Cloud Trailblazers: 10 for 2013

Matt DeBergalis

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Like a lot of other developers, Matt DeBergalis, a co-founder of the hot real-time open-source JavaScript framework Meteor, learned to write code on a Commodore 64 when he was growing up.

“The great thing about the Commodore and computers back then is that you could understand the whole thing,” he said in an interview at the Meteor office in San Francisco. “It actually came with a schematic, and you were supposed to open the thing up and supposed to understand all the parts.” Curiosity pushed him to figure out the system and make it do what he wanted it to do.

DeBergalis believes the best developers started when they were young, just as he did. But he’d like to see a world in which lots of people double as programmers, “where musicians write music software, where political organizers build political organizing software.” DeBergalis’ work at Meteor is a way to get to that world more quickly.

Politics makes strange bedfellows

He met the company’s other co-founders, Geoff Schmidt and Nick Martin, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., where he majored in computer science. The three were involved in the school’s Student Information Processing Board, a group that was founded to advocate for student access to university computing resources, and that has gone on to promote student-oriented initiatives such as internet networks in dorms and other projects.


DeBergalis made Schmidt his campaign manager when he decided to run for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. DeBergalis had sought to interest more twenty and thirty-somethings in local politics, and although he didn’t win the election, the campaign “shook things up” and prompted some student-centric improvements around the city. It also got him hooked on politics.

He later co-founded ActBlue, a site that lets people donate to Democratic candidates raising money for campaigns. The purpose was to help many Democrats take advantage of the kind of technology that made Democrat Howard Dean’s grassroots-funded 2004 presidential campaign so promising.

The common thread of democratizing resources for the sake of the little guys — pushing for more equitable computing at MIT, throwing himself into politics, enabling funding online for more candidates and developing technology that makes it easy for small companies to do quickly what only big companies were able to do — is what qualifies DeBergalis as a Cloud Trailblazer.

Making real-time in no time

So what exactly is Meteor? It’s a framework that makes it easy for developers to build applications that serve up real-time data with a few lines of code. Usually that’s a complicated, time-consuming task.

Matt DeBergalis, a co-founder of Meteor, at the company's office in San Francisco. Source: Jordan Novet
Matt DeBergalis, a co-founder of Meteor, at the company’s office in San Francisco. Source: Jordan Novet

He arrived at this concept by accident. In 2011, he left ActBlue and got back together with his old friends Martin and Schmidt. The two of them had wrapped up work on a site they’d built called MixApp, which let many people listen to the same music at the same time.

The three landed a spot in the summer 2011 class of Y Combinator with the idea of building a travel-guide application for the iPad. “As we got to the end of the summer, we decided we had not found something in that space that really felt right,” DeBergalis said. “What we saw, looking around the room at YC our summer, were all of these companies that were trying to write software to run inside the browser in JavaScript.” They ditched the travel-guide app and picked up the challenge of making a framework for developing real-time in-browser apps.

The result, DeBergalis said, could have “let someone build MixApp in a week, instead of the two years it took us.”

A meteoric rise

Meteor caught developer attention last year. In a slight twist, the developer interest predated a $11.2 million investment, which pointed to the need for the framework, said Rod Johnson, an open-source software veteran who sits on the Meteor board as a representative of Andreessen.

As for Meteor, some have suggested that it could be the future of web development. The framework is still in “preview” mode, so it’s probably too early to say what could come of it. But whether the company succeeds or fails, the vision of making real-time apps easy to develop should not be overlooked.

—Jordan Novet