I first discovered my tech community about a decade ago while attending a Java user group, aka TCJUG. At the time, I wasn’t paying much attention and didn’t really get “community”. I occasionally attended these user groups in my never-ending pursuit of learning the next big shiny thing. I was also well aware that I was the only or nearly the only woman in the room.
At some point, people started asking for my help, asking me to contribute, to speak, for connections. I could help! I had a purpose! And that’s when I started putting it all together: this community was going to be important to my career.
Over the years, I learned that it’s very much a give and take... but the purpose it gave me made me realize that it’s better to go into it with a give first mentality. And out of it, you’ll get more than you’ve ever imagined.
Don't know anyone at the event? Want to expand your network? You'll meet new people by volunteering. And you'll feel good going it, too. Learn new things, gain experience in whatever skills you're lending, strengthen your leadership experience.
Most meetups, conferences, and events are looking for volunteers to help with event registration, assisting speakers, giving directions, coordinating meals, and more. If there's a particular meetup or conference you've wanted to attend but don't know anyone, tell the organizers you're new and ask what you can do to help.
Giving a talk to your audience of bright, talented, experienced people and these are people who will have feedback, give you support, and maybe even expose you to a different way of thinking about your topic. While you're sharing it with the world, you'll learn new things, get to add it to your portfolio or resume, maybe gain notoriety.
There are plenty of ways to do this, from giving full-blown all-day workshops at conferences to a 5-minute lightning talk at a monthly meetup.
Something like 85% of jobs are found through networking. If you are asked for an introduction to someone you know, think about how it could benefit both of those people. Maybe it's a new hire or a new job or a collaboration. As you grow your own network, you'll connect with people who will come across other people or opportunities that might be a good fit for you or have a connection to a job that you're seeking.
By contributing back to open-source, you'll gain experience in a technology, help grow the project, improve your people skills, maybe even find a mentor or someone to mentor, and you'll improve it for future users. You'll be leaving it better than you found it and if you're a large consumer of that particular project the expertise and experience you contribute back will enable others to be more successful with it.
Contributing to open source doesn't have to mean writing code. There is so much more that goes into a project: design, copywriting, documentation, managing bugs and feature requests, lending a hand, adding more info to hairy bugs, reviewing pull requests, organizing events related to the project and more.
When you advocate for, sponsor, or mentor someone in your community, you'll learn more from this person than you ever expected. But you'll also be giving back to this community by making sure another person feels included, supported, has space to be themselves and to grow, and is more likely to give of themselves.
From all of these, I also get a flood of new ideas, inspiration, and motivation in my own work. Not everything I do every single day in my day job is fulfilling (bookkeeping, anyone?) but it can be the gives and gets like these that help keep me fulfilled, inspired, and motivated.