DEV Community

Dipti Gautam
Dipti Gautam

Posted on • Updated on

Building communities and conducting virtual events amidst the pandemic

I am a software engineer by job, and I am involved in lots of communities around both tech and non-tech fields, locally as well as globally. I love being a part of them, and it gives me a place to socialize and vent when I need to, as I’m not particularly an outgoing person by myself. (Although I’m pretty sure that’s going to change post pandemic.) And that has especially been true during the pandemic.

That is even stronger in my case because I took a full-time remote job almost a year ago before the pandemic even began. My undergraduate was coming to an end, and my fellowship program with Women Leaders in Technology, an amazing community who I attribute much of my recent growth to, had ended a few months earlier. This only meant one thing. I was about to distance myself from everyone as much as I was excited about my new job, and as much of a bliss it brought to me. No, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and more so the fact that it’s full-time remote, commuting in the busy hours of Kathmandu in a packed micro-bus tripped every point of my anxiety, and I hitchhiked for the most of my six-month internship. Things couldn’t have been better for me.

But the loneliness aspect of it had to be checked too. I was about to go from having somewhat of an okay social life to nothing at all. While I did have lots of fun activities planned to make it as exciting as it could be (spoiler alert: I love planning!), one of my dearest friends, namesake and coworker at the time came to my rescue by pushing me to join a community she had just been a part of. I did kind of like the work it was doing too. I had seen it in the social media, and they were covering stories of powerful representations of Nepali women in tech in their monthly medium articles. I had also met the founder during an event, and had been instantly inspired. Plus someone I looked up to from afar but had never really met in real life was also part of the team, what was not to join? So I gave in.

News flash: not one month into my job, the pandemic started in full-blown panic mode. All the “fun activities” I had planned were out of question, and I was quarantined with no peers around. Thankfully, I had kept one outlet open for me by joining the said community. Since then, I’ve been talking to the community members at least once a month and have done lots of fun as well as educational things, and frankly, life in the pandemic without it would be unimaginable. Well, I have had my books and have been practically burrowing myself in them too, but sometimes, you just need to hear yourself speak. And even that can be as good as therapy.

Today I am the president of the same community, Nepali Women in Computing, and we’ve been conducting more activities since. A minority was harassed in social media as well as real life in our community, so that became the fury of our conversation in several meetings and most of our team had been enraged, so we decided to start an “Educate” series - where we go outside of tech and address the social issues that we collectively want to voice our opinions on and bring in experts from the fields to educate the community. So far, we’ve conducted two sessions, and it happens every month. More on NWiC Educate can be found here.

We also started a monthly book club this year, and we had our very first one yesterday, where we discussed the book “We should all be feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was a pretty short read but a powerful one, and we realized that the way a Nigerian and a Nepali society treats women is more common than you’d think. The feminist tag is supposed to be an insult and isn't something that signifies that we want equality. All of us had a lot of personal experiences to relate to and to vent about, and we busted a lot of things that society makes women do and oppresses them in the name of “culture”. We talked about how we unlearned it in the process of growing up, how we rebelled against these, and ended in the positive note that our generation will definitely do better and won’t even let the next generation feel the differences between the different genders.

We also conducted a pretty big event (for us) this month. I mostly overlooked the event, so I’d like to talk a bit more about it here. It was a three-week event on Open Source Contribution with each week containing speaker sessions, introductory workshops, and hands-on contributions. The urge to do this was born back in September when we were contemplating doing a Hacktoberfest event from our side as NWiC. But on further thinking, I gathered that there aren’t many women contributing to open source (at least the ones known within our community), and we didn’t even have any role models on the same. And NWiC had a pretty big audience and was in the position that it could actually make an impact if we decided to conduct any. So we decided that the best way to go forward would be to do something impactful by utilising our connections and reach rather than do a mere event on the Digital Ocean’s wing. (We’d still like to be able to host hacktoberfest events in the future, but we just felt the need to prepare our community for it first).

So we began discussing the options and instantly found 6-7 people in our connections, a majority of which were both women, and in commendable positions in open source as well as the tech industry, and decided that we’d just make their stories heard directly among our audience, and help spark the open source spirit. Inspired by GHC, we also wanted to have the participants contribute to actual projects in the end, so we decided to do it in two weeks. But then we feared that not all of them may have the technical skills necessary, so took it a notch forward and snuck in the workshops in the middle. Hence the three-part result.

