Well planed and hard worked coincidence in Colombia

TL;DR Last October, I donated my (would-be-unattended) ticket to JSConf Colombia. You can read why and what happened here. This year I attended the event (finally!) and got to experience wonderful community they are building, along with very happy surprise.

Attending JSConf Colombia

On January 16th 2016, Catherine Lopez one of co-organizers of JSConf Colombia invited me to speak at their 2016 event. I imminently said yes to her offer. Ever since hearing Juan Pablo Buriticá talk about how him and his co-organizers are building developer community in Colombia & obstacles of doing so in non-western county (which resonated with me a lot), visiting Colombia’s developer community was on my bucket list.

In fact, I tried to attend one last year, but my schedule didn’t work out. I donated back my would-be-unattended ticket & asked Catherine to give it out to local attendees. You can read about that story from last year here. Since I finally got to attend JSConf Colombia this year, this is a follow up from the previous post.

The talk I gave

I gave a talk titled “How to be a Compiler”. I shared how I learn to use English by parsing text, how I found the process smiler to what a compiler does (Tokenize, Parse, Transform, and Generate), and lessons learned about software development by making a compiler. For the demo, I made a compiler for programming language called Design by Numbers — LOGO like programming language to draw a picture by code. If you like to read about the talk, slides and notes are here.

I’m quite new to this compiler world, but struggling to understand new language (for both spoken and programming language) has been part of my life for long time. I wanted to share my perspective in hope it would resonate with the audience who are largely native Spanish speaker.

Well planed and hard worked coincidence

Right before I get on stage, I got a tweet from one of attendees, Claudia.

It was super cool to know someone knows my previous work and liked them. I only hoped she would also enjoy what I’m about to talk.

I think my talk was received well, many gave me kind words. At after party, Catherine and I talked about income inequality in Colombia, community efforts like Coderise, and how they distribute scholarship tickets to the conference.

Which then, she mentioned “Oh, someone you sponsored scholarship last year came back as attendee again. Do you want to meet her?”.

(To be clear, I did very little on my part in “sponsoring scholarship”. All I did was donate my ticket back and send little bit of money (from my personal experience, free ticket means nothing when travel and accommodation are not covered). JSConf Colombia team is the one who did hard work of planning scholarship program, choosing who to give it to, and find travel arrangements to fit as many people as possible.)

Catherine took me to a game corner at the party and introduced me to Claudia, who sent me tweet right before the talk. What a surprise! Neither me or Claudia knew my donated ticket went to her.

She told me she learned to knit and crochet as a kid. Her mom owned a knitting machine like the one I hacked on and that’s why she liked my project. Catherine did not know that when she connected my ticket to Claudia.

On top of that, She told me her first programming experience was in LOGO, so my talk & demo creating compiler for LOGO like drawing language resonated a lot with her. I didn’t know that.

Claudia came to JSConf Colombia 2015 as a scholarship recipient unemployed at the time. Since then she got a job and came back to the event again. This time she paid her own ticket and travel out of her pocket.

The $100 ticket to this conference is 10% of Colombian developer’s monthly income. In addition, it takes about extra $100 or more on travel and accommodation for the cheapest option staying at a hostel. Just imagine allocating 20% of your monthly paycheck to go learn something you want, completely out of pocket without any education stipend from your employer. You can imagine it is a big commitment. The community and the opportunity JSConf Colombia team is creating must be that great to make huge commitment. As far as I can tell from my end as a speaker, it was hands down the most engaging, polite, and eager to learn audience.

By the way, Claudia is totally badass. She’s been programming since she was 16 years old, and has been in the industry as a programmer way longer than I have. She told me she want to start JSGirls in Bogota 😄.

Cascading positive effect of growing community

I started as programmer in New York City, a city that is very diverse and has great web developer community. In this city, no one makes fun of my Japanese accent because we all speak million different accent. No one told me it’s a bad idea when I said “I want to talk about knitting at JavaScript conference”. Rather, this very welcoming community encouraged me to proceed with this wacky idea. While I feel like I’m still just starting out as an engineer and I don’t know anything, I have gotten many encouraging words from people I respect and admire. The fact I can meet my heroes every month at a meetup and can call them as friend is truly a source of motivation.

While New York community is very privileged in terms of access to well known developers and employment opportunities, that does not mean great community does not exist elsewhere. Certainly, in Colombia, there are many positive developer community growing thanks to the effort of organizers. When an JSConf Colombia attendee hesitated to speak in English (I was told people make fun of Spanish accent), Catherine positively encourage them “Don’t worry just speak in English”. One of previous scholarship recipient came back to teach workshop this year. Many people like Claudia now want to start their own community in home town.

Once you are exposed to great community, the positive effect on one’s experience will bring more people in. It takes a ton of work to foster this cycle, sometimes it’s the coaching to encourage new speakers, sometimes it’s gathering enough money for scholarship, and sometimes it’s ordering enough Empanadas so everyone is well fed to have more conversations.

Are you in a community? Bring more people in!

Fostering a community is not only the job for organizers. You, who are already in the community, can help it glow a lot.

Those who are already in the community should pull in anyone who should be in the community, but for some reason not.

Bring friends to meetup and help them get introduced to other members. Do you know anyone who should attend a conference but haven’t? tell them to apply to scholarship. It’s important you tell people individually, not just Retweet an announcement. Many people self eliminate from opportunity unless someone told them “Yes, you can and you should”.

If you have means and connections, financial support always helps. Community events are always looking for sponsors.

Lastly, if you think the community helped you in anyway, share your story. Personal anecdotes are the best to make people feel comfortable joining a community.

Thank you JSConf Colombia team Adrian, Juliana, David, Catherine, and many volunteers for letting me be part of their community this year, and thank you Juan for introducing me to folks who otherwise I would not have connected. You all rock :)