The value of Twitter and other networks

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a technical problem at work — something that isn’t too uncommon for your everyday developer. It involved attempting to debug a locally built JavaScript file proxied via a remote environment using Charles Proxy. A few settings had changed on the external resource that is hosted in an Amazon S3 bucket that meant that this workflow had suddenly stopped working.

As every developer has probably experienced, blockers can be frustrating. Luckily I knew of a developer who had recently tinkered with CORS configurations on S3 buckets that might know an approach. I pinged him for help over IM, and all that followed happened in a matter of minutes:

The first Tweet sent out by @nzjames to @charlesproxy
@yakmoose replying with a possible solution
@charlesproxy attempting to troubleshoot

In less than 10 minutes from the first Tweet being sent I had managed to resolve my issue. Those 10 minutes could have easily been a couple of hours of Googling and tinkering to get a solution. Sure, I may have learned more if I hadn’t reached out for help, but often taking a pragmatic approach can turn out to be more valuable. How awesome was this though? A crowdsourced solution to a very specific problem!

Since ‘09

This got me thinking about how much I‘ve become reliant on Twitter. Back in 2009 when I had first joined this social platform, it was a place to post some inane thoughts. An inferior Facebook limited by 140 characters of text. Only a few of my friends ever joined the site and so my account remained fairly dormant. But the last few years has dramatically changed the way I use Twitter. It has become one of my primary news feeds; a secondary communication hub for work; a bookmarking tool (until stars became likes — still not happy about that one); a place to find a good meme or gif; and a place to make new friends. It’s a source of information where I know I will find at least something of value during a session of browsing.

Constant innovation in the software community makes it difficult to keep up with the latest trends and ideas. Today I came across three new tools; tomorrow, there will be a few more. I find that this way of using Twitter allows me to easily keep up with these latest innovative ideas by following specific people in the industry. Regularly I see interesting conversations between developers. Although often it’s just casual banter, there have been times where these conversations have resulted in important decisions that have wider impact.

Tweetdeck — allows easier browsing of personalised Twitter streams

Not just Twitter

Using something as fast-paced as Twitter to keep up with a fast-paced industry can be hard, but that’s the part I enjoy the most. However, it isn’t the only medium that I interact and source information from. Reddit is another service that I frequently use which has lead to lots of interesting discoveries. It follows the style of your more traditional message board, allowing you to subscribe to topic-based forums (called subreddits) such as r/programming or r/webdev.

Slack and Discord are also becoming more commonplace. Both these tools were intended for entirely different use cases— Slack for workplace communication, and Discord for multiplayer gaming. However, both these tools have been used instead to form communities around specific technologies and topics. Reactiflux is an example of a chat community that I‘ve joined recently and is full of developers from over the world talking about all things React and JavaScript.

These communities don’t just stop at online communication, in fact, face-to-face interaction in the tech community has been made popular through meetups and conferences. The advantages of these are that they are more personal, allowing you to ask questions, receive feedback and build professional networks that go further than pixels on a screen. I personally find these ‘networks’ incredibly valuable, irreplaceable by any form of online forum.

The #react-native channel in Reactiflux, a chat community on Discord

Final Thought

Twitter, along with a range of other networks, provide new ways to engage with individuals and groups that are relevant to both your professional and personal interests. While these avenues may not be for everyone, for me, they have created valuable new channels in which to learn from as well as engage with the wider community.