50

My child just turned 14 years old, and one of his hobbies is programming. He knows JavaScript, HTML, CSS, jQuery, Ruby, Python, some Java, and a bit of C++, Bash, and PHP. He also uses Git, Vim, and LaTeX. Now, I am not able to either talk to him about or work with him on these, because I'm not a programmer myself.

Considering this, how can I help him interact with other programmers at a similar skill level? Only a few of his friends from school or other activities also know how to program, none very well. We are not aware of any teachers or adults in his school or other outside activities who are programmers.

He has already made plenty of acquaintances on Stack Overflow and other programming-related SE sites (and chat), but he wants more of a way to actually meet people in person that he can relate to, socialize with, etc. in order to learn and grow.


note: I am actually the child, not the parent, in this scenario, but questions from a child's point of view seem to be on-topic as per meta. Nevertheless, I have posed this question as if I were the parent. This is also related to this recent question, but not asking the same thing.

  • 4
    I never would have expected to see a 14-year-old in the Cult of Vim. As a fellow cultist myself, can I just say, welcome! (In a more serious vein, this is an excellent and well-posed question.) (Also, really? Vim? Out of curiosity, what made you decide to learn how to use it? I love Vim, but I'm honestly not sure I'd recommend it except in some pretty limited circumstances....) – Kyle Strand Jan 2 '15 at 3:30
  • 1
    @KyleStrand Heh, I have still yet to learn the remaining 98% of Vim. ;) Thanks! I actually started learning Vim just because I was bored during summer break, and was immediately captivated by how efficient I could become. Today I'd never look back, and I still try to use Vim shortcuts in places other that Vim<esc>bbernA! :P – Doorknob Jan 2 '15 at 3:56
  • 14
    Consider becoming a moderator for an online programming puzzles site. Oh, wait... ;-) – Digital Trauma Jan 2 '15 at 17:59
  • 3
    Are there any after school clubs? Computer science or programming? Maybe see about starting one. It would be a pretty incredible experience for someone else if you were to mentor them. And VERY well thought out and phrased question. "Spoken" better than most adults I know.. who are also programmers. – Brian Robbins Jan 2 '15 at 22:15
  • 11
    OMG, 14 and he doesn't know Haskell yet?? – Claudix Jan 3 '15 at 11:20

14 Answers 14

22

I meet people at local meetups. Where I live there are about three Python meetups a month. My experiences have been great: excellent programmers who just like to talk shop. While you will likely meet others at your skill level, you won't meet people at your age level. It will mostly be older people (e.g. college age or higher), but if the goal is to talk shop in person, that's your best bet. Obligatory caveat: exercise caution and go with a parent, at least at first.

If there isn't a local meetup, you could start one on general programming or something.

Another option, if the goal is to talk shop, not meet similar-aged peers, is to find and take a local college course.

  • 2
    +1 for this. In Germany it's worth contacting the Chaos Computer Club or the Gesellschaft für Informatik (German Informatics Society). They have meetups in all the larger cities or know an organisation who has. I'm sure other countries have similar organisations. Also, look for hacker spaces. And some universities also offer computer science 1 to high school students. – Sumyrda Jan 1 '15 at 23:00
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    Agreed. I was going to suggest meetup.com, which frequently has programming meetups for people of all ages. – barrycarter Jan 1 '15 at 23:34
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    +1 for "start one." Even if it fizzles, it'll be a great experience in other ways. – Kyle Strand Jan 2 '15 at 3:31
  • +1 for this. Also look at finding a job either online or locally that lets you practice all these skills for pay. – Paul Jun 4 '17 at 14:26
15

I'm 15, and I had this same problem about a year ago.

There's an awesome community called HS Hackers on Facebook. To call it lifechanging would be a gross understatement.

Hackathons are the best way to meet other talented (and often young) programmers. Hackathons are basically coding marathons. The best event to go to would be a CodeDay. It's a 24 hour coding marathon hosted at 27 cities across the US, with a focus on young, learning, and new programmers. Having been to three, met the founders of StudentRND, and ran my own CodeDay, I would have to say that it is one of the absolute best experiences for talented young developers.

Hit me up! Shoot me an email, and I can introduce your child to these communities! These communities, CodeDay, and other hackathons have definitely been a lifechanging experience.

