Why you should create a tech community

You should probably get involved in your local dev community, or even better: CREATE ONE! Here is why…

BeJS: Belgian Javascript Community Logo

The year is 2019! I am in one of the best conferences in Europe: JSCONF.EU. I mean, the opening was something to remember: The screen was almost bigger than some of the cinema screens. (watch opening.) I traveled from Brussels to Berlin to enjoy the conference and apart from the TC39 panel discussion, the talk that motivated me the most to attend was a talk by: Roshan Gautam titled: You should start a tech community too.

Now, to be honest, Building a tech community was an idea that I was thinking about for quite some time already… But I could not find the courage to do it. I mean when you think of it, there is so much stuff to manage if you want to create a community. How are you going to get speakers? How are you going to motivate people to come to your meetups? Who’s going to pay for drinks? How to manage the big difference in people’s expertise? and knowledge? so many questions and I did not know where to start but hey let’s start with why you should create a community? and we will talk about the obstacles and how you can overcome them later!

Why get involved in your local tech community?

When you like coding, it is very easy to stick to your IDE and spend your entire time writing code. The problem is that if you want to progress quickly in your career, you have to know that only 25% of what companies look for in senior developers is technical skills, 75% is about soft skills and your impact on the business. Public speaking, Management skills, Leadership skills, and many more are skills that you will need if you want to grow as a developer!

Being involved in a community helps your progress in these soft skills. You learn a lot from organizing events:

  • Marketing skills: When you start a community, you need to look for ways to attract people, so you learn marketing techniques. You start using different social media and platforms to bring people to your events. You experiment, try a lot of different tactics to finally find the right one for your community.
  • Presentation and communication skills: Talking at a meetup, even for presenting the speaker is quite a challenge… You have to make people excited about what’s going to happen. If there are delays, you need to find a way to entertain people while they are waiting. This is all valuable for you as a person (not only as a developer). Also, reaching out to speakers helps improve your communication skills.
  • Negotiations skills: Fortunately for us, the IT sector is booming. People make a lot of money just by finding developers to hire. Companies are always looking for great developers. So when you start a tech community there are big chances that you will be contacted by few companies to collaborate. You will have to use your negotiation skills, and find ways of making the community profit from these partnerships without your community becoming a marketplace for devs and your members being harassed.
  • Leadership and management skills: When organizing events you will have to work with contractors, sponsors, volunteers, other members of the community, and so on. This can improve your skills in people management and make you a better leader.

I cannot stress how important it is to have a good network in your life. When you get involved in a community you get access to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people that work in the same sector as you. This is an amazing opportunity: You get to know the market in your local area, what technologies, methodologies are used? What are the current rates, salaries for developers? What technologies you should invest time in? You get to know all of this information. Having a network like this can also help you meet friends (I’ve personally met amazing people in BeJS meetups and some of them became friends!). You can meet business partners, investors, companies, mentors, speakers, and so on… A network like this is an outstanding resource!

When being involved in a community, there is a lot of work to do! This means that there is room for tool creation: Websites, scripts, apps, and other kinds of projects which can help you manage the community. All of these are opportunities for you to show off your skills, to learn new technologies. (I learned Gatsby, NextJS, GraphQL because I created tools for BeJS using these technologies). You get to learn to use different tools for marketing and managing campaigns on social networks.

It might not look like it, but I am a very shy person. I am the kind of person that rarely talks to someone he does not know. I mean: Calling for a doctor’s appointment on the phone used to be quite difficult to do for me. I always had a feeling of annoying people when talking to them. By starting BeJS, I had to contact sponsors, speakers, partners, contractors, and other members and it helped me a lot to overcome my shyness. I, now, don’t think twice before sending a message to a speaker, or to a company asking for sponsorship. It does not mean that I get a reply every time, but I usually do and if I don’t get a reply, so be it! At least I’ve done my part.

