Community FTW: Kicking off the PyCarolinas community

October 21, 2012

I had the absolute pleasure attending the first PyCarolinas conference.  I was honored when Calvin Spealman invited me to keynote on the topic of community.  He wanted folks to leave feeling inspired to build up the area's sense of community.  

A lot of pressure, but having a conference is a damn good litmus test to understand a local area's Python community. When trying to develop my talk, during my procrastination/conference-driven-development, I tried to understand and uncover the inherit qualities of the Python community. But first I had to step back: why is community important? I took a peek at the Art of Community by Jono Bacon (awesome last name).  It's a decent book and it had some good thoughts.  Particularly, he states:

The importance of community is not in the crusade, but in how you unify people to march forward together, side by side.

Corny, I know.  But what that translates to me is “Hey! You're a nerd. I'm a nerd. Let's hang out. Kthxbai.”  Right?  My theory is that in high school, when we're developing our social lives, teenagers generally strive for a sense of belonging among their peers.  Whether they want to be among the 'popular'/'in crowd' or perhaps a part of the football team, drama/theater, orchestra (or, as I called it when I played the bass: dork-estra), there's this need for acceptance somewhere.  While we might grow out of our awkward, angsty, punky teenager phase, we still have this internal sense of 'where do I belong? where do I feel most comfortable? who do I like being around?'  At least, that's what goes on in my head, and may or may not be explicitly thought about with others, but perhaps the subconscious is there. I came across this other quote from LJ Hanifan:

The individual is helpless socially… He comes into contact with his neighbors… and they with other neighbors, there will be the accumulation of social capital. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, sympathy, and fellowship of his neighbors.

My efforts in learning how to program stemmed from creating my own community: I started a Python study group in the beginning of the year through Women Who Code, I dragged WWC'ers down to PyCon, I started the SF/Bay area chapter of PyLadies, and said “hell, I could speak, let me talk about learning with women.” It's so amazing the support, the patience, the forgiveness when you learn with folks trying to also learn, those who ask the questions, “ah I see a lightbulb, what did I say to make that go off?” or simply “what do you need help with?” followed by patience and understanding. Mind you, there isn't a stupid question, just a naive one, on the way to being educated. So a year of learning and studying has landed me my ideal job], to which gives credence to learning outside the classroom is just as effective, if not more, in the professional realm. Back to when trying to understand the awesome sauce that coats the Python community, these words kept coming up:

Tag Cloud

Of course folks love Python for its documentation; the accepted belief that it's important and the general consistency is amazing!  Folks go to Haskell for the frustration challenge; people learn Java because everything is in Java.  People are attracted to Python because of its community.  Just look at all the positive descriptors (and person!) that's associated with Python.  Holy crap! My advice to folks wanting to build that within a local community is simple: do not read the Art of Community book. That will waste your time. Do something. Here are some suggestions:

  • get people involved.

    • invite folks to meetups, conferences, sprints, hackathons/hack nights, etc
    • increase visibility of local groups, e.g. “hey significantother/colleague/friend , you told me you wanted to learn programming/language/python. Have you heard of meetup group/user group/workshop?”
    • mentor those folks learning
  • get yourself involved

    • submit talks to conferences
    • start a coffee & hack sunday afternoon event
    • hang out in the hallway track of conferences
  • reach out for help

TL;DR - Community is not a 'yes' or 'no' type of question.  It's a 'how?'

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