How to (re)create a community

— lessons from our first Free code Camp meetup

Being a FreeCodeCamp community facilitator (aka admin) is not always an easy task: often we have to make hard choices related to the management and running of the community. One crucial decision relates to planning and structuring effective meetings. A week ago, we from FCC Brasilia/Brazil had our first meetup, in which we learned a bit about what it takes to be a good FCC meetup organizer. We would like to share our experience here and get your suggestions.

Our first — and maybe the most important — lesson about meetups was not to be afraid to hold one — especially the first one! It is necessary to take a leap of faith, even if you feel insecure about the turnout or if you have technical difficulties. A meetup is better than no meetup. Ask for help in your community, and keep in mind that the meeting will not be perfect, as problems always emerge — embrace and learn from them. You will also learn from the people who show up, no matter how few they are: be open to feedback and suggestions.

This being said, preparing a basic structure for your meeting is crucial so people won’t feel like they are wasting their time. For our first meetup, we prepared and projected a PowerPoint presentation on a whiteboard, showing the following agenda: 
 First, we had an icebreaker, where people introduced themselves and got to know each other. We later asked for volunteers to participate in particular projects within the community, such as helping with the FCC translation into Brazilian Portuguese. These dynamics are very important for networking and accountability and, most important, to create a sense of belonging. We believe that participants who work together and achieve things for the community are less likely to drop out of the program.

We did not rely solely on an informal chat to get to know our community: we also asked participants to fill out an online survey, so we could plan our future meetings according to their needs (i.e., in terms of programming level, place of meeting, and so on). Such information can also be used if you plan to facilitate Pair Programming.

After socializing (party nibbles included, a must-have here in Brazil), we introduced the FCC program: what the program is about, its goals, and its structure, map, and certificates. Participants were particularly interested in the working experience with NGOs, and emphatically recommended that FCC consider local NGOs that could benefit from their knowledge.

Next we dove into solving an FCC challenge (Random Quote Machine). We paired beginners and advanced participants together, while the facilitators who had already solved the challenge roamed around to help those who got stuck. After around 30 minutes of coding, we asked one of the participants who had finished to show their solution on the board. Another suggested model for future meetings was that of a dojo, where a participant starts by writing a line of the code, and is followed by other participants who have to complete it.

More generally, two suggestions helped support the structure of the meeting: the use of a projector and whiteboard helped to engage the participants, and the use of a router for a LAN was equally useful. We aimed for a two-hour meeting, knowing that it could easily run to three (and it did). Overall, it was a very rewarding experience, and although we know that every community and every meetup is different, we are glad to share our experience with the international community. We would love to hear from you about your experiences, too.