography from the decades of shots archived by Land Run settler Henry Wantland.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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