How community participation can enhance your development career
As a developer, you’re likely involved in at least some developer communities and forums. You might ask questions on Stack Overflow, use open source software (OSS), or attend talks at conferences like KubeCon. These activities help you improve your skills, meet new people who are building interesting platforms and applications, and come up with creative approaches to old problems.
But the benefits of community involvement don’t end at participation — you have a lot to gain by giving back to the developer community as well.
In this article, we’ll talk about a few ways you can give back to your community while also developing your career, including:
- Participating in OSS projects
- Presenting at conferences and local meetups
- Joining or leading community discussions and forums
Participating in OSS projects
The open source community is wide and diverse. Most developers use it to answer questions, find solutions to coding problems, and borrow or build on top of existing OSS projects. While you can certainly participate this way, you have a lot to gain by contributing to OSS projects in addition to borrowing them.
By becoming a contributor, you can:
- Develop new skills and become an expert in a particular area of interest.
- Make contacts with new people in the ecosystem, including people who might be future referral sources for jobs or speaking opportunities.
- Increase your visibility and influence in the developer space.
- Give back, not only by improving existing projects but by helping others learn and improve their skills.
Contributing to OSS projects also gives you the opportunity to work on the technologies you’re interested in. This provides significant benefits for developers who might not feel particularly challenged at their day job or are looking to add more variety to their work.
Taking that first plunge into OSS contribution can be intimidating, but don’t let your nerves stop you. If you need a little support along the way, this article by VMWare has some great suggestions for getting started in open source.
Presenting at conferences and local meetups
If standing up in front of several hundred people gives you the jitters, you’re not alone. But this isn’t necessarily a reason to overlook the value of presenting at conferences. With some practice and mentoring, most people can take advantage of the opportunity to educate others in this way.
But what would you talk about? Remember that you don’t need to be an expert to share helpful knowledge. Here’s an analogy to help you see your skills more clearly: Imagine you’re in a line of people climbing up a mountain. You would typically only look at the person in front of you — the person who is further ahead. You may not realize that there are also people further behind you. Those are the people who aren’t quite as far along in their developer journey as you are; the ones you can educate at a conference or meetup.
When it comes to selecting a topic, don’t look any further than your daily work. What have you learned working on your projects? What have been some pinnacle moments in your career, and how did you achieve them? Come up with a few ideas, add your thoughts about how you solved the problem or achieved your goal, and BOOM — you already have an outline.
There are a few different types of talks you can present:
- Keynotes – Usually reserved to seasoned and well known speakers, keynotes set the tone or theme of the conference. Length varies based on the preferences of the organizers.
- Conferences – Usually 50 minutes. At developer conferences, these types of presentations are not always technical.
- Hands-on labs – 2-3 hours. Learn a tool, test an application, or do something else that is hands-on. Great opportunity to teach without doing a lot of talking.
- BOFs – This stands for “birds of a feather.” These are one-hour sessions where a host kicks off proceedings and opens the floor for audience participation.
- Panels – A small, preselected group of people answer questions from the audience about a particular topic. Length is determined by the organizers.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to find a local meetup and present there. It’s a great way of practicing in front of a smaller audience before moving on to larger conferences.
For more recommendations on preparing to speak at a conference, check out our presentation by Sam Hepburn.
Joining or leading community discussions and forums
If presenting at conferences is beyond your comfort level, joining or leading a community discussion or forum could be a less intimidating way to get involved in the developer community. Platforms like Github, Discord, and Stack Overflow have robust communities where you can share ideas on topics of interest.
These types of activities are great because they require less engagement, time, and public presence. They are also easy to kick off — you don’t even have to leave home.
Start simple by chipping in on conversations, providing feedback to others, and adding your own expertise. As you get more comfortable, try starting your own discussion topics. Of course, be sure to follow the community guidelines and respect the Code of Conduct (CoC) for each space where you’re interacting.
Don’t forget to make yourself visible
As you are developing connections and sharing expertise in conferences, forums, or OSS projects, don’t forget to share your insights and content with the rest of the world. Talk about what you’re doing on social media, start a blog, or share one of your presentations at a local meetup.
These activities will help you gain more visibility and develop your personal brand. This can have far-reaching effects, and open up more teaching, learning, and career opportunities.
Community involvement has long-standing benefits
Involvement in communities doesn’t just benefit you today — it also benefits you long down the road. Your presentations and OSS projects can be added to your resume and LinkedIn to show future employers that you have a diverse portfolio. Your networking efforts can open up new and unexpected opportunities. New connections could be future references or sources of other interesting projects.
The most valuable benefit, though, is the confidence you will gain by improving your skills. Take a chance on yourself and try one of the suggestions in this article. One of the first steps you can take is to join the DevSecCon discord server. It’s a great place to help developers get started in their journey towards more secure development and also meet other experts.
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