I was very honored to get to give a talk and demo of bots, more specifically chatbots – like those for Facebook or Slack – to #HackWSU participants a couple weekends ago, which itself was the kickoff event to Detroit StartupWeek, an exciting new event for local entrepreneurs put on in Detroit thanks to TechStars Mobility, Chase and a host of other partners and volunteers. Also in attendance were a couple members of the brand new BotMakers Detroit MeetUp group I created just a few short weeks ago, thanks to which I got to speak to a small auditorium of seemingly eager Wayne State University and local Detroit high school students about my newest passion: bots. I also got to briefly demo #botkit, an SDK by Howdy.ai, which single-handedly enabled hundreds, if not thousands, of bots to be built virtually overnight.
MeetUps to StartUps
It turns out the MeetUp platform is an amazing networking tool in its own right, as I was contacted by three reputable organizations, including Blackstone LaunchPad within the first week, with an offer to host our first MeetUp. It was an offer I couldn’t resist, first and foremost because in the last few years, I committed myself to participating more in the developer community, learning about new technologies, and being more involved in education and mentorship programs. In the last couple of years before my wife got pregnant with our twin boys, I had adopted the characteristics of a hermit and become quite the hardened cynic. I had also stopped learning, at least it felt like it, and I felt like my career and the work my development firm, Ascend, had been doing were all stagnating in one way or another. Luckily, after searching for podcasts about software development, startups, and entrepreneurship, I came across This Week In Startups, which was like opening a Pandora’s Box of new ways of thinking, looking at problems, and more importantly, focusing on products and Lean Startup methodologies like MVPs, “market fit”, iterating, testing, etc. It was a break from the monotony of service based work, to put it plainly, but there were also underlying themes that were affecting me while listening, which undoubtedly had led me to this point, or place, in the heart of Detroit’s small but growing startup scene, giving back after all the knowledge I had been taking for free, almost daily now.
To Bot Or Not
Of course the other reason I couldn’t resist doing an event I didn’t have any materials ready for only a week away, was because I can’t deny any opportunity to jam on chatbots or bots in general. I firmly believe they will be a staple in our future, in one form or another, and that the future is now. I see so many opportunities for bots across every industry, which of course, translate into direct opportunities for the people who program, design, and/or help build and maintain them. Simultaneously, we’re in a golden period of technology enablement and American Entrepreneurship. Whether it’s companies operating without any physical location or the startup ecosystem that sprung up in the last 15 years or so, both are facilitating the exponential growth of small companies and products that are redefining innovation and experiences as well as creating new jobs, lifestyles, value, wealth, and young business owners who are more integrated in their communities and want to build a brighter future. Bots in a way, have grown organically out of this ecosystem. The modern tech workers and users of today are barraged with a constant stream of information, stimuli and demands for their attention, so therefore hacking their lives or creating efficiencies, automating redundant tasks, and reducing cognitive overload are natural reactions to counter or reduce these daily frictions and distractions.
So it made my heart flutter when, not only did I see a full room or hackers, makers and potential bot developers, not just present, but listening intently, or looking up from their projects, even asking questions and staying after my talk to inquire about other possibilities. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, as messaging apps are the main method of communication for Millennials and the ability to add additional functionality to tools is part and parcel of the customized lifestyles and products that dominate our lives. Regardless, it was hugely impactful for me to feel the love, and the types of questions I got throughout the presentation, from hackers and BotMakers alike, made me rethink the presentation itself, and how to make it much better for other audiences I intend to show it to, including my coworkers. It also reaffirmed the mission of my new company AviKaiDo, and our new Bot CMS Platform, EveryBot, we are developing. At a time when many of us in this space are already being told bots might be old news, the reaction from other developers and makers outside the Silicon Valley authorities, tells me that it’s just the beginning!
In fact, it was a huge pleasure to find out that the hackathon team who stayed after to ask me more questions, went on to build their own fintech bot (overnight, mind you) and won 2nd place overall! Congrats Nazariy and the Redline Team! I’ll be on the lookout for their Facebook bot integrated with #botkit and wit.ai!
— Nazariy Dumanskyy (@NazarDumanskyy) May 23, 2016
Humans Aren’t Bots
With all that said, the feeling one gets from peers and/or other inquisitive minds engaging with your ideas, posing challenging questions or ideating newer, better ideas, is really something wonderful and in many ways transformational, at least it was for me. As someone who shunned very important interpersonal and career growth opportunities like mentorships, “self-help/self-improvement” books, life coaching or what have you, due to my own youthful egotism and arrogance, I found a connection back to the greater tech community, that has fed and clothed me for years and to which I owe a great deal of thanks for the life I have and plan on having. Although I’d still like to believe a person can be an island, or if not, at least own one, I can’t deny that innovation, invention, and progress are based on the cornerstones of collaboration and communication, and events like MeetUps, hackathons, workshops, etc., are the magical places where new partnerships, projects, and products are born and sometimes, end up growing up into big transformational things themselves. I look forward to meeting with more and more hackers, makers, and builders and participating in more events and talks like this. In fact, I’m planning the next series of BotMakers Detroit events now. If you’re near and interested, please join us! Lastly, below is the presentation I cobbled together. It is currently being expanded upon as you’re reading this and will be updated here or in a later post.
Presentation (work in progress):