While working on products and client work is certainly fun, a lot of the value that I’ve gained from being a software developer is community. Engineers love to share their knowledge, opinions and skills with the world. They not only do this out of generosity but they do this to learn, for infamy and to shape the future technical path of the community they give back to.
For the past two years I’ve been involved in several local user groups. I’ve started them, I’ve organized them, I’ve spoken at them. Up until recently I lived in Burlington, Vermont (Vermont’s largest city). Burlington, being the home of several colleges and startups, has quite a few active users groups: Burlington Ruby, Burlington Web Applications Group, PHP Users Group, Functional Programming Users Group, etc. Unfortunately not everyone lives near a city or town with such an active developer community. Never fear though! Modern technology can help you find and partake in a community whether it be near or far.
While face to face human interaction is quite nice, with technologies like Skype and Google Hangout, it’s not always necessary. In fact I’ve had the interesting experience of attending the Boston Ruby Group from the comfort of Vermont. I managed to be involved in an entirely different developer community without having to travel.
The Boston Ruby Group recently started inviting remote attendees and even speakers using Google Hangout and it actually works quite well. Myself and few other Vermont locals were able to not only treat ourselves to a completely new speaker line up but were able to interact with the attendees in Boston as well.
I don’t think that these types of interactions can completely replace the feeling of face to face meetups but they’re certainly great if that’s all you have access to. I encourage more user groups across the country to take advantage of these technologies. Not only can it expand your list of possible speakers but it can give back to those in community need.
I’m also currently organizing the Burlington Ruby Conference along with four others and yet we’ve met in person only once. We’ve been employing Google Hangout to do weekly ‘SCRUM’ meetings, so far with much success. Google Hangout is a fantastic tool for remote communication and can be applied to so many different things. I hope to have a future retrospective about planning a Ruby conference without any or very little in person face time.
You may live in remote Alaska, Nebraska or Vermont but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find other developers to interact with. So go forth and find a community home no matter where it is.