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10 years of Code & Supply: How the Pittsburgh software community has evolved, but kept focus on technologists

Leaders Justin Reese and Colin Dean say the group has changed plenty in the past decade, but remains a place for individuals to give back while finding a sense of community.

Organizers and friends at Code & Supply's Abstractions conference in 2019. (Photo by Flickr user Code & Supply, used with permission)
Full disclosure: Technical.ly is the official media partner and a financial supporter of the 2022-2023 C&S Compensation Survey. That relationship is unrelated to this report.
Break out the candles: Code & Supply is celebrating its 10th birthday this year.

These days, the volunteer-driven community made up of thousands of software professionals is known widely throughout the Pittsburgh tech community for its coworking space, conferences, and members who have frequently found their way onto Technical.ly’s own RealLIST Engineers and Connectors lists. Yet in 2013, it was just an idea that turned into a modest meetup group.

Code & Supply founder Justin Reese told Technical.ly that in the beginning, he just wanted to find a sense of community for other people working in the field within the city. The meetups he found back then were limited to technologists in very specific roles. He opted to solve the problem by creating a group of his own.

“I just saw the chance to start a new community around just people that are in the field, and not care so much about what technology they were using, what role they played in their career, [or] where they were at,” Reese said. “I just cared about making [a] more general and welcoming and larger community.”

Code & Supply founder Justine Reese. (Photo courtesy of Justin Reese)

By 2014, Reese, along with Managing Director Colin Dean, started hosting meetups under the Code & Supply banner in different spaces around Pittsburgh. During that time, Reese hosted most of the meetups and was responsible for finding speakers. Dean, on the other hand, who’d known Reese from a different hacking group the two had previously participated in, started out as a business advisor due to his background in business and knowing where to spot potential liabilities.

What’s changed the most over the years is how diverse the operation has become and the different projects it’s branched out into, according to Reese. That includes launching its East End coworking space in 2017 and hosting the first Heartifacts, a mental health-focused conference for software professionals, the following year. Prior to pandemic restrictions making most events virtual, Code & Supply also gained attention for its semi-annual Code & Supply Compensation Survey analyzing technologists salaries and other popular events such as the DevOps-oriented Uptime conference.

Code & Supply “just kept growing to do so many different things,” Reese said. “The fact that we have a scholarship and a coworking space are things that I wouldn’t have predicted at all, they’re just adjacent to what it was. It just grew in such a broad way, as opposed to just growing very quickly and like doing the same thing.”

Code & Supply’s Abstractions conference in 2019. (Photo by Flickr user Code & Supply, used with permission)

The organization’s leadership has undergone its share of changes through the years. These days, Reese remains the executive director even after stepping away from public-facing roles during the pandemic, and Dean serves as managing director.

One thing that makes Code & Supply stand out in the Pittsburgh tech community is its independence, and its ability to provide a space for technologists that isn’t overly influenced by sponsors, per Dean. Code & Supply only takes funding from entities that don’t ask for too many strings attached. From Dean’s perspective, allowing sponsors to wield too much influence could lead to Code & Supply veering too far away from the reasons it was founded.

“I think one of the biggest things is resisting getting taken advantage of [with] 2016 Abstractions,” Dean said, referring to the group’s first produced conference. “We were pretty good about that. And in 2019, we said no to [a potential sponsor] that was probably kind of big. And that’s because we felt that they were going to be driving us more than they were going to be sponsoring us.”

Managing Director Colin Dean. (Courtesy photo)

Both Reese and Dean consider their conferences — including software-focused Abstractions and mental health-focused Heartifacts, which have hosted as many as 2,500 attendees — to be among their proudest accomplishments. They’re also proud of the compensation survey and the Code & Supply Slack group which has a community of more than 3,700 members.

While the group previously relied on an in-person model, the pandemic prompted a shift to virtual programming. Keeping safety precautions in mind, Dean hopes to host more IRL events in the near future. Coworking is back, though, as are some community events such as Code for Pittsburgh’s meetups held in the Code & Supply space.

“We’re trying to use this 10-year anniversary as a bit of a renaissance of sorts, and see if we can get back the momentum that we had, prior to the pandemic,” Dean said.

Ten years ago, Code & Supply was a small group that could expect maybe two or three people to show up to its meetups, with pizza as one of its selling points. Now, it boasts an active community run by technologists who are passionate about enhancing others’ knowledge.

What makes the organization memorable, Reese said, is its focus on the people working in the field as opposed to just the technology, or business aspects.

“There’s plenty of representation for the companies, but we’re the only one that’s doing individuals and workers,” Reese said. “I think that we help create [a] more fair playing field where we’re sharing information with each other.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Code & Supply

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