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Reasons To Stay: "Hacky Hour" Helps Computer Programmers Connect

Photo: WPSU

WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians  decide whether to make their home here or move on, in our new series, "Reasons To Stay."  WPSU's Kristine Allen reports on a computer programmer who left State College with his wife to see the world, then came back.

Visit the multi-media side of the Reasons to Stay project.

Several years ago, Scott Woods and his wife left State College to hit the road.  As he puts it, "We came here, went to school here, got jobs here, and quit amazing jobs - because for us, we needed big adventure. We quit our jobs so that we could go rock climb full time. "

Rock climbing? "For around five years," he says. "Just working sporadically in between, to just kind of piece it together."

But even after seeing the world, Woods says, when he thought about starting a business, something drew him back to Central Pennsylvania.

"We decided that State College actually was the best place we've been to," he says. "People are warm and welcoming. It seemed like the place you'd want to go to establish roots."

The friendly State College community was one big draw.  But for this outdoor fanatic and his wife, the lure of nature was also hard to resist.

"There's fantastic outdoor recreation," Woods says.  "One appeal certainly was being able to be a 10 minute bike ride from world-class mountain biking and some of the best trail running in the country."

He says there are thousands of miles of single-track trails. 

"We would go out, like training for ultramarathons, or training for long-distance biking," he says.  "You'd have to go out and do like a 40-mile loop every weekend."

Woods says he can choose a different route each week and never repeat himself. 

"So, for people who are into trail running or mountain biking or hunting or hiking, " he says, "this doesn't exist anywhere else in the country.  There are places where there's thousands of miles of trails.  But you're not going to find a place where you can work right there. "

And he says there's another big bonus to working near all of this natural beauty.

"There's no long commute," he says.  "We're not spending two hours of every workday stuck in traffic. Instead, we're right back outside doing our recreation.  Or we're right back at home spending time with our families."

Woods is raising his family in State College where, he says, the schools are also outstanding.

"Our son Anders started kindergarten at Freinds School, and he went to the Friend's preschool.  It's an incredible group of such caring teachers," Woods says.  He says the rest of the State College schools are high-quality as well.

Woods likes the large number of small parks in the State College area, where he can bring his son to play.  But most of all, it's the people in the community who keep him here.

"When you come into State College, and you have something you care about, whether it's fly fishing, whether it's hang gliding, a political cause," he says, "you're going to find people pretty quickly who say 'Oh, you're interested in that? We should hang out. Here's my number.' "

So Woods likes the land, the schools and the people in Central Pennsylvania. But what sold him on State College as the right place to launch his own business?

"It has the right confluence of smart, intelligent, ambitious people flowing through as a community," he says. "And there's enough economic activity to support a high-tech, ambitious local business."

About five years ago, Woods started a software company called West Arete.  Customers come to them with ideas, Woods says, "and we help take them from the concept phase all the way to working software."

Woods wants to help other computer programmers feel as welcome here as he does.  So his company started a weekly meetup called "Hacky Hour," at New Leave Initiative in State College. Hacky Hour is a an open meeting where hardware and software developers gather to socialize and trade ideas.   Woods hopes it will give them a chance to learn from each other.

"I feel like one of the most important things that I can do as a person is to help boost people in some way," he says. "I can feel like that will be a life well lived."

Do you have Reasons to Stay? Share a picture of the reasons you’re staying on Instagram with the hashtag #wpsureasonstostay. And visit the multi-media side of this projectto see pictures of Gary Long working on his guitars and to see stories of others exploring their decision to stay or not in central Pennsylvania. 

Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."
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