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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Mandy Pennington teaches SEO at the May 2018 NEPA Tech meet up

Mandy Pennington presents at NEPA Tech

This last month’s NEPA Tech meet up was very well attended, produced, and an all-around great time – as per usual.

I’ve seen Mandy do several presentations over the last few years and so I knew going into this we were in for an informative and fun session. SEO could be a boring, drab topic but Mandy made it fun and practical. And it appeared the other attendees agreed based on the number of questions she got after her main presentation was over.

For me personally this topic was timely as I’ve recently taken over the marketing strategy for Jujama. I have no doubt I will be constantly reviewing all of the information Mandy presented.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet attended a NEPA Tech meet up – I urge you to consider it. It isn’t all code (in fact, the vast majority of our meet ups have been code-less, though code shouldn’t scare you). And it isn’t all a bunch of nerdy dudes (though there are plenty of us). We want to continue to grow this community in practical and rich ways; bringing in music, the arts, culture and much more into near future meet ups. These events should be engaging and hopefully spark both inspiration and collaboration in our area. After 17 meet ups we’re on our way.

You should attend events, meetups, and conferences

I published the following article on LinkedIn in March. However, their publishing tool removed all of the photos from the post when I published it and I was so frustrated that I did not bother to go in and fix it. I’m republishing the post here with photos.


For over a decade now I’ve put in a lot of effort to present at and attend as many technology and business events as I can. I’ve attended events in Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Orlando, Jacksonville, New York City, Philadelphia, Greenville and a half-dozen other US cities. But you don’t have to hop on a plane to attend events. I also attend several regional events per year that gets me back at home before bedtime.

In 2014 I wrote a blog post titled You should go to meetups and in it I wrote about one of the advantages of attending meetups or conferences:

Because there is a lot of energy at meetups. The presenters are generally at the beginning of their product cycles and they have a lot of positive energy to make something happen. Those in the crowd all have their stories, their ideas, their goals. And, in addition to those building startups you’ll generally find lawyers, venture capitalists, programmers, marketers, etc. who are willing to offer their help for your project. It is a very, very good way to meet people that you’ll likely work with.

This past year has been no different. Each event I made the effort to attend has yielded some professional and personal fruit. If you haven’t yet gotten to many events in your area, or elsewhere, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. And not just once.

Here are a few highlights from the events I’ve attended or presented at in the last 18-months alone.

NEPA BlogCon 2016

I’m going to start a few months prior to 2017 because I attended a few amazing events near the end of the year in 2016. First up is NEPA BlogCon 2016.

At NEPA BlogCon, an event specifically catering to those just getting started in blogging, social media, and marketing, it was evident the amount of care that went into organizing the event. Each year NEPA BlogCon has been refined to be more engaging, valuable, and fun. One thing this event always reminds me of, now matter how mature an industry or technology appears to be there are always new faces seeking to learn.

TecBridge Entrepreneurial Institute 2016

Marywood University is the host to an excellent annual entrepreneurship event that always proves valuable for its attendees. The 2016 event was very well attended and had an excellent panel discussion, workshops, presentations, and more.

At the time I wrote this about the event on my blog:

Rather than a panel simply answering questions broadly, the workshops helped the attendees to work through a problem and see the processes work step-by-step.

I think what I appreciate about this event each year is the focus on practical takeaways for attendees. If you are there to learn you will.

Cropped! A rebranding competition

Cropped! is a fun event held by AAF NEPA that pits a few creative talents against each other to rebrand a local nonprofit organization that could use the help.

Branding is my day job and so watching as these teams tried to solve the problems of organization’s current brand was fun.

Branding is about exposing an entity’s core purpose, principles, and offerings to the world. Rebranding is about fixing any problems the current brand has encountered.

I wrote the following on my blog after the event:

Branding is an exercise in getting a company’s culture, message, and purpose demonstrated and communicated through every single thing the company does. I know it has been said a million times but it worth reiterating that branding is not a logo. Branding permeates a company’s activities from the way they answer the phone to how easy it is to unsubscribe to their monthly email newsletters. I was happy to see that everyone at Cropped! knew exactly what branding was.

PhillyBurbs WordPress Meetup

You will not find a more inclusive meetup within 100 miles of my front door as the PhillyBurbs meetup. This one is always well worth the drive and some of their organizers have returned the favor to attend meetups in northeastern Pennsylvania.

One takeaway I had last year at this event was the impact a more inclusive culture will have on our industry. As more and more groups of people are represented in our industry the better it gets. For far too long the industry’s perspective has been dominated by white males. This is changing. For some it isn’t changing fast enough but I’m simply happy that it is.

Ask The Web Marketing Experts panel

Speaking of white males… 🙄

I, along with several other web marketers in our area, were invited to participate in a panel discussion and recording session at NEPA Alliance organized by the Scranton Small Business Development Center.

The questions from the SBDC and local businesses were great and I know all of the “experts” learned a lot from each other as well.

NEPA.js and NEPA Tech Events

I attended, and presented at, at least 7 monthly NEPA.js (which has now been rolled into NEPA Tech) events throughout 2017. In late 2016 Mark Keith decided to bring together a group of JavaScript enthusiasts each month to discuss JavaScript-things which bled into discussions on all sorts of technology, business, marketing and even cryptocurrency. The amount of value this one event has generated for our area is already incalculable.

I blogged about ever single event I went to so you can read all of my notes on my event tag on my blog at cdevroe.com.

Inventor’s Guild at TekRidge

I’ll often pop into some events with no real reason for me to be there other than to soak up whatever information I can. The Inventor’s Guild is just such an event. This event caters to people that want to invent things (or already have) and, hopefully, profit.

One thing I was reminded of at this event was how little the inventor typically profits off of their inventions when compared to the companies that license them and how important it is to understand patent and IP law if you’re an inventor of a physical product.

Wilkes-Barre Programmers meet up

I’m not a Python developer (which this Wilkes-Barre programmer event was geared to) but I was interested to see how this group was run. I found it very informative and challenging. One thing I realized by attending this event was how these events have a small gravitational pull. If you remove any mass from them by not attending they may just drift off into the ether. Never to coalesce again. It is important to support a small group with your presence even if it doesn’t align with your skillset or desired path. By helping to keep these groups together when they are small they can continue to grow and mature and eventually split off into the groups you want to see in your area.

In other words, don’t skip events just because their small. Small events beget larger ones.

SAIL by Second Wind

In March 2017 I flew to Orlando partly to get away from the winter and partly to learn as much as I could about running a digital advertising agency at Second Wind’s idea lab.

I learned a lot. There was hundreds of years of experience in the room and all were willing to share with one another. In fact, nearly a year later, this event still comes up in conversations with many agencies on a weekly basis.

I felt privileged to learn how other businesses throughout the country are solving problems of recruiting, employee compensation, retainer agreements, agency IP, and much more.

tecBRIDGE Entrepreneurial Institute 2017

I held a workshop at this years TEI event and it was a blast. The workshop format allowed me to bring practical value to those that attended it. The Q&A session was very good and I received emails from attendees for weeks afterward.

The entire event was very good and many business owners and students in our area, well over 200 of them, got a taste for what it means to be an entrepreneur and the inevitable challenges they face.

Other events

I attended a few other regional events including one for Unmanned Ariel Systems used in Surveying work at Penn State University, other WordPress meetups that I spoke at, a presentation about my as-yet-unreleased step counting mobile application Summit to the Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup, and also Ben Franklin’s VentureIdol and many others.

There has been no shortage of long-lasting benefit from each event I’ve attended over the years. I cannot overstate this enough, especially if you’re a remote worker or are operating from the hinterland — get out of your home office and shake some hands.

Are you an event organizer? Consider using Jujama to power your next event.

SPARK Talks at the NEPA Tech meet up in December 2017

SPARK Talks are, by definition, Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable talks that are loosely timed, on a specific topic (more or less), and allow many presentations to be given at an event. I had never heard of them prior to this month’s NEPA Tech meet up organized by John George.

SPARK Talks remind me of Lightning Talks or Ignite. I have been to a few Ignite events – some where very early like this one 10 years ago. The thing I appreciate most about this style of presentation is that many in attendance can be part of the program. In fact, at this particular meet up nearly every single attendee was able to take a few minutes and describe themselves, something they’re currently working on, or a topic of their choice.

Photo: Ted giving his presentation on Rust.

