Note: I’ve been writing a book on Kotlin Coroutines, with RayWenderlich, so do check it out at this link. Any support is much appreciated. :]

Why building communities is hard, and what you can do about it

Contrary to the popular belief, reaching out to people is not the hardest part of building a community group. Of course, having a deep reach, and truly affecting lives, in a beneficial way, is a challenge. But to achieve this you have to overcome the biggest obstacle — people.

So how can you handle people? How do you build up others to help you create events and engagements, and how do you filter out people which you shouldn’t be speaking to at all? Keep on reading, and you’ll find out! :]

Recognizing the real enemy

And it’s not people you’re trying to reach. It’s people who will stand in your way, who don’t want to see the community grow and prosper. There’s a special, dark, sort of people who try to put themselves above the ideals of communities, pursuing personal goals like profit or just having their image and name on top of everything.

It’s the kind of people who take credit for things in which they took nearly no part in. You can tell them apart very easily. If you have an idea, a drive to do something right, and for the greater good, so to say, they’ll come up and say: “I think you shouldn’t do that because of X or Y.” Or something like: “Let’s try to arrange everything between ourselves, and then see what others think.”

Understand one thing. The community is binary. It’s either for everyone in the group, and everyone in the group should contribute or be notified of things. Or it’s not a community thing at all. Whoever says otherwise is actually after credit, building up their resumes, and ego boosts. Avoid that kind of people.

Building up a trust circle

Just as you’re supposed to avoid malicious people, it’s paramount that you surround yourself with people with good intents. Although it might sound cliché, once you consolidate a small group upon which you can rely, you can reach out an even bigger crowd.

Not everyone works as hard in a community circle. Not everyone shares the same ambition, drive or fire that burns within you. If you take 10 people in account, in a group, it’s likely that everyone will have different interests and goals for which they operate in the said group.

I’m the kind of person which would give away a weekend of free time to do or prepare something, even if it’s going to help only 5 people. Most people wouldn’t do that. And that’s perfectly fine. If you’re like me, try finding others who have the same mindset. But always try to avoid people who seek only self-interest.

Definitions of a good community group

To finish up, everyone has their own definition of what makes a group of people healthy and good, in terms of communities. From my experience, it always comes down to three things, which form the foundation of any good project, initiative or idea for the greater good:

  • Equality
  • Support
  • Selflessness

I’ll try to explain each one, to emphasize why and where these fit in, when talking about volunteering and giving back to people.

Equality

One of the really surprising things you can find in IT is that age, looks, and your background don’t matter. And it really shouldn’t. If you’re knowledgeable, responsible and take pride in writing stable and clean production code, which passes a high bar of quality, then you’ll be treated with respect, as a person whose opinion matters and should be taken into account, and as someone who is an expert.


Another really important thing you have to understand is that these things DO matter. Even though most companies, most people who you work with, and most organizations don’t bring your society or educational status in question, there’s a select percentage of people which do.

And I’ve been on the bitter end of this a few times. I’ve been treated equal, praised for my work and engagement, but when it came to some discussion, people belittled me because of my age, and me being a student, rather than some company’s director.


I’ll rant about this in another post, but what I want you to take from me being sour is next: treat everyone as an equal. This is what I do daily. I’ve taught dozens of people over the past few years. A good part of them are juniors, or still learning Android. I’ve never said something like: you’re a junior, you won’t be able to do it.

I’ve always given positive and/or constructive feedback to people. Some of my closest friends can confirm that (I hope ^^). And one of the things they could possibly confirm is that I’ve been constantly pushing them to more complex stuff, or things they feel they aren’t ready for.

This is closely connected to my community engagement, as I’ve been constantly preparing and pushing people into taking the leap, and holding talks. You should definitely try doing the same. Some people just won’t be into it, but it’s worth trying to spread their horizons and mindsets.


Another thing closely related to equality is the way we look at the organizational layer of community engagements. I feel that everyone should get a chance, and everyone should be included in organizing events. Even if some people don’t feel up for it, try including them. They might like it, and try to organize more events on their own. Entice them to do so, this helps you build that close trust circle which you can rely upon.

