Like every great love story, it began with a girl. Seven years ago Jim Flannery, Co-Founder and Project Director of Four Athens, dropped everything to move to Athens, Georgia. “I was dating a girl,” taking a deep breath, “we lasted about a month after I got here,” he says with a slight Irish brogue, while scratching his dark brown scruff, his laughter lines highlighted around his mouth and his eyes crinkling as he chuckled. Good thing this isn’t a love story. “At the beginning of my life I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. After college I got my teaching certification in International Affairs, taught for a year, ooh I hated it, and then got into finance. Like any young-enough, dumb-enough, and willing-to-work-enough-hours-enough guy, banks will hire you, so I moved from Boston out to San Francisco. Will you excuse me? I will be right back,” he says bounding up to introduce two people stumbling into Happy Hour at World Famous.
This dimly lit, small, yet cozy, two-room bar in downtown Athens is packed with the people associated with Four Athens. These are the minds of the future. They are entrepreneurs, coders, developers, volunteers, teachers, who day in and day out, work in a conglomerate of spaces called makers-spaces or creative commons, if you will. A makers-space is an area where business start-up members can come together, develop ideas, gain guidance and support for projects, and seek assistance on business strategy, business plans, financial planning and identifying sources for the potential funding. “Jim got them [makers-spaces] rolling, and I got dragged in. He gets the space, helps us reach out to the community, and really puts the muscle behind the projects,” says Lou Manglass, Support Engineer. Flannery is a man who has been there every step of the way “with all the connections by meeting the right people, he would say ‘Dude you really need XYZ’. Scratch that, he would really say, ‘get your shit together man,’” Manglass let out a belly-laugh, slapping his hand on his thigh, looking up from the table, adjusting his glasses, nodding at Flannery across the bar.
Four Athens has been hosting Happy Hour at World Famous for five years now, and every Wednesday night they are connecting, sharing and learning” according to Flannery. As Flannery continues to talk about the importance of building entrepreneurial bridges, the eccentric crowd in World Famous growing at exponential rate. The conversations are buzzing; these people are passionate about startups, community and economic development. He eventually circles to an important project he is currently working on with Jordan Burke, Lead Software Developer at Vestigo, a company developed through Four Athens.
“Two years ago we realized that we wanted to start teaching code, but we wondered how we could really impact the community,” Jordan tactfully says, clasping his hands at his chin, thinking, looking into the future. “How do we impact this from day 1?” Flannery interjected, coming back from introducing two people, “Looking twenty years ahead we saw the children of today leading the workforce,” and “…all of the data points to the fact that all of the people in this country are fucked if we don’t start teaching them now” Flannery says, slightly snickering. Shortly thereafter Flannery and Burke initially started running adult coding classes and quickly recognized that although coding may be a great technical skill to add to an adult résumé, these adults were not the future. Children are the future. A year later they implemented the first children’s coding class at an afterschool program at Hillsman Elementary school in Athens.
But, what is coding? More importantly, how is it going to make such a huge impact in the future? Coding “is not just a skill, it’s a mindset. It is taking something that didn’t exist before and bringing it to life,” explains Burke, “The first component of coding is time, because it does take hours, but the second, and most important component is communication.” Clear communication is crucial in writing the code for the computer as well as for other users.
Coding is what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites. Code, also known as source code, consists of a series of words, numbers, and symbols to produce directions for the computer. These directions tell the computer what to do when the user searches for a website, clicks on a link, or goes to the next page for instance. Browsers (Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, etc.), OS operating systems, the apps on smart phones, and even Facebook are all made with code. Coding is a vital part of all software programming, and this is what is beginning to run the world. The next revolution is the digital revolution, and it is happening now according to these guys. Pondering for a moment, Manglass brings his hands up, clasped at his chin, and explains coding as “a way of thought”. “It’s like a philosophy, a way of bridging the gap between the human brain and the computer,” he says.
About a year ago, “Jim put an ad out asking for Code Instructors and I thought, ‘I’ll do it’. Teaching and getting to know him has been fantastic. He is the king when it comes to networking in Athens,” says Dane Hildreth, Code Instructor. Flannery is not only interested in people with software or business prospects but any student interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). “He’d been watching me while I was teaching one day, austerely watching—he kept me straight, focused and motivated in the classroom as well as in my life,” Dane says largely smiling, “Now he is a good friend.”
“I’m looking at building a business ecosystem in a few stages within the next few years. My current challenges are connectivity and community, that’s why we have Four Athens, to connect the community,” says Flannery. Four Athens is constantly thriving, looking into the future for the successes of their growing companies. The first Tuesday of every month they have a Software Developers Meetup at Four Athens, the first Thursday of every month they connect with the Young Professionals Network of Athens and the fourth Tuesday of every month they hold a “CHUGALUG” for Athens Linux Users. In addition to monthly Four Athens meetings, they are celebrating The Wish Dish’s one-year anniversary at the end of February and hosting the Athens Start Up Week March 28th to April 2nd. Success is reached through funding, which is why Flannery is also running a small investment firm now to help the Four Athens companies. As for coding, “we want everyone to sign up and learn how to code or teach coding classes because if you don’t, none of you are gonna have fucking jobs. There, end your article with that,” Flannery laughs, getting up for the last time to connect and introduce two new people together over a few drinks at World Famous.
By Danielle Profita