In all there were 15 presenters. I quickly jotted them down as they happened. I didn’t get full names or all of their web sites, but at least I captured something. Here are the presenters and their topics:

  1. John – spoke about becoming an independent developer
  2. Jared – discussed his ambitions of working in real estate
  3. George – described use IoT in industrial industries
  4. Ryan – talked of learning more about computers, the web, to better do his job
  5. Kevin – discussed some of the WhatNow! journey
  6. Beth – spoke of her passion for the environment
  7. Colin (me) – spoke about not getting hung up on decision making, just start
  8. Jason – discussed some of the projects Sho Technology Solutions is working on
  9. Ted – talked about the advantages of Rust
  10. Anthonyeducated us on the xAPI
  11. Chris – discussed some of the challenges and next-steps for NEPA Fiber
  12. Danny – showed us a video demo of Kraken Board Sports latest product
  13. Mark – rallied the attendees to contribute to NEPA Tech
  14. Den – discussed his self-taught history of becoming a front-end developer
  15. Gary – discussed eating odd things for his YouTube channel

As you can see the topics were all over the map which helped to keep the evening interesting and the shortness of the presentations moved the event along nicely. I believe NEPA Tech will do events like this again in the future. If so, be sure to contribute. Most of these were fairly unscripted talks so don’t be hesitant.

Thanks to John George for organizing this month’s event. Onto 2018.

Be a social developer

Dwayne Hinterlang on CodePen:

What if I told you there are even ways to connect with like minded people in person? Whether it’s quickly learning something for the first time, discussions of discoveries, pulling all nighters to breath life into an idea or even devoting yourself to achieving mastery! We can do them together.

Online resources, like Hinterlang spells out, are amazing and one can learn a lot from them. However, there is still no substitute for face-to-face meet ups, workshops, etc. You’ve read about this time and time again here on my blog. I think developers should go to meet ups.

Speaking of which. If you’re in my area, and you care about the intersection of technology, business, the arts, you may want to join NEPA Tech. I hear big things are in store for that group in the coming months.

Presenting at the August 2017 Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup

The Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup is an excellent community in the Lehigh Valley that meets monthly at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners incubator within the Lehigh University Mountaintop campus. The community around the meetup is excellent and the building is amazing*.

While the tail-end of my presentation walked through my experience building my first iOS app Summit, the majority of my presentation was focused on helping early stage companies think about their go to market strategies.

I’m currently advising several companies, a few of which are businesses built around mobile apps, and have heard about 11 other start-up pitches this year so far. And during that time I’ve noticed a trend. Entrepreneurs that are attempting to build a business around an app sometimes underestimate the amount of thought that should go into the marketing and sales strategy for the app. It is as if some feel that apps are less thought and work than products that you can touch. So during my presentation at LVTech I hoped to convey that the same “boring” (yet, tried and true) business practices that apply to products also apply to software.

A few questions I urged those thinking about building a business around an app were:

  • Does your idea service a large enough segment of the market? We hear the “scratch your own itch” mantra a lot. However, it won’t always lead to finding hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of customers.
  • How will you reach those customers?
  • Are there ways to expand your idea into other products or services that can be sold to the same segment?
  • How will you sell or package your idea?
  • What will the price be? (free, one-time payment, subscription, service contracts)
  • What channels can you leverage to sell your idea? (App Store, retail, online, conferences, distributorships, via a sales force)

By considering these, and may other questions, you can determine if your idea has enough layers to support an entire business or if you just have an app idea**.

I also briefly discussed three misconceptions I’ve been seeing over the last year dealing with very early stage start-ups. These misconceptions were:

  • Press-based launch strategies: some thing that by being covered by press will be enough to get them to profitability. They have no other strategy. On the contrary, getting press coverage early on will give you very muddy analytics which will make decision marking very difficult. Very seldom are the tech audience your real customers.
  • How long until profitablilty: More and more entrepreneurs begin with the plan of losing money for 3 or more years. I believe this stems from press coverage of other companies getting large rounds of funding. Most businesses should strive for profitability within the first quarter or year of business.
  • ”I’m not technical, I need a technical co-founder”: Don’t be this person. Anyone can learn to code. Geeks are not smarter than you. They’re just interested and relentless. Be the same.

We then did about 10 minutes or so of questions and answers. The questions I got were really great and I appreciate all those in attendance helping me with the answers to the questions I didn’t have much experience in.

