Todd Nakamura was still working as a “code monkey” when June began, developing programs that process massive amounts of Medicare information for CVS Caremark at an office in Florham Park.
Until June 9, that is — when he marched in and quit his job after learning that his application to start a Google Developers Group chapter in North Jersey had been approved by the technology giant. Less than three weeks later, the chapter held its first event, Google I/O Extended 2014, at Montclair State University.
It was a personal change of fortune, to be sure. But Nakamura would be the first to say this isn't about him.
“I literally feel like all of northern New Jersey activated and made it possible,” said Nakamura, 36. “They just activated, rallied their troops. I just happened to be in the center of that storm.”
The result was New Jersey's first active Google Developers Group, or GDG, a networking group of local software developers that enjoy the benefits of a close relationship to the Mountainview, Calif.-based company. That means they get easy access — and more importantly, early access — to everything Google does.
Nakamura's outfit is the only tech group in New Jersey supported by this relationship to Google.
“It speaks to Google's DNA, and to me it's what makes them different,” Nakamura said. “It's this network you tap into and you're suddenly connected to GDG groups (all over the world) and all the local ones. It's an incredible resource and they give you information no one else has right out of their labs.”
Jersey businesses of all sizes, as well as entrepreneurs, can now benefit from a culture of development — from Web-browsing software (Google Chrome), email (Gmail), a social network (Google+), smartphones (Android), laptops (Chromebooks), not to mention the most-visited search engine by far.
Nakamura's group can use those resources while giving local developers an inside track on new technology. The June 25 I/O Extended event in Montclair was the perfect example of the simultaneously local and global overtones of this relationship.
As part of the “extension” from its official event in San Francisco, Google provided three Android Wear watches not yet on the market.
“And, guess what, we've also had the development kit for a month and we've built this app we can show that runs on Android Wear,” Nakamura said.
Attendees at Montclair also were able to stream keynote speeches and special presentations from Google's event. These presentations were supplemented with local flavor: attendees began the day with “speed networking” and keynote presentations given by Nakamura and other members of the Jersey tech community.
They include Carlos Abad, founder and co-organizer of the Madison Tech Meetup, who has noticed tech students at New Jersey schools leaving the state after graduation in search of greener pastures, he said. He hopes the presence of Google in the state will provide an incentive for these young minds to stay.
“Right now, one of the problems that happens with a lot of the good developers is they're going to New York City because they don't feel there's good opportunity and good startups in New Jersey,” Abad said. “So it goes a long way having something like Google I/O, which is developer-centered — and combine that with entrepreneurial New Jersey to bring people together and let them know we do have an up-and-coming entrepreneurial tech community.
“So, from a visibility perspective, this is huge,” he said.
Dennis Bone, director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University, also sees this relationship as having high “signal value,” but cautions things won't change overnight.
“It's like somebody who buys a run-down house,” Bone said. “One of the first things they might do is mow the yard nicely or fix a couple of the worst things. To the neighbors, it might be a signal value that this new owner is going to fix this place up.”
And it might be more than apt to paint Nakamura as a man putting a bit of elbow grease into the neighborhood. For him, the whole idea for starting a group is based in building community.
April Peters, the founding organizer of the entrepreneur group Lean Startup Newark, recognized this commutative spirit in Nakamura immediately during their first meeting at the launch of Converge, a co-working space in Newark.
“That's why this is significant for New Jersey,” she said. “Because he is making it about New Jersey and not about just a GDG in North Jersey. He's connecting what he's doing to the meet-up groups in New Jersey.
“He's offering this resource and opportunity and saying, 'This is not about me, this is not about one group. This is about us all.'”
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THAT'S GREAT … BUT DOES IT PAY THE BILLS?
Todd Nakamura quit his day job to start his Google Developers Group. It could be a great move for small business owners and entrepreneurs, but Nakamura admits he’s doing this as a nonprofit. How is he going to pay the rent? Here are a few things he’s counting on: