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Silicon Valley Meets Hollywood: Computer Screens Hit the Big Screen

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As the lines between different industries continue to blur in our society, one of the more interesting combinations that's come out is between tech and culture. Tech start-ups have stormed the business world in recent years, and we're starting to see the impact on the Big Screen. Hollywood is starting to notice what's happening on computer screens around the world.

I thought this would be a fitting time to check in with a tech person on the frontlines of these cultural changes. John McLaughlin, a growth engineer who has most recently been working with Shutterstock to grow its new educational platform Skillfeed, has worked for mobile technology start-ups in the past. McLaughlin responded to my questions via email about the intersection of tech and film:

A popular Tumblr "MovieCode" depicts the computer screens that programmers pull up in pop culture. How much of what is depicted on film is true to what you see on your screen every day?

McLaughlin: Most of what you see in films is just open source code pulled from the Internet. It's usually completely arbitrary and has no relevance to the narrative of the film. For instance, in Iron Man II, Mickey Rourke's character looks to be controlling robots from his computer, but the code he's typing is really just basic HTML. There are actually companies that create custom interfaces and technology platforms for the purposes of TV and movies, like criminal databases or spy-style software created purely for theatrical effect.

Are there any movies that you can recall that get tech and programming culture 'right'? Do you see the tide turning at all?

McLaughlin: From what I hear, The Internship did a pretty good job at representing Google's campus in Mountain View and the cool perks and amenities they have there. As for the realities of life as a programmer, I don't think any movie has really hit the nail on the head yet. That's probably because the day-to-day life of a programmer would likely be boring to watch!

What has The Social Network done for the way that the business world views techies? Did it make things easier, or perhaps more difficult?

McLaughlin: It's gotten a lot of people excited about start-ups and technology, which is definitely a good thing because there aren't enough great coders out there to keep up with new ideas. Computer programmers are no longer Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering geeks. This is big business. It's about venture funding and trying to be acquired for millions (or possibly billions). It's inspiring for people to see what can be achieved with a small team and a few laptops. At the moment, computer science graduates do not come close to filling the jobs available in the tech world, so if the movie inspires some more people to get into coding, then that's fantastic.

What start-ups would you like to see a movie about?

McLaughlin: Paypal, definitely. The book "Paypal Wars" is one of my favorites. It's a fascinating look into how the company was started. They had to overcome a whole bunch of regulatory problems and fraud problems early on. Just imagine being in a room with founders like Peter Thiel, who later invested in Facebook, and Elon Musk, the now CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. It's like the answer to one of those 'who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?' questions.

What's the New York tech scene like? Is the momentum shifting to make an East Coast version of the 'cool tech scene'?

McLaughlin: It's amazing how quickly the New York tech scene has gained momentum in the last couple of years. Every big tech company now has offices in New York and the city has been heading up major incentive programs to help start-ups get cheap space and faster internet. Google now has a huge presence here. It spent $1.8 billion on a headquarters in Chelsea a few years ago and it's really been transforming the area. It's truly an exciting time to be here.

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