“There was no internet in the 80s. To look up information, I took the 35 from the popular neighborhood of Florence where I lived and went to study in a bookshop in the city center, the only one that had a fairly well-equipped IT department.” Simone Zinanni
Simone, Bernardo, and Giovanni, three kids from Florence. Silicon Valley was in their dreams. One of them actually went to work in the United States, but the other two had decided to stay and bring Silicon Valley here to Italy.
Passionate about technology, they moved their fingers on keyboards in a historical moment when it was making its first, shy internet appearance and when it was really difficult to find information on programming. In Italy, the very concept of computer science was in its infancy and computers were rare, especially in private homes. Those were the years when, if you wanted to study something, you had to scrape together twenty thousand lire from relatives for your birthday and buy yourself some books, which you would then exchange with other nerdy friends right away because even books were scarce and cost a lot. However, it was a beautiful and stimulating moment because in those days, computers were sold with programming manuals included: if you bought the Commodore 64, you would also find the Basic manual inside, and so you would begin to mess around. And the manual was often in English: it really required a lot of motivation for those who had barely studied English in middle school (and studied it badly) and had to look up all the words in the dictionary!
But where so many people saw only screens, keys, and indecipherable languages, few others, who had grown up on bread, code, and science fiction, saw unlimited possibilities: they saw their future.
“A mutual friend had a home on the ground floor. Bernardo knocked and entered by climbing over the bedroom window where we were nerding, and we met like that.” Giovanni Bajo
Not everyone has lived through the time of the BBS; they were the first computerized systems for exchanging files. Bernardo had an ISDN telephone line with two lines, and he had also activated a second normal telephone number from one line. He had one of the most popular BBSes in Florence as far as the Amiga was concerned, and he was one of the few people who was able to manage more phone lines and users than usual (even if many people mostly remember Grandma talking on the phone while the BBS was connected and interrupted the line!). In the early 90s, it was a big investment for a normal family to have a computer like Bernardo had at home, but luckily he was one of the few people to own one!
“The IT guy knew C and that’s what he had to use. We always wanted to experiment with new technologies, which is why we decided to make our own company.” Simone Zinanni
A few years passsed, the three kids grew up and – guess what? – they chose to be programmers, to turn a passion into a career. Their paths also crossed professionally: it’s not that Florence is a metropolis; it’s that in the IT environment, everyone knows each other. But their desire to constantly use the newest technologies didn’t harmonize well with the fact that they were consultants for companies that conversely tended to reduce risk and use only well-known and established languages.
Starting up a company seems like the most natural step in order to be able to experiment with the most modern technologies, without constraints from above, and to be able to continue studying and keep learning, because a true developer always wants to be one step ahead of others.
This is how Develer 1.0 was born, on 12 October 2001, twenty years ago.
“Our first office was a 50 sqm site, on the outskirts of Florence, and it was kind of our den: we worked there, we ate there, we lived there. We had a sofa and slept there.” Simone Zinanni
It was a second home more than an office; at any time of the day or night, there was someone there nerding, including friends and collaborators. There were just a few square meters with a couple of desks, a sofa with some blankets, pizza boxes from the night before, and Trinity, the first server placed right at the entrance, who slammed the door after you came in. Of course, the company name was chosen thinking of something that sounded similar to “developer” and had a free domain (one more search and they would have discovered that “develer” meant “camel” in Turkish, but oh well, SEO hadn’t been around long enough!) and of course, Simone had designed the logo an hour before presenting an offer to a customer, but this new adventure could start from there. It was not all downhill from there though; customers talked about Open Source while they had never heard of it and they used Linux or Qt in embedded; meanwhile for software they bet on the still-unknown Python: now they’re obvious choices, but twenty years ago, they were pioneering and even looked at with a bit of suspicion, if we’re being honest.
“Technological experimentation has been the common thread that has followed us over the years: we were among the first in Italy to introduce and use Python, Qt, Go, and Rust in the industrial field.” Giovanni Bajo
After five years, we have the first turning point.
Develer had begun to build a reputation; it was a reality that attracted many passionate developers and there was no shortage of work: the time had come to find a larger and more suitable location to become a more structured company and not just a meeting place for friends. Develer 2.0 thus continued its journey in Campi Bisenzio, in the Florentine plain: in the new office of 160 square meters, where there was even a meeting room and a real administrative secretary, things were starting to get serious! The real challenge was maintaining the freshness of the early days and not becoming a gray and formal environment.
During those same years, however, Bernardo decided to make the big leap and go to work in the United States for the Free Software Foundation and OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), while Simone and Giovanni remained in Italy.
They wanted to make an innovative, beautiful company here, where people feel good, are trained, there are no large hierarchies, and where you can also have fun.
“We’re innovators by attitude and experimenters by vocation; our mission is technological evangelization. That’s why we started organizing conferences.” Simone Zinanni
The love for Python led most of Develer’s developers to found (together with other friends) Python Italia APS in 2007, and to organize more than 10 editions of PyCon and 3 editions of EuroPython over the years.
After bringing Richard Stallman and Guido Van Rossum to Florence, the desire to confront and give their own contribution to the world of software gave rise to the desire to organize other conferences: thus BetterSoftware, BetterEmbedded, QtDay, GoLab, and RustLab were born.
Develer’s fame also grew thanks to these events, and despite a tight campaign to conquer the neighboring offices, the space was never enough.
The time had come for a Develer 3.0.
“If you’re looking for me or Giovanni, you’ll find us in the open space at our desk among all the others. No private office, no door. If you walk behind me, you can see what I’m writing on the monitor. There are no secrets with the Develerians, no rigid hierarchies.” Simone Zinanni
2019 was the second turning point for Develer: the third move to a new location and the third change in the corporate structure with a multinational entering the scene.
This time, think big: the open space is 1300 square meters, can accommodate up to 120 people, and has been designed to grow together with the Develerians, to be comfortable and lived in at all hours, both for work and for organizing parties, BBQ, and video game tournaments.
Anyway, for a headquarters that’s nothing compared to the headquarters of the big companies in Silicon Valley, little by little, the children’s dream began to come true!
At the same time, the company grew: joining the Comelz group was a natural choice since it founded Develer in 2001. Comelz had always been the most important customer and, after 15 years of working together, all of the bases were there to decide to continue the journey together, including a great affinity and personal empathy. They had a beautiful relationship based on trust: Comelz trusts and relies completely on Develer from a technological point of view and expects proposals and the use of increasingly innovative technologies in full line with the company philosophy.
And so we come to today: almost 80 Develerians, a company that has continued to grow, passing unscathed through two corporate changes, a global economic crisis, and a pandemic, a place of work, but also a meeting place where you can feel good, learn, and share pleasant moments.
What do the kids of 20 years ago say now?
“We choose to make software every day because that’s what we like to do.
We’re a company, but above all, a group of travel companions who have shared a great passion for 20 years. Now we don’t sleep in the office, and maybe we have a few extra white hairs, but we’ve never betrayed the initial spirit. We want to keep it that way.” Simone and Giovanni