How we built a Software Developers Community

I am one of the founders of DevOWL Meetup, the first city independent collaboration dedicated to creating Software Developers Community in Vitebsk. Vitebsk is a regional city in Belarus with a population of around 300K people.

For 4 years from 2013 till 2017, I’ve been leading the local Software Developers Community together with other organizers from our small team: Olga Khaladovich, Max Podolyako, Kseniya Talstykh.

This post is a retrospective, full of respect and positive emotions to people I met and the events we did. I want to share our history and also touch some important things, that, from my point of view, made our story successful.

I want to share what I learned from that experience. So, if you plan to build up a Community, Meetup group or start any other public activity in the long run — I hope, my story will inspire you.

Developers Open Work and Learn (DevOWL)

Meetup group of Software Developers who Open for together Work and Learn

Inception

I moved to Moscow in February 2013, after 3 years of a full-time job in my birth town. Reasonable step in my career. But I still keep visited Vitebsk a lot, feeling a huge connection with place and people.

I was thinking about doing something special for my town. And in August 2013 I came up with an idea: I want to start a Software Developers Community in my birth town with informal technical events.

The goal of the Meetup events is to build a Software Development Culture in Vitebsk and to create the Developers Community for collaboration and exchange of knowledge and experience.

Impulse

Once I’ve been talking with my friend and was trying to explain him (or actually to myself) my vision of the current situation.

— You know, what, Alex. There is no Developers Community in the city right now. There are no informal events, where programmers can meet each other and discuss technologies. But at the same time, we have many IT companies and smart people in Vitebsk. Together we can grow up faster.

It is very important for me as a developer to have a chance to go outside my company borders and meet with other developers. Talk about the particular topic, discuss the pros and cons of used technology, get the answers to my questions — all of this is really important to me as to any other developer, I guess.

Another thing also I was worried about was that I didn’t want to wait until “big brother” comes and launched conference-like events with headhunters and company’s stack related topics. In my opinion, it would be better if people start this activity independently. The internal process of community growth, based on informal and indie Meetups. And I felt like a part of this internal movement, quite independent movement.

May 2014. As Max Podolyako said, it was calm and cozy Meetup.

Manifesto

I like Manifesto-driven approach. It is based on a set of rules, that you can formulate and then follow them all the way. This approach guide you to make correct decisions and do not fail. It is a very powerful approach that you can use anywhere: writing of classes, modeling of modules or design architecture. I recommend you to try it in action.

So, I decided, that DevOWL Meetup also need a Manifesto. Thing, that will explain our mission, be an agreement between all of us. Because organizers, speakers, and visitors will invest in the community our biggest value — our time.

Everyone has something to say

So short but so powerful! What is this about?

First of all, we coming here to talk. Small events good is the way, that audience and speaker feel on the same side. On coffee-pause, people comfortable to greet each other and start a conversation on the related topic. Be sure, the best talks start, when the speaker finishes his prepared speech.

Secondly, Manifesto motivates people to not shy their skills. No limitations or requirements for a speaker. On our events, you don’t need to be a Solution Architect to rise a topic you want to discuss. Best place for the young developer to make a speech.

There is also no dedicated stack of technologies or specific problems to solve. People from whole the city can come with anything they want and share it with others. Every event was fun and related to different things: Frontend Meetup, Mobile Meetup, Web-Architecture Meetup, and many others. Once, we hosted Remote Meetup with online speakers from Riga, Bangkok, and Redmond all together, ignore different time zones!

Once we did a Hackathon in a partnership with Garage48

Team

Now I want to talk about people. You always can try to do something alone. And this is an easiest way. Because building a team to operate for many years is much harder. I’ve been in a situation, that I need to find people interested to join me in this “social Startup”.

I chatted my friend (and great Java Engineer) Max Podolyako and explain to him all the things. He joined me. Then I also wrote in a social network to Olga Khaladovich (once in the past we met at Startup Weekends as speakers). I explained to her my idea and she also agreed to join. Find people for the first event was really easy, but collaboration for the long run — that was a real issue. You will definitely gain the same experience.

There is no KPI based on work, no salary, no priority to spend time on it if you are busy with other “more important” things. Everything is based on trust, self-responsibility and own will. This is why the main component in the success of such collaboration — is Ownership. Let me explain what I am talking about.

Not usual space for us. By the way, slides are about Erlang. Not usual topic.

Ownership

When you start working on your project (it’s could be anything, like a startup or public event) you are creator, founder, author. But it is extremely hard to find someone who has the same feeling to this project as you have.

You will behave like this — this is my “project”, my “idea”, my “something”. Find a person who will really think about a project, like an owner — quite tricky, find a team where all people feel the same — pure magic. Success there, where people have the mindset of owners.

From people, who worked with me to build up a Community (and this is 5 different persons in a different time) I can say that Ownership — is about Olga Khaladovich. She is a leader, moving force and heart of Community, she definitely knows that DevOWL Meetup is her project same as mine.

My advice to you, learn to recognize such ability in people. Then you can fully rely on such person from start till the end and the person would be 100% motivated and self-organized. Someone will join you fast, later someone will leave you fast, and only people with Ownership mindset will stay long.

Me, Olga and Kseniya at Meetup in Irish Pub. Developers, beer and tech-talks. Cheers!

Culture

Whatever you do in the Software Development area, whatever your skillset is: Junior, Senior, Architect or whatever — learning never stops.

Software Development Culture is in learning and collaboration. This is why spread and share knowledge is an essential part of our craft. You can’t be a top professional if you are not involved in this propaganda on both sides.

You can live in a little town, you can be far away from home — all this really doesn’t matter when you have a goal and motivation. Only remember, that motivation is like a baby tooth and will disappear quite fast. Use a chance!

Do not afraid to talk, share with people even that small that you have. Just start talking — all the rest will come soon. I am sure, you already have something to say. Everyone has something to say.

Post Scriptum

Last DevOWL Meetup event took place on September 20 in 2018 and was organized by Andrei Alioshyn, while original founders like me made a step back. Unfortunately, after that, the doors of our events still closed.

These days Vitebsk Developers Community had two corporate players at the main stage: EPAM Vitebsk Miniq and iTechArt Meetup Vitebsk. Looks like our spark made a right fire and now to be a Meetup hoster — is a healthy trend for Vitebsk top companies.

After years I can proudly say, that the roots of Vitebsk Developers Community and Software Development Culture definitely has founded by our DevOWL team. And I am really glad to be one of the authors of this important story.

From February 2017 I invest my time and organization skills to public events together with a great team of Tech@Agoda community. My Meetup-skills “backpack” quite big, but still not heavy, maybe simply because I love what I am doing. And I wish to you the same.

Once in September 2017, we did a Dev Quiz. Great idea, by the way!

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Engineering Technical Lead @ Agoda. Neo4j Featured Community Member. Certified Neo4j Professional. Articles brewed on web, hops and indie rock’n’roll.