The challenges

As you might think, finding a sponsor for your events might be quite a challenge. You need at least a venue for your events! You need food and drinks to attract people. Trust me, I cannot stress how important food is for attracting people to your events! Start with your network! If you’re working within a company, ask your manager or your HR team, They might be interested. If you’re a freelancer or contractor, ask your clients, or the consulting companies you work with. If they already have a place, it is not a big deal for them to let you use it once per month! It is an opportunity for them as well as it gives them visibility and they can use these events for hire. Just be sure to be clear on the collaboration so that they don’t start harassing your members.

This is the most important part of the meetup: I mean why would people go to a meetup if there is no interesting subject. There is no magic trick here: Ask people! For your first events, do not hesitate to contact anyone you know and ask if they will be interested in speaking. Motivate them, push them and help them if needed. Again it is your right to contact any person you want, however, you’re not entitled to an answer! So if they don’t respond just move on. The popular speakers out there receive hundreds or thousands of DMs so they can’t answer to everyone.

Publish a Call For Paper on your website. Even if someone contacts you for a talk and you’re full for the next few months, It’s always good to have a plan B or you can always contact them later when no one is scheduled

Well, I’m going to be completely honest on this one: Food and drinks are your best shot at attracting more attendees! It is nice to go to meetups to listen to a talk, but it is nicer if you can listen to the talk with a beer in your hand and your stomach full, right? Ads on social networks can also help significantly to spread the word! The best social networks to use may be different from one country to another, but for us: LinkedIn and meetup are the most promising! Last but not least: believe in your community! I remember when I asked for the venue from our sponsor for the first event. I said: We’re going to be 5 or so people, so all we need is a table!Two days later, I created the event on meetup and 50 people subscribed in less than 48 hours!!! I was lucky my sponsors had a big room that could fit everyone but I learned to always define a maximum amount of people.

In your community, you will get people that have been working in their field for 10 years, but you will also get students or even people that are just thinking about a career change. Therefore, it might be difficult to find subjects that are interesting to everyone. My advice for this is to try to diversify the talks you accept! Different technologies, different kinds of talks (soft skills talks, technical talks, workshops, coding competitions, Talks about personal experiences) By diversifying your talks, you attract more attendees, and make your meetups interesting for everyone!

Being involved in the community is very time-consuming. Meetup which is the go-to tool for creating groups is not really a great tool (In my opinion). You lose a lot of time, sending messages, creating posts, announcing your event, reminding people about the event so that they show up, asking for feedback to improve your events, contacting speakers, managing partners, and sponsors, Creating websites, and tools, creating marketing content, etc. You add a 40h/week job next to that and people start asking if you have time to sleep between all of that. The solution:

  • Create tools and frameworks: To help you automate all of the repetitive tasks, create tools and put processes in place so that it becomes a habit. For example, I created a script to update our website when I publish a new event on meetup. I asked a friend to create a graphic I can reuse for every event announcement
  • Delegate: Find people that can help you! If you don’t have volunteers to help? Fiverr is an amazing platform to get stuff done for a good price!
  • Learn to say no: If something is not going to benefit your community, say no directly. Don’t do something just because you’re afraid of saying no! It is a waste of time for you and the other person as well!

Conclusion

I created the BeJS community almost 2 years ago, and I think it’s one of the biggest achievements I ever made. I learned so much… It made me happy (when an event was a success!), it made me angry (when meetup was down at the exact moment our event was scheduled and almost no one could get the link to the zoom meeting! or when some spammers joined the zoom meeting and started doing crazy shit in the chat and in the videos), it made me sad (when 45 people subscribed but only 8 showed up!). I met amazing people, Companies contact me every now and then for partnerships and sponsorships. I got to know the projects of the developers based in Belgium.

So? convinced? When are you starting your own community? Are you going to get involved in an existing community? You have questions? Ideas? May be you want to get involved in the BeJS events? Feel free to talk to me on twitter or contact me here

Front-end engineer, JS geek and a React enthusiast. Founder of BeJS: Belgian Javascript Community (bejs.io). Organzing React.Brussels in public