It started with a tweet.
Anyone interested in talking job search over virtual coffee tomorrow morning?
And a year later, we’re here. We’re here with a community I couldn’t have dreamt up. We’re here talking about the future. Thinking about the next time we do a Hacktoberfest event, the third time we run lightning talks, about the next set of podcast episodes we record, about the amazing things our members are doing, about collaborations.
Virtual Coffee is a lot of different things, to a lot of different people, but, as it says on our About page.
Virtual Coffee is, and always will be, a genuine community of people who value and prioritize supporting one another. We know that growth comes at all levels and that no matter what stage of the developer journey you’re on, you can teach and learn.
I have lived through a lot of growth in the last year, because accidentally starting a community during a pandemic can force that on you. I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about community, and I’m sharing this because a lot of that time was incredibly fulfilling and a lot of that time was lonely; and I’ve had a hard time finding people who are talking about the three Ls: learning, loneliness, and loveliness.
I’ve learned that sometimes it is a joy to give and share with people.
That trusting the people you’re collaborating with is so important.
That you should be able to argue and disagree with the people you trust.
That I am energized by other people’s energy.
That sometimes things will work out like you anticipate and other times they most definitely do not.
That a supported community will form their own subcommunities within your group and be amazing while doing it.
That sometimes the members you think are confident are silently struggling.
That sometimes you have to trust your gut feeling. You know it’s not right, but you can’t explain why. And for me, most times my gut has been right.
That the best education you can get will happen when you reach out and ask for it.
I am either intensely shy or I go for it. Usually, the go-for-it-Bekah comes when I find value in what I’m doing; when I’m working with other people. But it especially comes when I see other people’s needs that aren’t being met. And if “cold DMing” other founders, devs, community managers can help me support my community, my friends, then I do it without thinking or worrying.
- That so many people will tell you that what you’re doing isn’t possible.
Tangent time: In 7th grade I ran track. I wanted to run the hurdles. I could clear them fine with no training, and had the second fastest time on my team. When I asked the coach if I could run them, he told me no. “You’re too short.” That’s the moment in my life where I realized that when people told me I couldn’t, it became an instant challenge. I can be an early career developer. I can create community. I can find a way to keep us intimate and small and grow at the same time. I can do the things that I never thought I could. Four years ago, I never would’ve expected that I would be this person. I never would’ve guessed I’d even be a developer. I don’t believe in the impossible. I embrace it as a challenge.
That a yes can be a no to a hundred other things.
That sometimes honesty hurts, but the people around you deserve honesty.
That I don’t need to be an expert.
That asking for help is normal.
That sometimes your gut feeling will be wrong, and that’s ok. You learn from that experience and take it with you to the next. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it puts you behind where you expect to be, but it puts you ahead for the next time it happens.
When you accidentally start a community, you accidentally become the leader, and then you give your time and sometimes your money to make sure the community keeps going.
And suddenly you find that you’ve been giving every ounce of yourself, and you’re tired. And you want to scream out for help, but it’s hard. You don’t want to let anyone down. You don’t want anyone to know that you’ve thought that other people would do a better job and that you should hand it over to those other people and walk away for the betterment of the community.
And at some point, you start to feel like you’re not part of the community.
And if you’re not supported, this leads straight to burnout. (And super shoutout to Dan and Kirk, who have brought me back more than once from that point.)
It is a lonely space to feel like you have no one to talk to. To feel like the decisions you’ve made were not the right ones, and you don’t know how to recover from that. To hear from people you respect, that you can’t do what you’re trying to do.
But here’s the thing, I hit a breaking point–well, probably a couple of times. But what allowed me to push through those times was knowing who supported me. And, for me, that happened when I was silently struggling, and my friends could read it on my face and came to help. I’m working at getting better at verbalizing this. But their support saved me, saved the community, and made beautiful experiences.
I’ve hit a lot of personal life challenges in the last year. But I’ve known who I should message first in those situations, who had my back, who would carry me when I was down, who would support the community. And that’s psychological safety, but it’s also friendship. And knowing that people are there for the community is so important to me in those times.
I’ve never been good with friendships. I’m shy. I’m an introvert–or maybe an ambivert, but that’s tbd. My ADHD dx in the last year has played a huge role in understanding this as well.
I’ve never felt so at home with a group of people.
Seeing their kindness, their excitement, their growth. Seeing their willingness to help each other and to be helped. To share and be vulnerable. To cheer each other on.
It’s special. There’s authenticity. No bravado. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a DM or been a part of a thread, that’s given me what I needed to get me through a hard time. Or when members have shown up, because they are my friends–most of whom I have yet to meet.
And that’s it. Do your community leaders care about the community? Because it’s easy to spot many of the people who are playing the role. Authenticity matters.
Last week three things happened that further solidified that this is one of my favorite places.
The first was a thread in the #neurodiverse channel. What started out as an ADHD discussion, went into a true and beautiful ADHD thread that was clever, random, and hilarious, and brought the energy I love about my neurodiversity and the community I’ve found through Virtual Coffee.
The second was when I realized that I’ve been doing Virtual Coffee for a year straight, and haven’t had a week off for a year. I messaged Dan–who is an Organization Maintainer with me–to ask if he thought it would be ok for me to take a week off. And I got nothing but support.
Taking time off is not an easy thing for me to do, but when we interviewed Tom Cudd for the Virtual Coffee podcast, he talked about how he set the example for his team with his work habits. And it was validation. Because I’ll tell members to practice self-care and to refuse to work more than 40 hours a week, but the truth is, I’m bad at setting that boundary for myself.
Virtual Coffee isn’t a job, and I haven’t made any money doing it, but I spend a lot of my time developing the community, meeting with people who can help me understand how to support our members, developing events and processes and docs and topics that encourage growth and mentorship at all stages.
And so I’m going to do it. I’m going to take a week off this month. And it will be hard, but I’ve already got ideas for what I’m going to do. (One will involve heavy weights.) But honestly, it’s important. I love this community with my whole heart, and they’ve seen my tears more than a handful of times because I give them the fullness of myself. But I also need to allow myself time to focus on my personal growth as well.
I could spend hours talking about what I’ve learned in the last year, but I am very thankful that I’ve done it with Virtual Coffee. I am thankful for the DMs I get encouraging me. I am thankful for the kindness that everyone shares. I am thankful for the support of my fellow maintainers. I am thankful for the community members who support each other. I am thankful for those around me who realize that I’m struggling, but I don’t know how to verbalize it. And I am thankful for the subtle moments of acceptance. Because those have been the ones that have powered me through this intensely challenging year.