Attending the Google Developers Group (GDG) Leads Summit, last week, in Sunnyvale, California, has really opened my eyes and given me the scale of how many active, Google-mindset-driven, communities there are out there, and how many of us are trying to constantly help and benefit the world, even in our own small regions.
One of the key takeaways we've had from the summit, the keynote and breakroom talks is, that no matter how small of an impact you may have done, and how tiny you community is, it still matters. And you should share your story.
This is a story about our community in Osijek, Croatia. It may not be GDG Osijek specific, or about a specific meetup, but it's an important piece of everything we strive to do, to help others join the fascinating and beautiful world of technology.
To understand the idea of what we're doing, and how our story came to life, we first have to take a small step back and see the context of our everyday community lives.
Osijek is a relatively small city - around 100 thousand people, with a very strong IT scene. Thousands of developers have started out here, from their very first college courses on programming, or their friends giving them an introduction to one programming language or another. Because of this, years ago, an official IT community was born, named the Osijek Software City (OSC).
OSC principles are several, but in general, the mindset is about improving the life in Osijek, providing various educational lectures and workshops, to share knowledge and experience, increase the number of developers on the market, and generate new jobs.
With this in mind, many meetups and talks have been born, like the Android, iOS, Web, and Design, Marketing and PR Meetups/Talks. Overall, we've had a plethora of events happen in Osijek in many years, all on the community and voluntary level. You can look up some of our events at the official website.
But it cannot stop there. As time passes, communities have to grow, and the vision for the future has to exist.
If you're geeky at all, you'll probably think of The Vision from the MCU. This is not that kind of a vision, but rather our goal for the future.
To really speak up about the vision, I also have to share my bit of the story. I haven't been a part of the OSC community since the old days. I've only recently joined it, in 2015/16. But nonetheless, I've done quite a big share of the work for the community, as I've personally given dozens of talks and have been organizing events for the aforementioned meetups.
But since day one, I've realized that my personal goal, or vision, for the community, is for it to grow, and share everything. Which is why I've become much more involved in it, wishing people would teach each other, with me trying to make this possible, using (if) any power I have, to make it happen. Be it through organizing meetups, holding them, or helping some other initiative, when needed.
Of course, I alone am not responsible for anything which resulted from this, as we all try to inspire each other, to pursue the goals we have, and we've all worked together, to bring out the best of us. This turned out to be fruitful. Many connections were formed, and a lot of events have been organized, many people have learned a lot and have built their careers up. We've all made friends and colleagues. Additionally, a few of us have aspired to have more involvement in the organization, trying to bring up new tracks of meetups, such as the Functional Programming meetups, or the GDG Osijek chapter, which came a bit later on.
But I hadn't been aware of what each of our roles really meant until this GDG Global Leads Summit just before the Google I/O 2019. This is still a bit forward in the timeline, so let's see what happened before these eye-opening moments.
Within the community, I've tried to connect with as many people as I could and share with them everything I knew, and anything I had to share, that would presumably help them in their careers. It didn't take long for the results to start showing. Even though I was the new guy, I got recognized fairly quickly in the Android community, as a sort of an up-and-coming person in it. And I wanted to show that I'm there for anyone who thinks I could help them.
With the help of my friends and colleagues, I've managed to spread this energy, and we have since grown a small army of people doing the same, trying to connect and build up our tech family, inspiring others to participate and do their part, painting the bigger picture - free constructive teaching and sharing. But once again, we couldn't stop here.
Having a cup of coffee, or a beer, after a successful meetup, sharing things we've run into in the previous week, or month, and things we've explored is amazing. But it wasn't really for everyone. We got the veterans of IT to gather together, and hang out, but there was still a huge audience we hadn't covered at that point in time - new people.
As I could strongly relate, it's hard to enter the IT world. When I had done it, I didn't know virtually anything about programming, and I wasn't connected to people who did - mostly due to my extreme introvert personality. It was just by luck that I had landed my first internship of sorts, learning the Java programming language and Android development, ultimately leading me on the path I'm taking today. But there's a lot of people there who are introverts, and who don't have an easy time connecting to new people but are, at the same time, struggling with IT.
