C Spire is a technology and telecommunications company headquartered in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I have been a full-time Software Developer here since December 2016. I wanted to work for C Spire because I believed that it corporately understands the importance of computer literacy. Evidenced by a growing number of initiatives like the Tech Movement, the C Spire Coding Challenge, and the Software Development Pathway, this faith has been well-placed. I'm glad I work for a company that invests in its community so intentionally.
In June 2019, I was approached by our Application Systems Architect team to discuss establishing some cultural changes to help the C Spire developer community. Just as in any enterprise-level company, information gets siloed and teams will sometimes work on redundant operations––or worse, they might work against each other. There are disparate standards, tools, and languages between development teams. Junior developers often don't even understand how a project starts and ends, let alone who determines requirements and specifications. The common solution for problems like these is to promote communication, which was exactly what the Architect group wanted to do. So, we set about writing a mission statement to establish our own initiative.
The way we wanted to execute this mission was to create an internal forum, communicate the goals of our efforts, and invite developers to speak on a wide array of topics.
The medium of a developer meetup would help us generate creative collisions between a wide audience at the company. We targeted our IT, Network, and HR departments. IT itself is comprised of a number of groups including web and application developers, UX designers, analysts, DBA, BI, QA, Billing, and Operations. HR and Network both have their own development teams. Network is responsible for infrastructure and they develop their own monitoring and reporting tools in-house.
Bringing in such a diverse audience has been rewarding and challenging. We have to organize our speakers so that their talks are enlightening to people who might otherwise be disengaged or unaware of their topic. Sometimes, speakers don't think their areas of expertise are interesting––though this is a problem we have yet to really face for an I/O session. Our audience, then, is really just the people we work with but don't know much about. As an organization, we keep finding ourselves with groups who send a speaker to say to our audience: this is who we are and what we do; how can we help you?
Even though the company clearly has a strong understanding of why computer science and software engineering are vital to collective success, we couldn't pitch a developer meetup without establishing why it was important to C Spire. We identified these goals which would help us measure the impact of our meetup:
- Lower developer churn
- Foster learning and developer contribution
- Encourage cross-team culture sharing
- Establish and communicate C Spire best practices
- Reduce complacency and encourage creativity
- Shift the paradigm toward CI/CD
The Architects, a System Analyst from my team, an intern, and myself were the core group planning what we decided to call C Spire I/O. The name came from the guiding principles of innovation and openness, but on a less high-minded level we were just ripping Google's I/O conference. The company name C Spire comes from our vision to be "customer inspired" so I like to think we are just borrowing inspiration.
The support we received for I/O from the leadership in IT was incredible. Managers bought in to the idea and agreed to honor the time we organized I/O sessions by encouraging their teams to attend and participate. Executive leadership gave us a blank check to make an event we would be proud to produce. What meant the most to me, though, was that everyone I talked to seemed to recognize what we're doing as a good thing, not just something that's necessary.
- We predicted that we might average 40-50 attendees at each session. In 2019, we hosted 7 sessions with an average of 92 people attending!
- Since our focus is internal, the speakers for each session come from the 20 groups that participate in I/O. 14 of those groups were represented.
- 21 different talks ranged from themes of Requirements, Architecture, Development, and Deployment.
- We are targeting 12 dates to host I/O sessions throughout the year
- We want to improve the remote experience of I/O sessions to increase engagement at C Spire offices around the nation
- We hope to bring in external speakers
As I reflect on how this all started, I remember a story from my first year at C Spire. In August 2017, the company held a hack-a-thon style event called Ideathon where groups would workshop their ideas to present to a board not unlike the well-known Shark Tank. I was still fresh under the gills and getting used to working in a corporate environment but I was curious as to what might happen.
I found a group of colleagues and we hashed out plans for a community coding club. The idea was not entirely the same as C Spire I/O because it wasn't specifically about development happening within the company. We rooted our conversation in how to best help people who were interested in learning how to create software for people with no experience. After drawing up a mock schedule filled with lecture series, workshops, and social events, I volunteered to give our 5-minute pitch. I think the passion I felt for creating community around technology became apparent while I spoke on all the ideas the group had come up with and stood by it. Even though our pitch didn't win the competition, I was proud to be company to others who were just as excited about computer science literacy and the many ways we might be able to impact our community by sharing our knowledge.
The drive to make software development an accessible skill aligns with C Spire's efforts to raise the bar in Mississippi. Only about half of the high schools in the state offer computer science courses, so the need here is great. Software creates so much opportunity for innovation, creativity, and community. To be included as a founding board member of C Spire I/O is an honor though it also seems it was inevitable. The lesson I've learned here is to talk about your passions and the people who are excited and able to help you will find you.
I hope that developers at C Spire young and old will see I/O as an platform for them to speak about their passions.