  • 2
    I've met a lot of talented coders from all ages and backgrounds through hackathons. A lot of people are using them as a tool for educating people on how to code. – Muz Jan 4 '15 at 0:30
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    This, one thousand time this. Going to CodeDay and joining HS Hackers are probably the two highest impact things they could be doing right now. Either will expose them to the spectrum of talent at their age. At the last CodeDay LA we had participants build everything from their first program to writing a bootable OS in pure x86. – Zach Latta Jan 6 '15 at 2:26
9

I do not want to say that you are out-of-luck, but you are pretty much out-of-luck. The issue is that most people around your age do not know those languages. In fact, most people around your age likely do not even know what most of them are. If you asked most 14-year olds what Vim or LaTeX is, many of them would have no clue at all. Some might know what Java, HTML, and JavaScript are, but many of those would not know how to use them.

If you truly are knowledgeable in all of the languages you listed, then it will be difficult to find anybody your age who is at a comparable skill level. If you will entertain it, let me tell you about myself.

I have had an interest in computers since I was a young child. I did not really start to learn how to program until I was around 12 or so. However, once I started to learn programming, I was enthralled and captivated. I would print off multiple pages from C++ websites to read during my classes. I did countless tutorials on my laptop at home. And I was constantly searching for explanations of programming topics.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took a one semester programming course. I loved it and did well in it. The next semester I was offered the chance to join an advanced programming course which consisted of only 3 seniors. I accepted this offer and there I was in an exclusive programming class with 3 other students who were much older and wiser than me. I struggled through that course and talked to my counselor about dropping it, but I stuck with it and learned a lot.

After my sophomore year of high school, I moved to the DC area and attended what is considered one of the best technology/STEM public high schools in Northern Virginia. I enrolled in their highest level programming course with hopes of meeting kids as interested as I was with skills that surpassed mine. Within the 3 months of the summer break leading up to school, I picked up a couple more programming languages and learned how to use them fairly effectively. When school came around, I walked into the classroom with excitement, but before long I realized a tough fact.

I realized that even at one of the best STEM high schools in Northern Virginia, I could not find anyone who matched either my interest level or knowledge. It is a rough fact, but there are not too many people who are both knowledgeable and interested in programming/development until you get to college.

In agreeance with Kondax Design's answer, you can find adults who are interested if they're willing to discuss it with you. The first friend I made who is above my skill level and just as interested as me is actually my boss and the CEO of the company I now work for. I met him shortly before I started college and I can truly say, both he and my colleagues are the first friends I have made who share my interest level and are knowledgeable in development and programming.

So, and again I must apologize, there are not too many people you will encounter at your age who will match your abilities and interests. To discuss programming and development with people, I would recommend forums/discussion boards and talking to adults in the field.

With all of this said, as you are a minor and I am providing you advice, I feel the need to remind you to use caution when finding people online and in your life who share your interest. The world and the internet are dangerous places filled with many less than savory people. I am sure you've heard it a million times, but just use caution. I must add that disclaimer for the sake of my conscience.

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  • Thanks for adding that link, @Unihedro. I read that last night when you posted it on another question. It's a great read and I thought about including that link in my answer. OP, I would definitely recommend reading through that. It's written by a teacher within a school and he specifically mentions that most high schoolers (among other groups) cannot "use computers." Give it a read when you get some time! – Spencer D Jan 1 '15 at 18:16
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    I'm 15, have joined some great communities, and met some awesome people in person and online. People older and younger, more and less experienced than me. We're drawn together by interest. Really the best experiences of my life. – Anubian Noob Jan 6 '15 at 5:15
8

Go to a hackerspace. They are everywhere in the world, and they are places where 'hackers' meet, in the sense of good-willing computer experts. It's mostly adults, but if you are lucky there are also some teens.

There are plenty of projects to work on, such as programming software, 3D printers, soldering, etc. And other people can participate in your project, of course.

Take a look at the list List of Hacker Spaces.

6

Contact your local library. It is part of a library's mission to promote education, to facilitate knowledge creation, and to foster a sense of community. They run interest groups of all kinds, and if your local library is large enough, they will likely even have a tech guru of some kind on staff. If you can get a group started in the library, you have the advantage of it being a reasonably safe place to meet with strangers.

