Jul 14 2014

The Story of Dallas Computer Visionaries

This is a guest post by Skip Howard. Skip is the founder of Computer Vision–Dallas and Spacee, the next generation of interactive digital signage using computer vision, natural user interface and virtual touch screens. Follow Skip at @sphoward.

I was a lone-coder. In most of 2012, I was building a computer vision application, turning 2D surfaces into virtual touch screens in a way that hadn’t been done before.  But I ran into a problem. I couldn’t get my computer vision engine running. I wasn’t sure if I had a math problem, a software problem or a combination of both. For almost the whole year, I worked on this problem alone, believing that there were no other resources in Dallas to turn to. At least, that was the perception. So I did what most solitary programmers do, and I took a break.  I was sure that I was the only one that understood my problem and had the capacity to solve it.  About a week into my break, I registered to attend a speech by Brad Feld. He came to Dallas in the fall of 2013 to speak about building startup communities.  I have had one of Brad’s books and came alone just to check out his speech, not knowing what he was going to cover.  Needless to say, after the talk was over, my mind was blown. My major take-aways were:

  1. If you have a problem finding resources for a specific topic or industry, then start a meetup. It’s ok if it starts with a handful of people. Start it anyway. It will grow.
  2. Be inclusive in your meetup. Make everyone welcome, no matter what the skill level. Be inviting.
  3. Give to people around you if you want to get from people around you.

I realized that my core problem wasn’t just my software, but that we didn’t have a community around computer vision. I talked this idea over with a friend, Jennifer Conley from The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (the DEC) and she encouraged me to start a meetup. The DEC is a co-working space in Dallas, TX and Jennifer is a co-founder. She immediately donated space for the group to meet. So, in January 2014, I started Computer Vision – Dallas and had about 18 people sign up and join. We have a growth rate or 20 members Month over Month, with a very high attendance rate. Thanks to the members of this meetup, I was pointed in the right direction to solve my problem. Now I have a working engine. But it doesn’t stop there.  In June of 2014, Microsoft saw our success and offered to sponsor a Kinect hack-a-thon. We are calling it Computer Visionaries (www.computervisionaries.org). They are flying their entire Kinect for Windows engineering team to work with Dallas developers hand-in-hand.  Microsoft is paying for all food, prizes, and giveaways.  Dallas is one of four cities in North America chosen to host an event like this in 2014 and the only city south of New York City chosen in the United States. With future support pledged from Microsoft, we plan on converting this hack-a-thon into an annual conference centered on Computer Vision, which in turn will transform the developer landscape in Dallas.

Thanks to a speech and a book by Brad Feld, today I lead a cutting edge meetup, host Computer Visionaries sponsored by Microsoft, have a patent pending prototyped software finished, and am part of the story to bring bleeding edge technology to the Dallas development community.

Skip Howard