December 27, 2023

Make your own way

Over the years, I have repeatedly felt like I missed the timing for a meetup or an IRC group or social media in general. I'd go to a meetup every so often but I'd never make a meaningful connection with people, whereas everyone else knew each other. I'd join an IRC group and have difficulty catching up with what seemed to be the flow of conversation.

I hadn't thought much about this until the pandemic when I started a Discord group for software internals and a virtual tech talk series called Hacker Nights. Since 2021 the Discord reached around 1,500 members and ~20 fairly active members. And the Meetup peaked at about 300 members with about 10-20 showing up each Meetup.

After the pandemic receded I started an NYC-based book club over 2 months with about 5-8 active attendees. I ran a virtual hack week on Discord where I got ~100 devs into a temporary Discord server and we talked about Postgres internals and shared resources. Ultimately around 5 of us wrote blog posts and built new projects to explore Postgres.

I started a virtual, async email book club (that is still ongoing) with 300 devs from November 2023 to Feb 2024. There have been around 20 active members of the club. And each week the discussion is kicked off by one of the members, not myself.

And I felt like there wasn't enough community opportunity for folks in systems programming in NYC so I started an Manhattan-based Systems Coffee Club. Around 15 people showed up to the first meeting and seemed even more excited about it than I was. (And I was excited!) We'll see where it goes from here.

Organizing people to do this stuff doesn't come easy to me. I enjoy doing it to a degree, but every night before an event I have trouble sleeping. Worried about embarrassing myself. When the event happens though, and people are happy to be there to chat with everyone else, as they invariably have been, it makes it worthwhile.

Everyone want community

Something I realized along the way is that people (maybe devs especially, I don't know) are looking for community. And when I have noticed there seems to be a missing flashpoint (a topic, a career focus, a book, etc.) for community, it's been pretty easy to get people together around it.

The lifecycle of groups

Groups, meetups, naturally live and die. Organizers get burnt out. I don't see this as a problem. It's just the way it is.

At some point I'll get burnt out too. Or I'll get pickier. For example, I've been avoiding starting a systems programming meetup in NYC because I know it will be a big effort. So I've done lower effort groups like book clubs and coffee clubs.

Don't worry about signing yourself up for indefinite work. Just do whatever you'd like to and don't feel bad if you have to stop. Someone else will eventually start the next great group, even if it comes in a different medium or flavor.

Community is contagious

There are great communities out there that have inspired me.

And this year I've been hearing about more.

There are yet a few more systems programming groups I've heard rumors about being started on the US West Coast and Stockholm.

Do whatever you want!

If you feel like you can't find the right group or that you don't fit in with existing groups or that you're missing a moment, there are surely other folks in the same boat. Waiting for a new group to join. You may be the catalyst.

There's enormous potential for getting people together and doing something interesting and there isn't necessarily anyone telling you you should. Things you try may work and they may not. The more you try the more you'll learn what works and what doesn't. I've had a few years of making mistakes organizing to hone the sense.

The only boring thing to do is to necessarily limit yourself to the sort of thing others have done before! Run a browser meetup instead of a React meetup. Interview hardware developers to teach software developers something. Get software developers with 20 years of experience in niche fields to teach the rest of us something. Read books beyond SICP or Clean Code. Try difficult programming projects.

Whatever you want though, don't let me deter you. If you think something should exist, give it a shot!