  • I met several like minded young coders in my grade school's library while perusing the coding mags. Try asking the school librarian if they could introduce you to folks who code or if there's a club. – Chris Nava Jan 4 '15 at 4:49
4

Two caveats:

  • I'm not a parent. I know nothing about raising kids. (But I do know about geeks.)
  • I'm not sure if the question was aimed at meeting people your age, or any age. I'm assuming you are open to meeting and interacting with older teens and adults.

Elevator Pitch

Having truly productive programming skills at your age is unusual. More common is to have an interest and a bit of experience, but with more bravado than mastery. As others mentioned, older teens and adults may not take you seriously.

So, learn and practice how to be assertive in meeting people and introducing yourself. Learn how to shake hands (not too firm, not too soft, one or two good shakes, different grips of women vs men), how to look people in the eye, smile. Ask your parents, uncles/aunts, and such to practice this for the next five times they see you.

Just like a business person or entrepreneur practices their elevator pitch, so should you develop and practice a succinct statement about your specific interests, your skill level, your experience, work accomplished, achievements/successes, and interesting failures.

When done right this is not bragging. It is communicating is such a way as to let others know who you are, and what you are about. This will get you past their natural prejudice about your age. When done briefly and efficiently, you are showing respect for their time and attention – that alone puts you in a more mature "age bracket" in their mind.

Practice the elevator, I mean literally practice. Ask your parents or relatives to practice at least a dozen times in a row. You will feel awkward and embarrassed the first couple times. But believe me, by the eleventh or fourteenth time, you'll be so sick of it that all the embarrassment will have melted away.

Most people I’ve known are receptive and supportive of youth interested in programming and other geek activities. If you put yourself out there, I'm sure you'll meet many interesting and helpful folks.

Dressing well helps. Better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, meaning better to have a collared shirt or a tie when a hoodie might be appropriate than the opposite. If you have more taste than money, learn to go spelunking at thrift stores, ask Grandpa for some interesting hand-me-downs. Tip: Bow ties are cool.

Bathing/teeth-brushing/hygiene, and practicing good manners helps as well. Ask your parents/uncles/aunts for advice on grooming, shaving, natural deodorants, and so on. This may seem a bit embarrassing at first, but I'm sure they'd be glad to help after you’ve asked.

User Groups

As the correct answer by neuronet suggests, user group meetings is the first thought that came to my mind.

MeetUp.com is one good place to start. Google for "tech calendar" in your area.

Check with vendors. For example:

Trade Shows / Gatherings

Look for local trade shows in the software/hardware business. Many of these are free of cost or inexpensive. These can often be fun to attend, and you can meet lots of people.

For example, LinuxFest gatherings occur around the country, such as this one in the Pacific Northwest (Bellingham), April 2015, where you will see me at the Postgres booth.

Look for tech company and startup newsletters and web sites in your area. They will have announcements about such events.

Conferences

Some professional programming conferences not only allow underage people to attend, they encourage. For example, Apple provides student "scholarships" to their annual World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco, including 13-17 year old youth.

Conferences can often be expensive to attend, but look for associated trade shows (as mentioned above). They are often free or inexpensive.

Maker Fairs

The "maker" movement is growing rapidly in many areas. Groups have formed to share equipment, tools, 3D printers, lasers, etc. While these groups are often aimed at hardware, both electronic and non-electronic, attending maker fairs, events, and shops will lead to meeting all kinds of interesting geeks.

Home Schooling

Contrary to the name, home-schooling is not really about a kid locked up at home solo with only their parent teaching them. More common is groups of parents and students meeting for classes, events, lectures, field trips, and such.

Look for such home-schooling groups, and ask about any programming classes or events you might be able to attend. If none, suggest starting such classes or group.

Work

If you truly are mature for your age, consider getting a job. You’ll not likely be given much responsibility. But you will have much more exposure to a bunch of technologies as well as people.

First step towards this is to research the labor laws in your area. You should know what the do's and don'ts of what it takes to hire you, what hours you can work, can you work for free, and such. When you get the opportunity to speak with someone about possibly hiring you, sharing this knowledge will (a) impress them about your maturity and seriousness, and (b) make it easier to actually consider you.

