Sarah Katz

NYC-Based Full Stack JS Developer

From the mind of Sarah...

Finding My Developer Community

July 01, 2019

One of the interesting things about my coding bootcamp experience is that we didn't just learn to code - we learned to become developers. That includes learning to code, but it also includes things like pair programming and git workflow. We were encouraged to blog and to attend developer events and to grow our LinkedIn network. The goal of the bootcamp was not only to give us the technical knowledge we needed to start our careers as developers, but to help us become part of the global community of developers and contribute in ways that go beyond writing code.

When I graduated from bootcamp, I wanted to be part of that community. I've always enjoyed being part of something and contributing to a community, but I wasn't entirely sure where to start. I went to some meetups, but the only ones where I really talked to people were the ones that my friends were at (and most of the people I was talking to were my friends). I created a twitter account to use for dev-related tweets, but I mostly just read other people's tweets and never participated in conversations. I looked at some open source software repositories to see if there was an open issue I wanted to tackle, but never felt comfortable enough with anything.
I tried to be part of the community, but I really didn't feel like I was.

Once I started my first post-bootcamp job, I didn't really focus much on being part of the developer community. It wasn't important to my company, and since I hadn't yet found a place where I felt comfortable in the developer community space, I let myself put it on the back burner. Every so often I thought about heading over to a meetup, but I rarely actually went. Sometimes I'd pull up my favorite open source repo and look at the open issues ... but I never took any steps towards contributing. I had even stopped blogging at one point in time because I was busy and didn't make it a priority (although blogging for me has always been a personal way of understanding my situation, and I never specifically blogged to be part of the community).

The longer I went without really feeling like I was part of the developer community, the harder it became for me to break out of my lack of participation. At the end of 2018, I decided that 2019 was going to be the year I became more involved in the developer community. I started blogging again. I tried to tweet a bit more. I looked at open source repos, but still didn't find a place I wanted to contribute. And then in mid-February, I got a shock - instead of supporting my desire to grow into new responsibilities (which I had hoped they would based on some conversations with my boss), my company decided to let me go. And that fueled me further to try to participate in the developer community. I was hoping that being active in the community would help connect me to my next job. I had seen members of the community retweeting tweets of people looking for jobs and lots of people saying that they try to connect candidates with recruiters, so I decided to try to get involved and see if that would help me get connected to my next job.

I started off small. I posted on Twitter and LinkedIn that I was looking for a new position. By this point I had started blogging again, so I posted links to each blog post after I shared it. This helped a bit with sharing my message, but it didn't really give me a sense of being part of the community.

Feeling like part of the community meant interacting with people I didn't know, which can be hard sometimes. I sometimes listen to a podcast called CodeNewbie, and I knew they had a twitter chat, so I started trying to participate in their chats. It gave me an opportunity to share my thoughts on a topic, see what other awesome code enthusiasts have to say on the topic, and interact with some really smart and interesting people (although honestly, I tend to like other people's tweets more than I reply because I don't always have something to say). I don't participate every week (sometimes I forget, sometimes I'm busy, sometimes I'm just not feeling it), but participating in the chat when I can helps me feel like a part of a community.

Another thing I've been trying to do is just interact with other people on twitter. When someone posts something I find interesting, I like it or reply. I'm not really great at getting involved in twitter conversations, but when I feel like I have something to add, I try to find the best way to share it with the community.

Many people in the tech world are familiar with the site DEV.to, and I recently joined that site and started getting involved there. I had read the occasional article on DEV.to in the past, but had never taken the plunge and signed up, until someone encouraged me to start cross posting some of my blog posts there (which now happens automatically thanks to a nifty feature on DEV.to that can pull from my RSS feed). I signed up and found more than a new platform on which to share my thoughts - I found interesting and informative articles, thought-provoking discussions, and a community of great people sharing support, celebration (I love the idea of sharing the week's win!), and knowledge.

I was fortunate enough to attend the first ever IRL DEV Community Meetup last week (with members of the DEV team in attendance and helping out, but pretty much entirely organized by community members) and I got to meet some great people and hear some really interesting talks (including one that is really making me re-think my financial strategy for once I'm working again), all in an environment where I felt completely welcomed and included. In fact, I felt so welcomed that when there wasn't any food for me to eat, I emailed one of the organizers the next day to offer a comment/suggestion (something I never do because I don't feel comfortable asking for special accommodations in most contexts), his response was along the lines of "I'm sorry, I thought you'd be able to eat * food x *, I didn't realize it would be a problem, we'll take that into consideration for the future" - which was a really thoughtful and inclusive response when he could have just said something along the lines of, "we did our best, but we can't accommodate everyone." More than anything else I've done to "become involved," joining the DEV.to community has really felt like just that - being part of a community.

I may not have found my next job by becoming more involved in the developer community. But what I did find was a community of people with shared experiences (even if nothing we've done was the same). A community where all experiences are valid and encouragement and sharing of knowledge are goals, not anomalies. A community where I can share what I know (both tech related and dev life related) and learn from others.

Yes, there are negative parts of the developer community. There's still gatekeeping and lack of inclusion of underrepresented groups in some areas. There are people who focus on one idea so much that they either ignore or disparage those with other viewpoints or focuses. There are still people who use their platform to hurt others. But the more involved I get in the community, the more I find myself able to focus on the good and put the bad on the back burner. It's important to acknowledge that there are negative parts of the community and there is a long way to go to make sure that everyone feels included and welcome. But I know there are a lot of people working on it, and the harder we work to make the community a warm and welcoming place for everyone, the more we all win.

I still don't feel like a super active member of the developer community. I've met a few people, but I'm certainly not well-known. My contributions are there, but they're minor. But I do feel like a part of the community, something that wasn't really true six months ago. I'm still looking to become more involved, by getting involved in more twitter conversations and chats, by continuing to share my thoughts and experience, and possibly by contributing to open source software (if I find a way that works for me). But for now, I'm happy with where I am, and I'm happy to be a small part of this amazing community.

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