Thanks to Tim Lytle for the invitation to speak and to Ben Franklin Technology Partners for the continued support.

* I worked in this same building for years while at Viddler. But when I worked there the back half of the building didn’t exist. In fact, Viddler started in Jordan Hall – the building just beside the new building. And now, they are extending it even further. The building is an amazing place to work and have a meetup of this kind. I’m jealous that our incubator in Scranton feels so dated when compared to this building. Especially comparing the meeting spaces.

** It it totally fine to “just have an app idea”. I do. And I’m loving working on it. But it is also good to have the proper perspective about your app idea.

Summit – The Adventurous Step Counter

This evening, at a presentation at the Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup, I’m opening up public beta access to my new iOS app, Summit – The Adventurous Step Counter.

I’ve stitched together a temporary web site for the app as well as a mailing list that will allow you to get access to the final few beta builds prior to public release. If you have an iPhone please consider signing up and giving it a spin. I’d be very grateful for your feedback.

Thanks to the 13 private beta testers who have already tested the app and provided feedback. You can expect a brand-new build of the app coming in September.

What is Summit?

Summit is a free, iOS-only app that uses your step count to virtually hike up tall peaks like Mount Everest in Nepal, learn about amazing landmarks like Diamond Head in Oahu, and even take a leisurely stroll down famous streets like Lombard Street in San Francisco. As you make progress on your journey you’re provided new information at each goal.

At the time of public release there will be 5 summits and new summits will be added each month thereafter.

Here are some screenshots of the app as it is currently:

When I started on Summit I did not know how to develop an iOS app. It has been really fun to learn Swift, Xcode, iTunes Connect and Test Flight, and the myriad other things I was able to learn in order to get this app as far as I have.

I still have a bit of work to do, but I’d love your feedback along the way as I finish the app up for release.

Presenting at the July NEPA.js Meetup

Earlier this week my Condron Media cohort Tucker Hottes and I presented at the July NEPA.js Meetup. Our presentation was about automation and all of the things we can automate in our lives personally and professionally. And also how we employ automation in our workflows for creating applications and web sites using our own task management suite.

Here are just a few examples of reproducible tasks that you can automate that perhaps you haven’t thought about:

  • Your home’s temperature
  • Applying filters to multiple photos at once
  • Social media posts
  • Combining many files together into one
  • Deleting unused files
  • Calendar events

There are countless others. Perhaps you’re doing some of these things now. You might set a reminder for yourself to clean the bathroom every Tuesday. Or, your using a Nest to control your home’s temperature based on your preferences.

But there may be others that you’re not doing. Posting regularly to social media can seem daunting to some. But automating those posts can make it much easier to set aside time to schedule the posts and then go about your day. Or editing photos or video may never happen because you don’t have time to go through them all and edit each one individually. But these are tasks that can be automated.

We showed a quick demonstration of automating the combining of multiple text files using Grunt. There are a lot of ways something like this can be useful. Combining multiple comma-separated value (CSV) files that are reports from many retail locations, web development, and others.

Then Tucker provided a list of all the tasks we do when we get a new client at Condron Media. The full list can take a person up to 1.5 hours to “start” working on that customer’s project. So we’ve begun working whittling away at that list of tasks by using another task manager called Gulp. We call this suite of automation tasks Bebop – after one of the thugs from Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Bebop is separated into the smallest tasks possible so that we can combine those tasks into procedures. Creating new folders, adding Slack channels, sending Slack messages, spinning up an instance of WordPress, adding virtual hosts to local development environments, etc. etc. Bebop can then combine these tasks in any order and do them much quicker than a human can clicking with a mouse. We estimate it will take 1 minute to do what took 1.5 hours once Bebop is complete.

Another benefit of automating these types of tasks is that you can nearly eliminate human error. What if someone types in the wrong client name or forgets a step in the process? Bebop doesn’t get things wrong. Which saves us a lot of headaches.

Here is the example Gulp task that we created to demo Bebop to the NEPA.js group.

We then asked the group to take 5 minutes and write down what they would like to automate in their lives. The answers ranged from making dog food to laundry to simple development and environmental tasks. Every one in attendance shared at least one thing they’d like to automate.

