I am a Quality Assurance Engineer here at Dealer.com and this past fall I had the honor of speaking at Vermont Code Camp. This annual conference is held on University of Vermont’s campus. In 2014 they celebrated their 6th year and reported over 160 attendees. The conference schedule has multiple tracks, covering a wide range of topics and technologies including both hard and soft skills. I chose to talk about why you should contribute to your tech community and now I’ll share with you my experience on this topic.
Burlington, VT may be a small city but we boast a vibrant tech community. I founded Burlington’s local Girl Develop It (GDI) chapter and in doing so I’ve noticed there are a handful of people who are behind the vast majority of the tech events around town. These people work tirelessly to put on monthly user groups, yearly conferences and hackathons, in addition to kicking ass in their day jobs and taking care of their families. These people directly contribute to making our city a great place to work and live. I am proud to work at a company like Dealer.com because so many of my fellow employees are part of making this tech community happen. In fact, there were 7 Dealer.com team members who presented on various topics at the conference.
We can’t expect the same handful of people to be able to do this work forever. Life changes, jobs evolve, and stuff happens; so if you have benefited from your tech community you should really consider contributing back to it. Just like your favorite programming language, your tech community will languish and die without valuable contributions from the people who benefit from it.
There are many obvious benefits to volunteering your time to your tech community. You’ll benefit from ample learning and professional opportunities, and build skills that you may not necessarily have time to learn at your day job. Your career will receive a boost, and there are stats to back this up. In a survey of 200 business conducted by Reed Executive they found:
- 84% of those responsible for hiring agree that volunteering is a way to help people find work
- 80% of employers who are actively recruiting value volunteering on a resume
- 70% of employers believe that those who volunteer have a better chance of earning a higher salary and gaining promotion
I founded the Girl Develop It Burlington in early 2013, and since that time GDI has exploded to nearly 700 members locally, and over 25,000 members nationwide (as of January 2015). GDI’s mission is to change the gender imbalance in the tech industry by teaching more women how to code in a safe and fun environment. With growth, GDI continuously needs more support to operate and meet the needs of our community. Like most meetup groups, the people that help me run it have day jobs where they ply their trade.
You could help your local GDI chapter by volunteering as a teacher’s assistant in one of our classes, organize events, assist with social media efforts, teach a class, write or improve curricula, or simply help us spread the word. Maybe you are interested in getting involved but Girl Develop It is not your bag… No problem! There are countless other ways to contribute to your local tech community. First, you could reach out to some of the other tech groups in town to see what help they might need. Here I have listed some local examples here in Burlington:
- Code for BTV
- Laboratory B
- Vermont Code Camp
- Vermont Coders Connection
- Burlington Ruby Conference
Not in Burlington? Check Meetup.com in your own town to see what user groups are active around you. Check Code.org to find code camps in your area. Or start your own group! Ask your local university or community college if they’ll allow you space to hold quarterly lightning talks about a language or skill that interests you. Or start a monthly class in your local library or community center that teaches children how to code. You could always start a local chapter of another national/international group similar to Girl Develop It. Some great examples that come to mind:
- Coder Dojo
- Black Girls Code
- Girls Who Code
- Submit a talk to a local/national tech conference
- Start your own tech conference!
A vibrant tech community drives jobs and tech innovation in your area and you have the power to contribute to this in some way — small or otherwise. I can tell you from my personal experience that founding a Girl Develop It chapter was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. I am humbled to know that I helped facilitate hundreds of women to try their hand at coding, many for the first time! I built leadership skills and made amazing friends. The best part, I connected with people in my community that I may not have otherwise met.
There you have it, the gist of my 30 minute talk compressed into a tidy blog post. This was my first time speaking at a tech conference and it was an amazing experience. I am really glad that I chose to speak at Vermont Code Camp and I hope this inspires you to get out there and do something for your community. If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you: @mo_mack