Usually the real work happens away from the glamor of the glitzy world of high-finance and ventures. This chat room is one of those places. one that has bred so many entrepreneurs and technical minds.. that it changed the landscape of the tech world FOREVER!
In the past few years, some of the most revolutionary software emerged not from Silicon Valley startups or high-powered universities, but from a humble online chat room.
Many in the tech industry are beginning to recognize that a string of influential concepts can be traced to a single Internet Relay Chat channel called #Winprog.
The IRC channel has played virtual incubator to a gamut of fledgling developers for more than a decade, helping Shawn Fanning polish the earliest versions of Napster and acting as code consultancy when Gnutella developer Justin Frankel wrote Winamp.
Devotees say the channel has become an under-the-radar institution to the Windows programming world. Many of its veterans have landed jobs at leading technology firms, and Microsoft staff even tap regulars for help with their own operating system.
It’s better, members say, than any Silicon Valley business park.
“Except for not having any cash, #Winprog puts most tech incubators to shame,” said Ben Knauss, a channel veteran and Microsoft consultant who has managed several big software projects, including the software that powered the first iPod.
“My own experience with incubators was something akin to, ‘Come work in our offices and give us half your stock, and we’ll answer your telephone and pretend we’re providing lots of other resources.’ With #Winprog, you get technical support, advice, critical review and at times even manpower to help finish your project.”
It is the kind of supportive environment that lured Fanning, aka “Napster,” to the channel in 1999, looking for input on his nascent file-sharing application.
Many of the #Winprog old guard remember the teen as “an annoying newbie” who needed help writing Napster’s user interface.
“I actually remember making fun of (him) because of his bad design,” said Chris Redekop, a channel devotee of nine years whose Alberta, Canada, software firm Replicon is among the many to have hired programming talent out of #Winprog’s gene pool.
“When he first joined the channel, he knew next to nothing of Windows programming,” Redekop said. “His coding skills weren’t that advanced.”
IRC is where both Fanning and Frankel eventually met other programmers, marketers and business people who would help ready their software for public release. Both also used other chat rooms, of course.
But they are not the only ones to benefit from #Winprog’s critical and surprisingly wide-ranging influence. Members of the channel also counsel the likes of DVD encryption cracker John Lech Johansen, SmartFTP developer Mike Walter, Electronic Arts game developers, Windows Vista engineers and contractors for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As many as two dozen Microsoft developers hang out in the channel every day, getting support — as well as giving it.
“There is not one area of major software today that is not touched in some way by #Winprog, be it the Windows OS or your TurboTax software; each member has contributed in major ways to the digital community,” said Knauss, who first logged onto the channel in 1994.
“It’s innovation in its purest form, without ego, money or fame as its goal,” he added. “These are kids sitting around, chatting, saying, ‘Hey, you know what, I built that,’ and a hundred other people saying ‘No, no, make it better, make it do this, make it faster, oh my God it’s ugly.'”