Orlando Developers Slack, a beginning

Last week, I met with Robert Deluca, a front end web developer at Izea, about what we can do to grow the Orlando JavaScript community in a scalable way. It was great to meet with him and talk about the future of the community and come up with plans on how to make a community that operates autonomously apart from any central individual. After leaving, I had it in mind to start a Slack group focused around software developers in Orlando. I have seen this model in other communities and it seemed to be successful at the following items:

  • A high value, low maintenance community building tool
  • A place where community members feel safe and are able to engage comfortably with others
  • A tool that allows the community to have long term value

For a while now, myself and others have noticed that the software development community in orlando had become fragmented and, more concerning, unsustainable. The reason being, is that the meet up groups, which are core to growing and fostering the community, were lead and organized typically by a single or few individuals. This means that the well being of the group is largely dependent on them. Unless the individual is highly motivated and has plenty of free time, it’s likely the group will fall off its regular schedule, miss the mark in certain aspects and ultimately not realize its true potential.

As a way to validate the community further, Slack has been a great indication that there is the demand for community and that individuals are willing to engage. Here are some numbers:

  • 7 days old
  • 54 current members
  • 5 pending invitations
  • ~2,900 messages in total
  • 57% of messages are shared in the public chat rooms
  • Remaining 43% of messages are in private, direct message chats
  • 5 admins

Breaking that down, it is a great initial growth pattern. One number that I find particularly intriguing is the fact that 43% of messages have been shared in private chats. This means that individuals who otherwise wouldn’t be engaging on a personal level are now doing so.

There has been a lot of talk around the invitation system and why the group is a closed, invite-only environment. This was intentional as a certain level of exclusivity and privacy allows for members to feel comfortable and willing to engage. There have been a number of efforts, not unlike this, that were open to the public, that have not been successful.

A community member, Matt Webb, came up with a great solution to overcome the original invite method. We first had it where you had to email me to be invited, then I would take your email, go into the admin panel and then manually invite you. It goes without saying this does not adhere to our ambitions in terms of scale and autonomy. Matt proposed that a slash command be introduced that allows members to invite new members by `/requestinvite foo@bar.com`. You can view the GitHub issue to understand more about it. We have a group of admins that take the requests and invite the requested members. This has proven valuable. Shout out to David Harris for being an admin and handling a number of the requests incoming thus far.

The private nature also allows for a more strict code of conduct. It’s important to understand that this is not for control of the community, but rather, allows for a means of recourse when individuals are making the community unsafe or prevent it from being welcoming to new individuals.

I am hoping that this is a stepping stone in creating a scalable, self sustaining, autonomous developer community in Orlando. A community should be governed and maintain by itself. A community that is dependent on a single individual does not a community make. That said, if you would like to be a part, visit our website (which is also community run and maintained) to find out more.

Worth noting that this group was inspired by other Slack groups like it.