How Transportation Techies built a meetup into a community

When you walk into a Transportation Techies meetup there are two things you are guaranteed to see: the latest hacks of local transit systems, and a crowd of people who seem to care a lot about each other.

The last meetup we attended was the seventh edition of Metro Hack Night in October. It featured nine presenters, two LED projects, and one “hug timer” person who gave presenters a hug when their time ran out. We spoke to meetup founder and organizer Michael Schade on why he started the group, and how he built the community.

Schade is originally from Colorado, where he studied Computer Science. In 1989, he moved to D.C. for a federal job. Today he still lives in D.C., and works as a data visualization engineer at the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology in the University of Maryland.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Washington that I became fascinated by the subway system,” Schade told us during a phone call earlier this week. “D.C. is where I realized you can live inside the urban grid and not have a car at all,” he said.

It was an interest that he said propelled him to join meetups like API and GEO DC – both of which inspired the format he would later use for creating Transportation Techies in 2013. Today the format Schade uses is essentially unchanged: each meeting begins with half an hour of mingling, followed by a succession of show-and-tells, then Q&As from the audience, and then a chance to mingle again afterwards.

According to Schade, this conversation-focused format where everything happens in person is key for fostering a sense of community.

“The goal of the meetup is to build a community of programmers who are interested in transportation,” He said. “We don’t webcast or stream it because the whole point of the meetup is to meet in person.”

That’s not to say the group hasn’t changed over the last four years. When Schade started it, his employer at the time, Mobility Lab, sponsored the meetings and could host 80 attendees in…

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