As part of my preparation for my presentation “Living In The Developer Community”, I’m introducing the idea of the “Pillars of Community Involvement”. Basically, the “pillars” are a way for determine what level of involvement you have inside the developer community, and what you can do to get more involved (essentially “move” between the pillars").
First Pillar: The Solo Coder
This pillar contains two type of people: those unaware of the community and those unable or unwilling to participate in the community. I encapsulate them under the same pillar because they are not involved in the community at all.
Let’s start with those unwilling to participate. They are solo coders. They are the nine to fiver. Software development is a job, not a career. They do not have the drive to learn new technologies and be consistently on top of their game. Daily coding problems are typically solved by Googling various keywords, reading forums, etc. If a problem cannot be solved through Google-fu, then it is a problem that didn’t need solving. Why be involved in a community when you do not have passion for what you do on a daily basis? I don’t mean for that statement to start a flame war, because I’m sure there are solo coders out there that are very passionate about what they do. However, the lack of effort to make it to a free community event shows something. Maybe the event is too far away (I talk about this later). Maybe it’s at a bad time of the month. Maybe you just don’t care.
Since I cover the first excuse later, I’ll talk about the last too. User groups, code camps, and other community events are typically scheduled at a time that is flexible for the venue and for the majority of the people who would be able to attend. You typically don’t find a user group meeting scheduled on a Monday or a Friday because people generally don’t show up on those days. Realistically, Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday are the best days because they are in middle of the week and more people show up. Saturday’s are perfect for all day events because people don’t need to take time off work to attend. Community leaders really do think about these things when scheduling meetings and events.
It’s impossible for community leaders to accommodate several schedules. That’s why we maintain a consistent schedule. HRNUG is scheduled for every second Tuesday of the month. I guarantee we will always have a meeting, even if it’s a roundtable chat/discussion. Want to come to HRNUG but can’t until November? That meeting has already been scheduled, you just need to plan for it. Does the event interfere with your favorite sports team playing? Try DVR, Tivo, or VCR! Come out and hang with us for 2 hours. It’ll be there waiting for you when you get home, and you don’t have to deal with pesky commercials. Need to go home to let the dog out? Leave work a little bit early. Tell you’re boss that you’re attending a free training session, and I doubt he/she would have a problem.
Talk with your user group leader about special interest groups or brown bag lunches. In the next month or two, HRNUG is going to plan for a community lunch. Come out, eat, and let’s talk about stuff we all enjoy! Special interest groups can be used to discuss certain subjects more in depth. The Raleigh developer community has several SIGs, and I think it’s an awesome idea. As the community in Hampton Roads grows, we’ll definitely going to look at possibility forming a SIG or two. There’s several ways to be involved, you just need to find them.
So what about the person that doesn’t care at all about the community? I don’t think there is much we can do to change that. Let’s imagine though, for example, that you’re interviewing for a development position. The hiring process comes down to two folks. You and another person. You are slightly more qualified for the position than the other person. However, the other person is involved in the developer community. Which candidate is worth more to the company? Naturally, you would say you were. You’re more qualified! I would say the other person is. Worth is measured several different ways. However, I would rather hire a community involved person than someone who is not (or doesn’t want to be). Why? They are typically more up to date on new technologies, methodologies, and software development ideas. Their potential network is much larger than yours. By them being involved, they are promoting my company by working for me. My company gets more exposure by having a community involved person than not having one. That’s worth a lot.
I tend to put a lot of value on the networking aspect of the community. Let’s say for example, I have an issue with an ASP.NET site I’m working on. Something’s not working, and I’ve exhausted all avenues I had to find the answer. I could post my question/issue to Twitter, and within ten minutes I can receive five replies from people who want to help me solve my problem. Not only that, but several of these people are ASP.NET MVPs. By being an MVP, it means you’ve been recognized by the community and by Microsoft for your expertise and willingness to help others in the community. There is a lot of value in having a network of experts in several areas of software development.
(Good place for a coffee break. Sorry this is such a long article!)
What if you ARE passionate about what you do, want to be involved, but simply don’t know that the community exists? There are tons of resources available to help you. Let’s start simple with Google. Typing in the query "Hampton Roads User Group” (notice I didn’t say .NET, Ruby, or whatever). The first result (for me) is the Hampton Roads .NET Users Group. Congrats! You found a user group. Go to the site, and you’ll have information about our next meeting. Additionally, you would’ve found the Hampton Roads SQL Server and Sharepoint User Group, and the Hampton Roads LEGO Users Group (how fun!).
Next, I would recommend using Community Megaphone (http://www.communitymegaphone.com) to find IT related events in your area. This project was started by Andrew Duthie, the Microsoft Developer Evangelist for the Mid-Atlantic region. While Andrew is a Microsoft employee, the events listed on CM are not limited to Microsoft technologies. Any IT related event can be posted. If you’re going out of town, CM is a great resource for finding events whenever you might be. PROTIP: Andrew uses GeoRSS for all events, which can be easily plugged into a GeoRSS-enabled application to find events near you.
Lastly, your fellow developers are a great resource. Numerous members of HRNUG found us through word of mouth. Odds are that if you’re a developer, you have at least one or two developer friends in the area. Ask them if they know about any events or groups in the area.
What if the closest event to you is 2 hours away? Before I started HRNUG, the closest user group community to me was the Richmond crowd. It’s exactly a two hour drive for me from my work to the Richmond .NET User Group. I was hesitant the first time I made the drive. Two hours is a long time there, and a long time back. I’ve been going back every month for a year and a half. I go for the community and the friend’s I’ve made. In times of deadlines, design meetings, and endless scope creep, that user group meeting is the only thing I look forward to.
Now the question is posed to existing community folks: how do we keep these first timers? I’ve retold my first user group story many many times, but I think it’s important. As I said above, I drove two hours up to the Richmond .NET Users Group meeting. I eventually found the building. No signs were posted for the meeting location. I ended up following several geeky looking people to find the meeting (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). I stood in the door of the meeting room, and there were a handful of people already there. Then all of a sudden, a gentleman came up to me and said Hi. He shook my hand. That man was Kevin Hazzard, and he welcomed me into the community.
The real kicker was the next month, when I decided to make the 2 hour trek to Richmond again. Kevin came up to me, remembered my name, and welcomed me back. That’s how you keep someone in the community. Welcome them in. At every HRNUG meeting, I do my best to say hello and welcome to everyone coming through the door. If they’re taking the time out of their schedule to come to the meeting, it’s the least I could do. I’ve made several friends through doing this.
The first pillar is the easiest to get out of. Get up and get involved. By just showing up is being involved. The support of the community makes the community what it is, and it’s the only way we’re going to grow.