How to Build Tech Communities in a World of Pandemic

The global pandemic has had widespread effects, not just in how we go to work or go out to eat, but how we socialize and network in our local tech communities. What impact does this have on our journeys and what can we do to make the best out of the current climate?

Living in a world of a pandemic

Most of our lives have rapidly changed. While many in the tech community are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, the pandemic has changed how we communicate and socialize.

Where previously we were able to enjoy a bite to eat at a restaurant, now we don't have that option and have to order takeout. Where we once were able to go to a monthly meetup and hear about tech over some free pizza, now we watch virtually as we… pay for our own pizza.

How does this impact us as developers?

While it's challenging not to be able to go meet people in person at your local meetup, being quarantined has different impacts on different people.

Meetups and conferences are fun. Being able to communicate with others and build real relationships with others helps us all grow both personally and professionally. It's a good way to network and make a friend at the same time.

Moving these events online means that personal connection won't be the same. While a meetup would traditionally have some social time, now we get a one-way feed of the speaker's talk with maybe an opportunity to hang out with people in the chat.

Where does that leave us?

This can be hard to cope with, but it doesn't impact everyone the same. Some of us might be able to comfortably go meet others at a local meet up, but some of us, like myself, struggle with in-person events. Anxiety is real and it can hold us back and prevent us from being ourselves.

The fact that these events are now online opens these communities up to people who might have been too uncomfortable to attend an in-person event. Instead of feeling too shy to chat during the social time, we're still able to hold realtime conversations, but over Slack or Discord.

What can we do to take advantage of our circumstances?

There's two main perspectives to consider when figuring out what we can do to empower people in our communities — the organizers and the attendees.

As organizers, we should try to provide more opportunities for others to be social, whether that's by maintaining a community through tools like Slack or Discord or inviting others to communicate during the event.

While some online meetups open up for questions or interact with the chat, some don't, and it it feels simply like watching a video on Youtube.

As attendees, we should try to take advantage of events being held online by trying to communicate more with our peers. While it might be challenging to chat in person, sending a DM or sharing your thoughts through chat is a lower barrier of entry.

How can this help us in the long term?

Being more social can help us in a variety of ways — it helps us grow individually and helps us learn from other's experience. But it can also help us professionally.

The fact of the matter is – if you don't know anyone, you're just another person on the list of thousands of applicants. Whether you meet someone at a meetup or had a quick chat with them in a Twitter DM, there's a personal connection.

Use that personal connection to your advantage. That might be the difference between you and another candidate who hasn't said anything at all. It might mean more opportunities in the long run when that person thinks of you for their next job opening.

But also, it can mean a new friend.  It won't always open the door to that new job, but shared experiences and common interests bring people together, and that connection brings value.

Applying these lessons to the future

Overall, we as a community need to continue to come together and help each other grow. The more we support each other, the more we can provide value that impacts the world.

When the virus one day subsides and we begin to meet back in person, let's not forget the lessons we learned about community building.

Let's make sure we continue to make everyone feel welcome and able to be involved, whether they're the ones in the physical audience or the ones hanging out on the livestream.

Make sure to engage with both audiences and let the virtual attendees feel like they're included in the conversation. Answer the questions that they're sending in chat. Pull them up on the screen to ask a question.

We're all in this together, let's continue to build the best community we can.