Geeks on a Train

Last Thursday, 25 programmers, developers, and entrepreneurs representing Baltimore, Maryland’s flourishing tech community boarded Amtrak trains in an effort to create unity among their fellow geeks in the northeast megalopolis.  The event, called “Geeks on a Train”, sat at the intersection of transportation and regional economic development, was dubbed a ”rolling tweetup.”, and fell on the anniversary of the first telegraph transmission (sent between D.C. and Baltimore, it also followed the route of the railroads). It was hosted by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, an organization that encourages technological innovation and tech startup activity in Charm City with events and other resources.

The train numbers were advertised, and geeks were encouraged to board in their own city, wherever Amtrak’s Northeast Regional stops between D.C. and Boston.  A tour of The Hatchery, a New York  business incubator on 7th Avenue was planned as a lunch break.  From NYC, a second geektrain would carry the tweetup to Boston, where the group would crash an established weekly happy hour at the Cambridge Innovation Center’s Venture Café.

The original geektrain had an engine failure between D.C. in Baltimore.  D.C. geeks tweeted their frustrations from the stationary train while the Baltimore geeks made arrangements to change their tickets, noting the irony in Amtrak’s initial message that the original train was delayed due to computer issues.  The Baltimore geeks were switched to a Vermonter and continued to NYC without further delay, occupying the dining car.  Verizon Wireless donated several mobile hotspots for use during the event, as no self-respecting geek could be productive on Amtrak’s spotty wifi.

The Hatchery’s founder, Yao Huang, gave a guided tour of their new offices, complete with coworking spaces, conference rooms ranging from living-room to board-room style, and a “programmer’s den”, where developers can don headphones, tune out the world, and maximize efficiency.  Huang emphasized that good attitudes not only go a long way in their incubator, they are required.

Amtrak sorted out the engine troubles, allowing the D.C. geeks to arrive in New York just in time to link-up with the rest of the group and board the next train to Boston.   After arrival at South Station and a short ride on the T, the group was greeted by the Cambridge Innovation Center with ribs, an open bar and a great mix of entrepreneurs, developers, venture capitalists, and business coaches.  The Venture Café is a sort of high-tech happy hour, complete with its own web app that cycles through attendee bios on a big screen TV.  One of CIC’s recent startups, a web service that unites athletes and coaches, was in the spotlight, and had a chance to publicize their product and sing the praises of the incubator.

Geeks on a train accomplished its mission, showing Baltimore’s geeks what a wealth of resources for tech startups exist in their neighbor cities, and showing the rest of the corridor that there is a talented and vibrant tech scene just a few stops away in Baltimore.

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- Written by Chris Whong

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