Your community needs YOU!

As the end of the year is approaching, I’m looking back at 2017 and think I just dreamed it all.

Similarly to Nikola, who wrote yesterday’s post, I gave my first ever conference talk earlier this year at PHP South Coast. This was followed by speaking at GothamGo later in the year. An absolute dream come true! I also spoke 12 times at various local user groups in the UK this year, more than I’ve ever done before. And it has been the third year of co-organising PHP South West for me too (my local PHP user group).

It’s been an incredible year, and I’m thankful for each and every person I got to meet along the way. It blows my mind that this time last year I was reading 24 Days in December to get more familiar with the PHP community. And never in a million years I’d imagine I’ll be writing a post for it today!

So how did that happen? I met Andreas at PHPSC!

Celebrating with friends old and new after giving my first conference talk.

For me, giving a talk at a conference has definitely been the springboard to all the other activities that followed. It also made me realise how valuable it is to be a part of the wider community, and that there are loads of ways to contribute. Seeing a few conferences close this year (PHPSC, PHPNWLone Star PHP) and local meetups asking for help made me even more aware that it is important that we encourage others to get involved.

There are hundreds of local user groups, so see if there’s one near you ( or are good places to check). They range from generic “PHP meetups” (or any other programming language or technology for that matter) to the more specialised ones like Drupal/WordPress/Laravel etc. There are also online communities such as Nomad PHP, and of course all the big conferences around the globe. Smaller meetups are a great way to try your luck at giving talks or to try out new ideas and get feedback. They usually have a relaxed atmosphere, so this can be a great way to gain more confidence especially if you’re not a native speaker.

Getting more involved in the community has lots of benefits. It’s an easy way to get to know other folks in your area, make friends and get help with any questions or problems you might have. It’s also a great way to learn new things and stay up to date with what’s going on in the industry. Conferences and meetups give you a chance to meet some of the biggest figures in the PHP world in person. This networking might lead to some great opportunities in the future as you expand your circles, and actively taking part in those events raises your own profile. I always leave inspired and motivated, which can be especially encouraging for women, minorities or LGBT+ people. The vast majority of those events will have a code of conduct and actively promote diversity, teaching us all to respect and be grateful for each other’s contributions.

And if you can’t afford to attend conferences, speakers usually get to attend for free and get their travel / accommodation costs covered, so how’s that for an extra motivation to start submitting talks? 😉 Have a list of when the ones you’re interested in happen and keep an eye out for when their CFPs (“call for papers”) start and end. Twitter or is your friend here. There are also organisations providing sponsorships which can help you out.

Listening to podcasts is another way to get new ideas and stay up to date with what’s going on in the community. Hosting or taking part in them is a great alternative for those who are up for sharing their thoughts with a wider audience, but who are not so keen on taking the stage.

If public speaking isn’t your thing, you could still help to run things behind the scenes as an organiser. You could also contribute to open source projects or write blog posts instead. There’s a way to get involved for everyone, and diversity is most welcome.

Whichever way you choose, just ask. What’s the worst that will happen? They’ll say no until one day someone says yes.

Dream big, but expect to start small

In other words, set your expectations right. It can take years or months for you to gain some recognition in the community, so don’t expect things to happen overnight. Don’t get discouraged if your talk submissions don’t get accepted right away. Even something seemingly simple as writing an abstract is a skill in itself and you’re likely competing against hundreds of people. Some conferences may be particularly open to first time speakers, so they might be good first choices. Improving your communication skills, written or spoken, takes time and practice. Luckily there are plenty of resources to help you Spin a Good Yarn. I found TED’s guide to public speaking to be particularly useful too. There are plenty of Open Source Guides as well, or guides to running a successful meetup if that’s your thing.

Your actions speak louder than words, so if you do good work you will get noticed. Be aware though that it may take up quite a lot of your time (and money) and you probably won’t get paid for your work for the most part. So pick something that you will truly enjoy doing, regardless of the outcome or the sacrifices it may require. Or something that will expand your skills, knowledge or interests and benefit your career that way.

No contribution is too small!

You don’t need to speak at events or organise them to be a part of the community. You simply need to attend. Attendees are the reason those events exist, and you will benefit greatly by participating in them compared to those who don’t. Similarly, you don’t need to run your own open source projects –  contributing to the existing ones is equally valuable and no contribution is too small. Fixing a typo still counts! It’s ok to not know or make mistakes too – try to see it as a chance to learn and improve yourself. We all benefit from the community, be it by getting answers on stack overflow or by using other people’s code in our projects for free. So it’s good to give something back in return if you can.

  • Put the next meetup you want to attend in your calendar and set a reminder. Drag a friend along if you need support or that extra motivation. Maybe you’ll want to help with organising at some point?
  • Write down whatever you recently found interesting as a talk idea. There’s a good chance others would like to hear about it too. Maybe you’ll turn it into an abstract one day? Maybe you’ll blog about it?
  • Pick a project you’d like to contribute to. Fork and clone the repo to your laptop and have it ready for whenever you feel like hacking on something. Ask a friend to pair with you if need some help or to help with commitment.

You don’t have much to lose, but you have a lot to gain. And if you never try, you’ll never know! Follow the groups you’re interested in to see what they’re looking for and get in touch. There are also plenty of projects on github looking for new maintainers.

Make 2018 the year YOU got involved in the community!