If there's one thing I wish that I had done earlier in my career, its getting involved in the tech community. Getting involved has been the most important thing I've done for my career. I want to dig into the reasons for that in this post. I also want to offer my advice for how you can also get involved.
I started to code in a computer science class that I ended up in completely by luck. But, I was a liberal arts student in a class where I knew nobody. The people around me weren't who I usually took classes with. There weren't a lot of women, and most people had different interests and more experience than me. I felt like a total outlier, which wasn't too far from the reality.
I didn't have a community around me of people in a similar situation to my own. I ended up quitting after two semesters because I thought that coding wasn't for me.
I ended up in a software engineering internship a few months later, and the same problem applied. There were only two woman at the company and the other was also an intern. I thought that it would be a one and done situation, I would finish out the internship and then go back to not coding. Luckily, it didn't end up that way. But, I think my attitude towards coding would have been so different if I had a group of similar people around me.
My first community event was volunteering at a Django Girls event in my city as one of their mentors. I'm very grateful for that experience. It allowed me to apply the teaching skills I had studied in college, and it felt awesome to help other women learn the technology that, at the time, my career was based off of. I don't think I attended another event for almost a year -- when I went to the CodeHer conference in DC and was surrounded by hundreds of women in tech for the first time.
I still didn't do much more at that point with the tech community, I started to volunteer teach at Hear Me Code, which may one of the most incredible organizations out there, every few months and I attended a couple happy hours for women in tech in DC. I pretty much only attended events for women.
I impulsively submitted my first conference proposal to CodeHer the next year. It somehow got accepted, and from there I got asked to speak at a few meetups. Which spiraled into more and more. Which then turned into speaking at conferences, blogging, and even organizing meetups.
For me, a huge part of finding a community was finding other people like me in tech -- specifically other women since I can still count on one hand the number of women coders I've worked on teams with in my career. Another part was the educational side, learning about different technologies at free workshops and at conferences is awesome and can really help get you excited about topics. Then, there's the career side of it. I've been lucky to have so many job opportunities open up to me on account of my community involvement, and in some ways it feels like a safety net in case anything were to go wrong. It also opens up other doors -- I have been able to travel to give talks, become friends with some super inspiring people, do podcasts with some of my heroes, etc.
Enough about me, how can you start getting involved? I've listed 11 ways below, ranging roughly from the lowest effort to the highest.
One quick way to start getting involved is to start answering people's questions online, whether that be #Discuss or #help questions on DEV, answering questions on Stack Overflow, or another forum site. It has a pretty low barrier to entry, and you can be really helpful to people.
A lot of developers hang out on Twitter, and it is a great place to gain some visibility. One easy way to get involved is through Twitter chats, like #CodeNewbie, #DevDiscuss, or #ArtTechChat. You don't have to think up top level Tweets, you're given questions or prompts to answer. You can also start out with just responding to other people's tweets that you find insightful or with your own insights!
A lot of meetup groups and conferences have Slack groups where you can keep in touch with other attendees. There are also Slack groups for different technologies and people with similar interests. These are great places to meet new people and chat in an instantaneous way. There are other sites like Discord that perform a similar function too!
It's a little less social than a lot of the activities on this list, but contributing to open source is another way to contribute to the developer community. You're probably benefitting from open source projects, and it can be a great career move, especially if you're working on big projects. By the way, the DEV code base is open source!
You can also set up a mailing list and send out a newsletter with things you've learned, links you like, etc. It can be some work to set up and also costs money once you have over a few thousand subscribers, but it's a great way to communicate and people are pretty tuned into their emails!
Meetups are awesome because they can take on so many different formats. Some are happy hours, others are lightning talks, others have more traditional long form talks or workshops. They're also awesome because they're local, so you can meet people in your area and connect with them. You can even become an organizer or speaker to get even more involved. I would recommend bringing a friend the first time you attend a new meetup so that you have someone to hang out with if you get shy or uncomfortable, but Meetups are a great way to get involved in real life in your local community. And, if you're looking for a job, these are one of the best places to look.
Video tutorials can take a lot of work, but a lot of people learn really well from them. You have to come up with a lesson plan, then write the sample code, and then tape and record a video. You then can post on YouTube or work with another site!
Conferences have a higher barrier to entry than the other community events listed above since you normally have to pay for them plus any travel costs that you may incur if they're non-local. That being said, there are few opportunities like conferences to learn from industry experts all at once, and you get a lot of concentrated networking time. I normally find out about them on Twitter or PaperCall. You can also check out Listings -- there are some on there too!
You can also start to speak at conferences, which I have a full post about!
I've recently started holding office hours for people in tech. I've been doing both 1-1 and group ones. It's awesome to make those closer connections and actually learn about the people I see online. It's logistically a lot of work to figure out, but it's really worth it!
Getting involved in the community has been the most pivotal thing I've done for my career. There are so many ways to do so, and you definitely don't have to do everything. Especially not all at once.