Tucker and I had a blast presenting but we enjoyed this final session the most. Similar to my event suggestions to Karla Porter earlier this year, I find that the more a group interacts with one another the more I personally get out of a meetup or conference. Presentations can be eye opening but personal connections and calm discussions yield much fruit for thought.

Thanks to everyone that showed up. I think we had 14 or 15 people. The NEPA.js community is active, engaged, and I’m very happy that it is happening in Scranton.

Attending the Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup

Osterhout Free Public Library

On Saturday I braved the frigid temperatures and attended a Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup at the Osterhout Free Library in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

I arrived a few minutes late – it was Saturday so of course I had to make myself some breakfast, enjoy my coffee, watch a little YouTube prior to getting out in the elements – and then I couldn’t find the room the meetup was in at the library. Once I found the group there was already 6 attendees and they were over an hour into their programming.

One of the attendees proposed a problem to be solved; convert a number into a Roman numeral using Python. I have little-to-no Python experience, and unfortunately not much was discussed at this meetup regarding the language (since it wasn’t for beginners) but I decided to try my hand at solving this problem in JavaScript. Here is my attempt (though incomplete). It can do the thousands and hundreds. I’d need a little more time to do the tens and singles but I ran out of time at the group.

I was happy to see this small group meeting in Wilkes-Barre. Some of the attendees mentioned they’d be visiting the #nepaJS meetup happening on Tuesday, which would be great. We need a lot more of these smaller groups and we need them all to be connected to the larger NEPA Tech group. In larger metropolitan areas these smaller groups would be hundreds strong and so consolidation wouldn’t be needed. We don’t have that here. So we need as much effort to be consolidated as possible. These small groups are where skills are honed, where partnerships and companies can be formed, where careers are forged. If you are someone that works in technology please consider joining one of these smaller groups. Even if you aren’t into programming. As they grow I’m sure they will end up fragmenting into more specific groups for the areas you’re interested in. The more support the better.

Attending the NEPA.js meetup

NEPA.js

On Tuesday I attended the first monthly NEPA.js meetup at the Scranton Enterprise Center. Mark Keith, a JavaScript developer who somewhat recently moved into the area, was the organizer and TecBridge – who organizes the NEPA Tech meetup group – helped to coordinate, host, organize and provide pizza for this brand-new group.

The common refrain in our area is that those of us who build software products, enjoy a good bit of nerdery, or want to reach out and socialize with people who know what a npm package is… are somehow alone. That simply isn’t true and the first NEPA.js meetup proved that. Twenty-five or so people made it out to this first meetup even with the snow. There were young and not-so-young, men, women, and even those that didn’t know what JavaScript was but knew it was important for them to understand it.

After some introductions Mark did a great job of giving an overview of what JavaScript the language was and how it can be used. He kept it high-level and, though I’m sure some didn’t understand everything he said, surely they left knowing more about what JavaScript is then when they walked in. We also had those in the room that have been developing with JavaScript for years and years – and even one Mozilla team member.

The group meets again next month and will continue to do so the second Tuesday of each month. The group also has a Slack channel so if it you want in just ping me on Twitter.

Attending the Philly Burbs WordPress meetup

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Do you know the visible signs of a strong community? If you’ve ever attended a Philly Burbs WordPress meetup then you definitely do.

Last night my new coworker Tucker Hottes and I drove the 2.5 hours to Pheonixville, PA for this month’s WordPress meetup in the Philly Burbs meetup group. What we saw during the evening was the clear, visible signs of a healthy, vibrant, and active community.

Those signs were:

  • Conversation – People were talking to one another from the jump. They greeted one another when a new person arrived. And even if they had already found their own seat, they got up and moved to have a conversation with someone else.
  • Inclusivity – No one. No one feels like an outsider at one of these meetups. Race, gender, or distance from the area (like us) doesn’t matter. Everyone feels very welcome.
  • Questions – Lots of questions and answers. And people really trying to help one another.
  • Lingering – After the event was over people stuck around, got more food, chatted more. In fact, if it wasn’t for the long ride home I would have stayed longer.

I’ve attended this meetup before as a presenter in West Chester. And I felt welcome then too and I could feel the strength of the community then as well. This is a well run group and I highly recommend attending one of their meetups if you can.

Oh, if you’re wondering why I’m willing to drive 2.5 hours just for a WordPress meetup. Read this.