Caveat: Working on a real project is an entirely different experience than just playing around with personal projects or programming experiments. Schedules, deadlines, communicating, working in a team, and more will seem to suck all the fun right out. If you persevere, you’ll learn about a whole new kind of "fun", the pride of a job well done, real accomplishment. Ask your parents/uncles/aunts and other adults for advice about this and about how to prepare, what the expectations might be.

Be Bold

When attending these events, be assertive in meeting folks. When you sit down, introduce yourself to your neighboring seats. Ask them about themselves, what drew them to this event, what kind of job they have, what kind of projects they work on, and so on.

Often you'll be at an event with round tables for lunch or breaks. Be bold in walking up to a table of people and ask to join them.

Again, your parents and uncles/aunts can help you practice this. I know from experience as an introvert, meeting people is a skill that can be learned. You don’t have to be a gifted articulate conversationalist. All you need is a bit of boldness and some genuine curiosity about other people.

Ask, And Ask Again

My biggest advice is to ask for advice (and help).

At your age I had similar motivations but was too bashful and lacking in confidence/self-worth to ask for help from adults. I think you’ll find parents, uncles/aunts, their friends, and their colleagues to be surprisingly enthusiastic about helping advance your technical skills and contacts. And remember that even if they don't know about your topic, they likely know others who do. But you have to ask.

Ask again and again. For one thing, repeated requests show this is not passing fancy on your part. For another, you need to know adults juggle many responsibilities; do not mistake their distraction for disinterest. And yet another thing, by the time we earn our grey hair we learn that generally speaking young people are not interested in advice from older folks. If you are indeed that rare teenager who understands the wisdom of learning from others’ experience and hard lessons, make that clear.

Personal Safety

While most people are kind, generous, and protective of youth, there are always a few perverts and criminals out there who sniff out opportunities for exploitation. While venturing out into the world, be open to new people and new experiences but also keep up your guard.

Learn about personal safety, such as never being alone with anyone behind closed doors. Build good safety habits.

Invite your parents, siblings, or other trusted adult guardians to escort you; they can bring a book to read. Most adults keep a schedule of appointments. If you ask in advance, I bet you'll find an uncle with a Nook/Kindle willing to take you to a particular geek meeting one evening each month.

  • 4
    "there are always a few perverts and criminals out there who sniff out opportunities for exploitation" -- also, rather more people who are just negligent without any malicious intent. Whatever "age-appropriateness" restrictions society or your parents think should be in force for you, there are adults who simply won't bother to apply them, either because it doesn't occur to them or they see it as not their problem. For example, your parents shouldn't expect a random group of geeks to uniformly help their child remember their curfew time ;-) – Steve Jessop Jan 2 '15 at 9:23
  • Hackathons! Hackathons are amazing! – Anubian Noob Jan 5 '15 at 1:51
3

If the people you are looking for don't exist, you can create them. Meaning if your child is ready and confident about it, he could lead a small group to teach others about how to program. His/her teachers could help him get the basics started to put together a group.

  • 1
    This I also started coding when I was young, and although I had family members & teachers who coded, it was more important to build peer groups. Start a HS/JHS programming club, or pilfer from an existing one, like Math or Science Discovery (or the local equivalent). Heck, lure in some sci-fi or anime (or game) fans by way of building webpages/tumblogs. Meetups are fun, but you'll have the rest of your career to hang out exclusively with coders if you choose. The best programmers are the ones with a wiser/wider experience of the world. – MandisaW Jan 4 '15 at 4:14
2

This is by no means an authoritative answer - I don't really know you - I'll just offer suggestions (and a bit of opinion)...

From the parent point of view

  • Don't worry, peers will come at university or college. Finding people at the same skill level can be very difficult at this stage. First off, find the motivation, maybe the reason to find people with similar skills is because a need to have other with whom to share the passions... or maybe because your child actually wants some help, may be somebody to do a project with... or maybe it is a sense of being cast out as different. Whatever the case, address the motivation with your child first. Once the motivation is known, it should be easier to find a way to do it.

From the child point of view

Understanding the roles of those people you look for will have in your life will inform the way you look for them. So most of the following will probably not apply to you.

  • Consider teaching - informal teaching. There is a chance that you will find easier to help people at lower skill levels, that to find people at your own level. While doing so, you will be working your social skills anyway. Try your hand at mentoring a friend into programming - if motivated of course.

