The myth of the computer programming genius comes in two flavors: antisocial (and usually unkempt) loner, and obsessed teenage prodigy, who also happens to be a loner.
And OK, so those two myths are true to a degree, but Chris Boraski, co-founder of Princeton Tech Meetup and decidedly not antisocial computer programming genius, says that surviving the real world of computer technology advances is best accomplished through the low-tech art of meeting other people in person.
In March Boraski, along with Venu Moola, a fellow programmer and long-time friend, founded the Princeton Tech Meetup as a way to get the area’s computer tech population together without having to run all over the state. Boraski says he has spent the past few years attending tech meetups that took place everywhere but Princeton.
At one of these events he ran into Moola, with whom he worked about 10 years ago at ECI Conference Call Services based in Wayne. Both had recently moved to Montgomery and lamented that they had no meetups in their new neighborhood. So they started one.
Princeton Tech’s next meetup is on Wednesday, December 19, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Membership and attendance are free. Visit www.meetup.com/Princeton-Tech.
The group meets once a month at the library, though it might move to the Princeton University campus if it keeps growing, Boraski says. When he and Moola started the group they expected maybe 50 people at the first meeting, but instead got about 100. Membership to the group is now almost 950, though per meeting, Boraski says, the attendance is usually 100 to 125 and is tending lately toward the 150 range. The university has offered some space if the group outgrows the library, but so far it has not ventured onto the campus. But Boraski expects to use the university’s space next year.
Those 900-plus members are largely computer technology people, but Boraski says there are some biotech and pharmatech professionals who show up to make connections, do business, hear some interesting talks, and socialize afterwards at a Princeton watering hole.
Most meetings have a guest speaker, typically from the member ranks, talking about various aspects of the industry — social media, marketing, design, new tech. There also is time for attendees to pitch themselves or make short presentations in order to perhaps find a partner for a new idea.
Each meeting involves networking for the first half-hour, followed by speakers and ideas exchanges, and the “open mic.” After that, about half the attendees venture to get a few drinks and socialize in town.
Starting the Princeton Tech Meetup was part of a new phase of life for Boraski, which also involves running his own business. Boraski founded InfAspire, a home-based business where he designs mobile apps, in February after more than a dozen years in the computer tech industry.
Boraski, whose father was a veterinarian who worked for pharma and whose mother did social work and real estate, grew up in Warren Township and found an early love for computer programming when he took to a terminal in his second grade class.
He stuck with programming throughout school and originally went to study programming at Stevens Institute of Technology during the dot-com boom of the 1990s. But Boraski, largely self-taught, already knew most of what he was getting from classes. The dot-com surge got him interested in the media aspect of the Internet, so he shifted his major to media studies, in which he earned his bachelor’s in 1998 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2005 Boraski returned to Stevens for his master’s in information systems and information management.
In the meantime Boraski worked in the burgeoning Internet side of the computer industry. His biggest claim to fame, he says, is that he designed the original home page on General Electric’s website. He managed projects for a few years at companies such as Meta4 Digital Design/Fine.com and Scholastic before moving to ECI in 2000. There he worked as director of Internet and Intranet.
ECI was later purchased by InterCall, and Boraski stayed on as a senior information manager and web development manager until earlier this year, when he left to follow his own path. “I built web apps and web portals for about 10 years,” he says. “I just felt like I needed a change, it was getting a little repetitive.”
His work had been leaning more toward the mobile apps side of things anyway, and Boraski one day asked himself, “What do you really want to do?” Inspiration also struck in the form of his four-year-old daughter, who was playing with an app called Talking Tom, which parrots what kids say to it. “I noticed she was asking questions and wasn’t getting any answers back,” he says.
So inspiration struck for an app Boraski named Chatty Addie, a virtual friend for the 4 to 12-year-old set that can actually answer questions. “It’s kind of like Siri for kids,” he says, referring to Apple’s popular virtual voice that guides users through the intricacies of the iPhone. “A lot of kids 6 to 10 like to talk to Siri on their parents’ phones.”
And like putting together the Princeton Tech meetup, building an app is a process that explodes the myth of the obsessed, snack food-stained loner writing paradigm-altering lines of code in a dark room. Building Chatty Addie (due to hit the market in the next month or two) is actually quite a community affair, Boraski says.
“I’ve always done computers, so the programming didn’t scare me,” he says. But the other components for the app needed several experts. There was the speech recognition software, which to a degree involves artificial intelligence; the design of the character, which required an artist; the voice; the marketing, etc.
How does he view the idea of children talking to an app as opposed to other children? Well, he’s pretty sure people will still talk to each other, but remember — kids on their own like to talk with Siri. So something like Chatty Addie is, regardless of how high-tech, still following an age-old maxim: “You have to create what people want,” he says.