This has strongly influenced my wish to do something, to alleviate the difficulty of IT for many other new kids on the block. And it was the year 2018, that my friend, previous lead organizer of meetups in Osijek, Ivan Jurlina, pushed me in the right direction, with an amazing idea. Even though his profile at the OSC website doesn't tell much, there's quite a lot to say about him. Thinking back to it, with all the help he's given me in OSC, building me up to be one of the event organizers, he's been a true mentor from the very beginning. And as such has really given me a broader look at things, when building communities.
Especially when it comes to the idea we've had in mind.
What we came up with was the idea of entirely free, high-quality workshops, based on a prospective group of volunteers. We'd afterwards put a name to it - the Android Developer Academy.
We had planned to prepare ten, three-hour workshops, every Saturday, for about twenty people, in which we'd give people everything from the very basics of programming, to the higher, more complex, parts of Android development. Given that this was purely self-organizational, we didn't have any specific goals for the Academy, but we had wished for a couple of new developers on the market, to help at least a few people in their desire to become Android devs, any way we could.
Bruno Zorić, Marijan Gazica, Tomislav Jakopec, Robert Vargić and I met up over a drink, and have gone over the curriculum, our goals for the Academy, the content we want to see, the dates for the lectures, and the time and structure of each of the topics.
I took the lead on the organizational part of everything, with a birds-eye view of the situation, to gain more experience when it comes to organization, with others helping out with the logistics, the curriculum, picking out attendees, giving lectures later on, and much more. Very soon we collected everything we needed, opened the applications, and picked twenty people we thought were good fits for the Academy - who had shown good will in their motivational letters and had some experience with coding. We had eighty applications for the Academy, and it was extremely hard to pick out the candidates, but we managed to do it.
And pretty soon, the Academy was under way. as we prepared the lectures, the content, the projects, and in a short time, it began. :]
Describing everything that happened with the Academy would be a short book by itself, but in short lines: it was extremely hard for us, it took colossal amounts of energy and willpower, but we did it. Out of the twenty picks we've had, twelve had finished the very Academy. The eight that haven't, were either people who didn't appreciate our help - e.g. sat in the back fiddling with their phones, rather than working with us on the projects and listening to the lectures. Yeah, that happens. Or people who had personal, life stuff, and just didn't have enough time to focus on the work and the program.
These twelve people were given diplomas for finishing the really rough course of the Academy, with a sort of an extreme tempo we'd put them under, and with a lot of knowledge being shared around. I won't lie, it wasn't at all easy, but we really wanted to give them enough experience and knowledge to possibly land jobs in IT.
At the moment we hadn't realized what we had done. In our minds, we taught a group of people some basic skills for the Android dev world, and hopefully set them on some path. But the reality was very much different. Very much more positive.
What we didn't know, but have slowly started finding out, is that out of those twelve people, every single person had found Junior Android developer position jobs, or internships for the same.
We couldn't comprehend the results. We were astonished beyond any limit, as we had helped those twelve people find their way in this crazy, huge world.
But what was even more inspiring to us, is the fact that we had inspired them. To teach - their friends and college buddies. To start giving talks in the community, just as other lecturers and I once had started. And most importantly, to make someone else's world a bit better.
One of my two favorite people out of the bunch is a young woman named Terezija (Theresa in English) and a young man named Tomislav. After nearly four years of IT and community work, with all the knowledge I have, and all the things I've seen and have been part of, they've truly put me, and many other people, in awe. And it's why we have to mention their stories as well.
Note: These are not the only people that had really great results from the Academy, and have managed to do a lot after, but they're the ones that I've stayed in contact the most.
I've always had the notion that any deed I do could have a serious impact on the world in a negative way, just like stepping on a butterfly might break everything apart, as seen in some sci-fi movies. But I never figured that the efforts we've had in the community could also have a huge positive impact on someone, or on many people.
Terezija finished the Academy with stellar performance. Out of the bunch, she really stood out with nearly hundreds of questions she dropped on us, at literally any time of the day (not kidding! ^^). She truly reminded us of our beginnings, when we were learning everything there was to be learned in development.