  • Consider starting a big project, something that you be known for. This will make others - in particular older people around you - to recognize you. It will also open the door for conferences and meetings, and if done well will add to your curriculum easing the entrance to college or employment.

  • Maybe you have the vision of something new, and you are looking for somebody to help you get it off the ground. If that is your passion, keep at it, eventually you will be good enough or that person will come... or both.

  • On the other you may be looking for somebody to keep you focused because you have been unable to find a project for yourself. If so, consider freelancing. You will meet people and continue to learn this way. Eventually you will find what project you want to do, or else it will help you land a good job in the future.

  • If there is a risk that authority will spoil your passion for programming, then work on creating social structures of your own. May be you want to create a meet up, or try being a small entrepreneur. It doesn't have to be in programming, as long as it has some overlap with people interested in programming. Yeah, chances are it will fail at the initial attempts, yet you will learn from it, and get to meet people anyway.

  • If what you want is to find a significant other that will match your skill level, then the best dating advice I can give you is to first be successful and then look for that person. Don't rush it, let that person come to you.

  • If what you look for are a group of close friends to hang out with... why do they have to be programmers? - Anyway, you will find those developer friends among classmates or coworkers. Be patient, enjoy any non-programmer friends regardless.


Currently I double your age, and judging by your profile you have more skill overall than me. I find it hard myself to find others at my skill level, in fact I would really like to find - as in, meet in person - more people above my skill level so they can keep me challenged to continue improving - and maybe give me a hand if I get stuck with something.

Yet, after reading some of your answers, looking at your public repositories and reading from your webpage. I don't see any project that stands out (those that did get my eye where for helping you with something code golf related...). It is my impression that you go from one small task to another unrelated small task and so on.

I begin to think you really look yourself as a (aspiring?) guru - that is, the person others go to when they have problems. The elder on top of the mountain. If that archetype is what you see as the script of you life, no doubt you have trouble socializing.

  • Chances are that is your way of being, you help other via this website, so maybe you will be a good teacher. Eventually.

  • Or maybe you prefer other to put the challenges for you, in that case freelance seems a good idea.

  • Or maybe you really need to focus in some big project you can show to others saying "I'm the creator of this" when they ask you what have you being doing (instead of listing a bunch of programming languages and getting them to look you weird).

  • Or if code golf is what you care about... then the answer is simply to look for a hackathon or similar event, somewhere you will have the time constraints and the challenge imposed to you... except you see people in person.

  • Or I simply don't know. At the end, you know yourself (or are able to know yourself) better than I (or anybody else on this website) probably can.


PS: have you considered playing something that's not Nethack :P

  • "I don't see any project that stands out" — well, yes, I have neither the time nor the ability to work on and maintain a "big" project such as one you're describing. Any suggestions as to how I could go about starting, working on, maintaining, and supporting such a thing? (Also, wait, there are games other than Nethack? :P) – Doorknob Jan 2 '15 at 16:44
  • +1 for "If what you look for are a group of close friends to hang out with... why do they have to be programmers?". Most of my social friends are neither programmers nor computer architects. I just don't discuss the finer points of computing with them. There are plenty of other things to talk about. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 2 '15 at 17:08
  • @Doorknob冰 projects grow, I will not baffle you with methodologies, just do and old school test and improve cycle. Pick something you may like - so it is easier to commit to do it, (how about being revolutionary and create a game that's not Nethack? - Heresy they say) - set a repository, set continuous integration. Make it run, make it functional, make it useful, make it usable, make it secure. Say you really have little time... If you can answer questions here, you can do a commit per day. Find something to improve and do it, and call it a day. Let the project grow. No hurry, you are young. – Theraot Jan 3 '15 at 5:44
1

All above suggestions are useful, but if you are in the Austin or El Paso areas, you can go along to the Coderdojo there. If not and you can find some like minded kids and parents, you might consider starting one in your own area. See details at https://zen.coderdojo.com/dojo

I run one in my area of Sallins, Naas (in Co Kildare. Ireland) and from 4 kids two years ago, we now have 50+ kids each week, from 6 to 17, all working away at different languages and tools, from Scratch and MineCraft, to Python and PyGame, to Java, Blender, Unity, Eclipse, etc.