Organizing things between only a select group of people leads nowhere, as I’ve said, it’s either the entire community, or no community.

These two points — entire community, openness, and close trust circle are definitely contradictory. But in a way they also aren’t. I strongly believe that a community should be based on the entire collective so to say. However I also know that people won’t just step up that easily.

On one hand, it always starts with a few people who are the go-to people if you’ve got any ideas for events or happenings. On the other hand, you should build up a friendly atmosphere, which will invite people to spread that circle of go-to people. This is what I mean by trust circle, people who’ve stepped up, and who are willing to act out of selfless reasons, and who have the spare time to handle and delegate a certain section of the activities.


For example, a few people, in my current group of people I organize events with, pitched the idea of having a series of Functional meetups. This is something I personally would love to see grow. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of individuals who are profficient with FP, including myself, and the organization comes down to five people.

As I don’t feel the need to oversee this kind of initiatives, I, as the ‘lead events coordinator’ gave them free will on the format, content and the structure of said meetups. This means they’re delegating the FP meetups, but this doesn’t mean more people can’t join the organization.

They are in my trust circle, as I know they’ll do an amazing job of organizing FP meetups, since it’s something they are personally attached to. But at the same time I know that, if there’s more people willing to join the whole process and discussion, they’d be welcome. And if there’s people trying to ‘ruin’ or ‘sabotage’ their idea, they will steer away from them.

Support

Support is one of those things which are fully implied, completely logical, but still should be mentioned and repeated whenever possible. No matter if you’re a speaker, organizer, or a content creator for others, support and feedback is invaluable.


I’ve held a lot of talks. And I’ve written a lot of articles. And every single subsequent one was a bit better and a bit different. Not only because I’ve gained experience, but also because I’ve received a ton of feedback from my friends. For example, just before my talk at Mobilization 2018, I gave a small talk on Android modularization, which was also a small part of the talk at the conference.

One of my best friends gave me crucial feedback for that talk. And even though it was criticism I took it really well, as it was constructive criticism. Hell, I was extremely grateful for receiving it. Basically he said that I hadn’t explained some things that well, and that it was really hard to follow the talk if you’re not an Android-related person. Which I took as: take more time to explain things into more detail. I immediately changed my talk, excercised it a more, and went on to elaborate things further.

When I finally gave the talk at the conference, even people who don’t come from an Android background understood it, and I got positive feedback overall. Moreover, a lot of questions came up, about different parts of the talk, and about some things which I haven’t though about, which created a nice discussion afterwards.


If something bothers you, or something made you really happy, talk about it. Let people know, so they can emphasize their good parts and traits, and so that they could change or practice on what they may not be doing that good. Any bit of advice will help both you and the person you’re giving advice to, as you’re working together to make something even better.

Selflessness

Once again, building up the spirit and engagements should be a selfless act. Pursuing your own goals, like getting organizational or management experience is perfectly fine, but not if you go to the length of not including anyone else, just so you could have all of the work to yourself.

Furthermore, if you, or someone else is giving engagements just to promote themselves or their company, then you should scrap these talks. This doesn’t mean you can’t show things you and your team cooked up at work. But it shouldn’t be comprised in a way that you try to belittle others, who don’t do things like you do.

Always strive to share ideas and experience, in a way that you’ll be opening doors to other people. If you give a talk on something, with the attitude: “we’re awesome for using this XYZ framework/paradigm, and everyone else is beneath us”, no one will try that XYZ framework, they won’t feel invited to learn and play with something new.


Summing it up

Building circles of people working on same or similar goals can sometimes be hard. But it always comes down to this: everything you do, you do for the community. What is a community, without people trying to benefit the greater good.

Try to give as much of yourself into everything you do, and avoid toxic people who belittle you, try to self-benefit, without actually doing or contributing anything. Hopefully there’s others out there, working on local or global engagements. If there is, know that all of your work is valued by people, and that it’s constantly reaching out to more and more people, on a daily basis! :]