Not only did she finish with a stellar performance in regards of the tasks we'd given, but she had also gone even two or three extra miles than what we've asked from people. And I knew right away that she'd be a part of something greater in time, and that she'd be one of the people who try to make this world a better place.
Her latest project is also her Bachelor's degree project and thesis - an Android application/solution which helps a local group of volunteers find, bond or connect to troubled or abused children. Each volunteer is assigned a child to hang out with, and they do their best to build up a bond, trying to develop the children's' social skills and include them in the society, as often they are from abandoned children's centers, juvenile centers or similar institutions.
The application would serve as a way to note activities and their progress down in a fun, technology-driven way, so that the children would also get a feeling of the modern world.
What really hit me though is, she went out all the way with this, and looked up the topic herself, and the application of it as well. Even without her Bachelor's degree, she is already making a change. And as such has truly made me do a lot of thinking, and has made me strive to help others even more.
But that isn't everything... Terezija also inspired me to organize another Android Academy, because of her story, and she is now one of the speakers. Getting a bit out of her comfort zone, she is making the same impact we did on her last year, to twenty-five new people this year! :]
As I've mentioned, there are a few people who have made great strides in their pursuit of an IT career and in the pursuit of knowledge in software development. Another really good example is Tomislav. Just like Terezija, he didn't have a lot of prior knowledge, nor did he work in IT anywhere before, when he came to our Academy.
But he went into the Academy head on, and gave more than a hundred percent, learning a lot on the way. Once he finished the Academy, he immediately started applying for jobs in Osijek, as an Android developer. And because of his effort and the knowledge gained, it didn't take him long to land one.
Not only that, but he's also been involved in the community more and more, attending Android meetups and connecting with others. This also led to him being one of the speakers at this year's Academy! He did a wonderful job explaining things like the MVP architectural pattern in Android and SOLID principles in software development.
The coolest thing about him, for me, is that he's currently a lone Android developer at his company. But that didn't stop him from building four complete, performant, and beautiful applications, on his own, mostly from the ground up. All four applications are released (or due to be released)! And he's learned so much in a year, that it's really fascinating to imagine how much more he'll grow in the next year.
So, as seen above, the slightest good deed can create a ripple effect, which would spread out tremendously. This happened with the first meetups in Osijek, spreading towards teaching people in-person and mentoring, spreading further to the first Android Academy, and now the second, and of course to people like Terezija and Tomislav, who use up their time and willpower to make others happier and more included.
But all of this wouldn't happen if we hadn't been a part of the community. If we hadn't shared our ideas and energy to others. And by sharing this story, I can only hope we've inspired you to do the same within your local community. Heck, even go further, try helping out a close city, which doesn't have such a big tech scene.
Since this bit of writing started by me being inspired by some stories at the GDG summit, let's try to end it there as well. If you have any vision for a community of your own, try doing it through the Google Developers Group program. It really does bring many possibilities to you, even if you're in a city smaller than Osijek.
You can apply to build a new GDG Chapter, or you can look for existing ones, and join them, to help the organization in general. To learn a bit more about the program, you can head over to the official page.
Once again, we cannot stop here. This is why some big things are coming to the GDG Osijek. Academies are fun, as they are a constant series of workshops. But what we could really do more is have more one-day study jams, exploring various technologies. Additionally, I hope to gather the entire community for a day or two of a conference-like event, to really bring out the sense of belonging and inclusiveness.
Moreover, all of the materials from the Android academies will be organized and open-sourced, so that everyone can access them, and learn on their own if they hadn't made it to the Academy. We hope that, in due time, we'll be able to record these sessions, so that people can watch them even if they aren't a part of the attendees. The current materials have been gathered here, and you can explore them if you need some help too, or you would like to reuse our projects for your community events.
There's so much more we can, and hopefully will do. It can never stop if we can improve even more lives, and inspire even more people. So we urge you to do the same. Go on and start sharing knowledge and positive energy. Only good can come out of it. And thank you for taking the time to read and spread our story.