Even though it was conceptualized around October itself, I had a lot on my plate till November end, so we decided we’d do it, but put it off to actually move forward with anything until December, and that’s when we finally set the dates, started confirming the speakers we’d initially reached out to, and publicizing them on social media. Our audience received it well, we had over 70 signups within two weeks. It was a huge deal for us. Of course, the turnaround was way smaller as you know is with any event, it was a good start.

Still, the speaker sessions had a good audience and even though we had a few bumps with technical difficulties, our speakers stole the show. We learned a great deal of things through their experiences. The number of audience decreased gradually over the next weeks, but we had a handful of recurring participants, and to them we were grateful, and we were making an impact, so we kept going. The second week went much better than expected with the workshops as they were engaging and the audience kept showing interest. The third week however, was supposed to be the contributions, so our audience was barely there. I was about to start a project that I was planning on making open-source, so I just used a bare-bones version of it to keep the audience engaged, and showed a demo. And while they followed along the technical aspects of it, and had a good participation in the beginning, the audience fell silent when it was time to contribute. It was understandable too, we were doing a virtual event within a pandemic afterall. I don’t think I’d have volunteered if I was in the audience unless I really really wanted to either. So we ended the session with no hard feelings with a channel to stay connected and take it forward from there should there be an interest later on, and we wrapped the three weeks up.

I would say the event was a good start for us as a community to set our foot on, but we had a great amount of shortcomings, and had a lot to learn.

Firstly, we had speakers from multiple time zones, so in the process of accommodating that, we forgot to accommodate the US time zone, where most of our members (who were really looking forward to it) were based in.

Then we took on too much responsibility on our hands. We didn’t have a lot of experience, and the two of us who were leading it had both full time jobs and the other member who was helping us was fairly new to the community and had university and other engagements.
We were both delivering workshops as well as overseeing the whole program. We had speaker sessions in later weeks as well to accommodate those who couldn’t join us on the designated week, so we were constantly torn between communications, actual execution, preparing our talk, delivering our sessions, and a lot of miniscule things we may have overlooked. Even though there weren’t a lot of things, there was still lots of pressure building up, hence led us to being burned out and procrastinating things till the last minute.

And then, I now feel that our last two weeks that we added with much enthusiasm during the planning process, were quite unnecessary. We didn’t plan well. Had it been an in-person event, these would have been impactful and had full participation, and we could make sure that our audience was actually engaged and learning something. But it was a bit trying to conduct interactive sessions and making sure that they were following along with you. I think it took a bit more toll on our mental health and time than it had the impact.
And if I may be so bold, I suppose it was the same for our participants. They also mostly had full time jobs or online classes, so sneaking in workshops wasn’t a particularly wise decision.

We could instead have reached out to more speakers whose stories we could have brought forth and inspired the participants with. And I’m pretty sure I could have delivered my workshop much better if it had been in person or if I was just focusing on the talk and not the entire three-week event.

But so as not to make it as depressing, we decided to end it on a positive note by accepting a few things and making notes of what went well! I’d like to end it in that note:

  • We conducted our very first technical event (series) as a community, that in itself is a big win!
  • Our internal communications coordinator, Rashika, learned how to use mailchimp and send mass emails.
  • Sarayu moderated the second and third weeks of the events graciously despite being not even a month into the team!
  • I gave my first ever workshop on Clojure, which I currently work in!
  • I got a chance to connect with so many speakers I wouldn’t otherwise have come across with.
  • And I finally gave a rough start to the project Open Encyclopedia, which I was hoping to start in 2021!
  • Most importantly, we realized that it’s still the pandemic, and things are going rough for everyone. We should focus on growing as a community and making it something to lean on rather than a work we have to do.

Of course, there were other things that we learned too, but these are some notable achievements, and even if it wasn’t what we’d have liked it to be, it’s been a great stepping stone for the things to come next, and it also in some ways, showed ourselves our limits! And personally, for me, it also made me realize that I haven’t taken a break at all this year, so I’m finally taking one in February, and will be going on about making a 2021 a relaxed but fruitful year for both me and my community from March. :)

Discussion (0)