Virtual hacker community finally meets in Solana Beach home


By Steve Perez


In marked contrast to the thousands crowding the Del Mar Fairgrounds on July 2, a few dozen “nerdy” 20-somethings sat at a rented home a short distance away — huddled around computers and software code and working on their own versions of the “next big thing.”

Call it SuperHappyDevHouse South. A Solana Beach twist on a Bay Area innovation, according to event organizers, though calling the event organized is to put too fine a structure on how proponents of “open source” socially networked computing work these days.

Hosted at the home of Erica Douglass of, a website aimed at entrepreneurs, and her boyfriend, Richard Soderberg, an operations engineer for a Bay Area-based search engine, these “geeks” gathered from as far away as Fallbrook. It marked the first in-person, “hands-on” gathering that evolved from online exchanges and monthly coffeehouse gabfests by the folks who identify themselves as members of a San Diego “hacker” community.

In their view, the term “hacker” implies a benign connotation, “people who tinker and build new useful things,” according to Jay Liew, another event organizer and programmer employed by a local tech company.

The hosts sought to inspire a gathering that was “half party, half tech event,” Liew said.

Thus, the hosts opened their home to roughly 20 people, password-protected access to a wireless Internet connection, and power connections for the many laptops and odd computer tower hauled in by the participants, many of whom also had to carry in their own chairs.

The original Bay Area “DevHouse” began in a similar, informal fashion and then eventually grew to crowds that only could be hosted on corporate campuses in Silicon Valley, according to Douglass. Then the owner of a web hosting company, she and her boyfriend came south following its sale for a reported $1.1 million.

Those who attended included a couple of MIT grads and a young Russian woman (one of the few female “geeks”), a junior in computer science at MIT serving a summer internship at Qualcomm.

Their projects ranged from tweaks of potential products to those attempting to retool their own skill sets in a search for “what’s next” in technology, as one participant put it.

Their groupwide introductions were sprinkled with head-spinning, acronym-heavy references to the computer programming languages and hardware that power leading-edge websites, video games and technology devices.

They included Mike Robbins and Humberto Evans, youthful heads of NerdKits, who sell online contraptions that teach users about how electronics and software combine to make things that work. They brought with them a device they’re refining that demonstrates, among other principals, feedback systems, by levitating a ping-pong ball inside a tube.

Judged a success by participants, the turnout would have been even higher, according to Liew, if local universities were in session. After all, it is summer and there was a county fair going on at the same time.

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