Developer Community: Where to Start? - Part 1
Warning: brace yourself, this is a long article. Oh and I will give my opinion on just about everything.
Intro: I talked and listened much about the developer community in the past years. I have been actively involved in the community since 2006. The latest community panel at ZendCon 2010 inspired me to write this article. This is part 1 of a 2-part series.
You want to benefit from the community
So you have never been involved with a developer community before. What is a community? How do you find one? What can the community do for you? There are as many answers as there are communities. Everybody runs it in his own way.
A developer community is a group of people that come together because they share a passion for development. Some are restricted to a city, like Montreal-Python, other to a province, like PHP Quebec, and some across many countries, like PHPBenelux. There is also the concept of a worldwide community, but we won't go too far in this article.
Back to our citya how do you find a community near you? Try searching online for Programming Language + City or Province (PHP Quebec, for example). If there is one, you will surely get a hit. Hopefully they have an About page with a Mission statement. Many also have an event calendar, which will help you to dive right in.
Different events may include free presentations, gatherings at a pub, coding events and even top-notch international conferences. Start attending the events and talk to people. If you're looking for a job or are hiring, don't forget some business cards. These people may even one day become friends that you can count on. Some events, such as barbecues, welcome developers with their families. It's a great way to enjoy a weekend with geeks and not feel guilty about it.
I find all these events to be a lot of fun.
You want to help the community?
Communities do not expect you to give anything in return. At least it's not the way we run the PHP Quebec user group. However, if you enjoyed what the community gave you and feel that you can help in return, don't hesitate to contact the people involved. I believe that having a strong community with many contributors is a long-term benefit. It may spread the adoption of your favorite technology and create jobs in that area.
When I began my involvement with PHP Quebec, there weren't that many companies using PHP. Now, it has spread as far as the government, so there's more job than I can handle.
There are infinite ways to help, so ask the leaders what they need. Is it programming skills to maintain the website? Is it making reservations for presentation venues? Maybe they need somebody to go buy the hot-dogs for this afternoon's barbecue? The organizers will sure be happy to get any help and that will score you points in the community.
Other than points, you will eventually start getting visibility that you could not get otherwise. Visibility is basically how many people know your name and what you do. This means more job/contract offers. Also, hanging around all of these community leaders, you now have a lot of contacts in open source projects and/or IT companies. Networking never goes to waste.
Wait, you didn't find a community?
Sometimes there is no community nearby. If that is the case, and (if I recall correctly)Aas Keith Casey said: aoyou're it!a It may be time for you to start your own community. It will take time and sweat, but determination and guts will get you through. More on this topic in my next article.