I hope you manage to hook up with a group, as it really adds to the experience, to be able to share the excitement of our constant learning experiences and to show off each new project :-) JK

1

In my town there is a teenage center for kids who want to learn technology. It's like an after-school meetup sort of thing, just geared towards kids instead of the usual technical meetup, which is geared towards professionals.

1

Find a university/college near you and check out their local ACM chapter. They may have high school outreach programs like the ACM high school programming contest. Even if they don't have anything specific for high school students, you are pretty close to being able to dual enroll. I highly suggest you dual enroll and take some courses. This will expand your network and give you a bit of directed study on the state dime. Once you enroll you will be technically a freshman and ACM shouldn't have a problem with you joining (ACM site does not list an age req just a student status).

There are also various programs and summer camps that focus on technology. Check out places like The Ideal program through Texas Tech, if it's close enough to you. The search string "texas summer programming camps" seemed to give a couple of good hits.

  • I’m from the Czech Republic. Here and in neighboring Slovakia, many universities organize so called correspondence seminars. A seminar publishes several series of tasks each year, the participants solve them, submit their solution via a web interface and can later download their solution with written feedback and evaluation. Usually once or twice a year, participants with best scores are invited to a camp where they can socialize and learn even more both from their peers and the organizers. Algorithm design and programming are main topics for several seminars here. – Palec Feb 27 '15 at 19:10
0

Just another idea:

A few years ago I took part in a Startup Weekend. My areas of expertise were not very applicable at the time, so it wasn't an amazing experience for me, but I think your child's knowledge would be very well suited to this.

I tried to find an age limit, but all I could find was "Startup Weekend does not discriminate on the basis of ..., age, ...", so I imagine your kid would be very welcome, especially considering his very impressive skill set.

0

One option left out by other answers is to join or start a FIRST Robotics team. This competition happens yearly, and has forged paths that allow high school students to receive mentorship from professionals in the programming, mechanical engineering, computer, and electronic industries.

The value of joining or starting such a team is that the program is well recognized, and it's easier to find and build mentoring relationships following the program than doing to alone. The value of the actual competition in building skills also should not be underestimated. Keep in mind that while "pure programming" has its place, being part of a team and solving problems in other fields, sometimes without any programming, can have unexpected benefits in being able to solve problems within programming.

As others have said, hackerspaces, maker shops, tech entrepreneur places, conventions, conferences, etc also have value. As a youth I found that while many of these weren't built with youth in mind, one could still build many great relationships with possible mentors by attending, asking questions, and getting contact information.

Once you find a few people in your region that can help you, ask them for references to other people and organizations that might be useful - use your existing network to build and better your network.

-1

When your skill level is beyond what is considered normal for your age group, you have to do your in-person networking the same way the adults do

  • Work
  • Conferences
  • Workshops/classes
  • Meet-ups
  • etc.

However, given your age, you might have a difficult time socializing with the people you will meet this way. People will assume that you're there with your parents, rather than because you are their peer. You'll have to make an effort to prove that you're in the right place.

Instead, consider finding a hobby that is likely to overlap with other programmers (maybe not now, but the people you will meet are fairly likely to go into a tech or science field).

  • Chess club
  • Magic the Gathering
  • Tabletop RPGs (like AD&D)
  • Board games (like Settlers of Catan)

You should be able to find where clubs/groups like these meet by checking with your local library, board game store, or comic book store.

  • 1
    I appreciate the sincerity of your answer, but the suggestion of games players piqued my concern... A substantial mass of programmers does not do the boring thing and play games, they build them. Conversely, a substantial mass of game players does not do the boring thing and build games, they play them. – Sylas Seabrook Jan 3 '15 at 5:59
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    @JeremyMiller Some gamers don't program and some programmers don't play video games. So what? Many do. Some of the programmers I know, including myself, got into programming because of their interest in gaming. The important thing here is socializing, not the programming. Programming by its nature is not a social activity, but games are. – cimmanon Jan 3 '15 at 11:14
  • @JeremyMiller Thankfully, you don't need a "substantial mass" of peers or colleagues, only a small circle. Most people only ever have one or two people in their entire lives who is both their professional and social equal. Keep in mind, you're forming a social circle, not a marketing demographic. – MandisaW Jan 4 '15 at 4:18

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