Building Your Community

In January I took part in a panel at YouEqualTech discussing “The Power of Community”.

The word “community” can mean a lot of things, and indeed while writing this post I’ve written it so many times that it’s ceased to have any meaning for me whatsoever. It’s important to me because I have benefitted so much from meeting some incredible people. They’ve encouraged me to break out of my bubble (and my comfort zone) and understand what I’m looking for in a role, as well as helping me see what I’m capable of achieving. “The community” is also how I ended up singing a Babel-themed cover of Hallelujah on a stage in the basement of Ticketmaster at a JavaScript comedy night with someone I’d met the day before, but that’s a story for another day.

I wanted to share this experience, so you could get as much out of it as I do. I’ve narrowed it down to three different communities you can tap into, allowing you to break out of your bubble and find lovely people to share your knowledge with.

The way I see it, there are three main categories that form my community:

I’ll take you through each one and how to make the most of it.

Your work community

The workplace is a great place to start building up a network that will form part of your community. Take the time to get to know your colleagues - arrange 1:1 meetings with them, have a coffee, go for a walk. At Monzo we’ve got a Slack channel you can join where there’s a bot that pairs you up with someone else in the channel randomly. Try to meet people from all sorts of areas, be it design, facilities, engineering, accounting - not only will you end up being the person who always knows who to ask when someone has a question, but you’ll be building up a valuable network that will last beyond the time you spend working at that company. If you decide to make the jump from employed to self-employed, you might find that your network provides some valuable freelancing opportunities. Just remember to nurture those relationships - make it a reciprocal thing rather than just hitting someone up whenever you need something!

If you’re self-employed, this is going to be slightly different - but the community of fellow freelancers can be your colleagues. Coworking spaces can also be a fantastic place to meet fellow developers! If you’re a contractor, you can still form meaningful bonds with the people at the place you happen to be working - many of the friends I still keep in touch with from my old job were contractors. As a student at a bootcamp or coding course, your coursemates and mentors are great for this.

Bring yourself to work

Perhaps most importantly, get to know your team. It might be difficult, especially if you’re more introverted, but try to bring yourself to work. Be honest about who you are, and people will respect that (and be encouraged to do the same). If they don’t respect that and you find people are hostile towards you, that’s not something you should tolerate (and it’s certainly not something you deserve).

The people around you at work have a wealth of experience and knowledge that, by getting to know them, you’ll be able to tap into. And it goes both ways - you’ve got experience and knowledge they can draw on. As you all move on to different roles and companies, your network will start to expand across organisations, which is really powerful. I’ve now got friends at all sorts of different companies, from energy companies to consultancies - and we all started out in the same place!

Speak openly

Another thing to consider: the better you know your colleagues, the easier it is to know whether you're getting a fair deal at work . It’s a taboo subject in our culture, but if you can talk about your salary with your colleagues, you’ll learn what it’s possible for you to earn (and what you should be asking for). A friend of mine discovered this way that she was earning about £5k less than a colleague doing the same job, all because he’d just asked for it.

Having those discussions - and learning from the negotiators - will help us to level the playing field.

Meet the contractors

This won’t apply to everyone, but if your company hires lots of contractors for temporary assignments, meet them! I was lucky enough to work with some amazing contractors in my previous organisation, and I’m still in touch with them today. I worked at a place where people tended to stick around for a long time, so speaking to others who had worked at a number of different companies was really helpful as they had so much experience from each of those places. It actually helped to prevent tunnel vision in a company that was quite set in its ways. There seems to be a bit of a prevailing view in some organisations that contractors aren’t “proper” members of the team, but it should never be that way - they are just as much a part of the team as anyone else, and have plenty to contribute.

Your online community

Chances are most of us are on some kind of social network - Twitter is my poison. It was a game changer for me - I wasn’t much of a fan until one of my colleagues pointed out that it’s a bit like radio, in that you can tune in occasionally. You don’t have to keep up all the time.

By interacting with others in your industry around the world, you’ll build up a fantastic picture of different roles, organisations, ways of working and cool things to do with your craft. I posted a tweet asking for advice on giving talks, and ended up getting responses from some really well-known speakers. It was amazing, and I felt really supported!

Now, social media isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But don’t underestimate the power of the internet in building a community for yourself - whether that’s on Twitter or some remote Discord server. Organisations like Codebar have a Slack channel you can join, and I’m sure there are plenty of relevant Facebook groups. Even just reading blog posts like this or on places like Dev.to is a great way to tap into that sweet, sweet community knowledge, even if you don’t find it so easy to make connections.

Your local community

The tech community in London has had the most profound effect on my professional development. I’ve met people at meetups and conferences who have become friends and colleagues. The amount of support is amazing - people are so friendly and more than happy to answer questions.

Community events are really powerful because they provide a fantastic opportunity to learn, meet people, and find out what it’s like for other people who do the same thing as you.

A friend of mine in the industry asked me if all developers coded nonstop in their spare time. It turned out that she hadn’t really met any other devs outside of her small company, so she thought that was just what she had to do to get anywhere. Meeting others in the community allows you to get a bigger picture of how others work (spoiler alert: it’s massively varied). Your idea of what’s expected of you might not actually be common practice after all.

As well as meeting others, there is a lot of benefit in being actively involved. It’s very easy and really rewarding to give back to the community, whether that’s by giving talks, mentoring others or even just getting your company to host a meetup. For me, mentoring at things like Code First Girls has helped me to tackle my impostor syndrome by showing me that I actually know what I’m talking about!

So how has the community benefitted me?

Last year I was looking for a new challenge, so I was hunting around for new engineering roles. An ex-colleague gave me some brilliant advice for the interview process, while another ex-colleague invited me for an interview at his new organisation. I got a job offer, but wasn’t sure - I ended up asking my friends from the London tech community what they thought about the offer and they helped me to identify what kind of salary I should be asking for.

I went onto the Sponsors page of Codebar to see who had previously hosted sessions - it was important to me to work somewhere that was open to hosting meetups, and Codebar is a pretty great one. A name that came up a lot was Monzo, a company that I already respected (I had been a Monzo customer for a while by that point).

The advice that I got from my ex-colleague, as well as the picture of the industry I’d gathered from conversations with friends on Twitter and at meetups, helped me to shape the questions I asked in the interview (as well as what I wanted from an offer). Combining that with my own knowledge and experience, I felt like I knew exactly what I was looking for. And it worked - I got the job.

Bringing it all together

Building your community is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your professional development. By making friends and connections with people at work, online, and in your local community, you’ll find that not only do you have a great view of what’s going on in the industry, but you’ll have made some good friends as well!

I hope you can get as much as I have from these amazing people around us and have the confidence to give what you’ve got to offer. And I hope that one day you’ll be writing a blog post or giving a talk to share what you’ve learnt with everyone else.

Looking to get stuck in? Here are some great places to start: * Donut - a Slack integration that will randomly pair people up for 1:1s * Codebar - regular programming workshops and talks for all levels * London Tech Meetups - a list of London-based meetups

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