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Maria Ovsyannikova
Maria Ovsyannikova

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What are the benefits of participating in local communities?

The interior in co-working space. Sofa, lamp, shelves, plants, window and more. Photo by Maria Ovsyannikova.

My first experience with local communities and with the events began in 2017. I spontaneously came to the International Women's Day event that was held by the Women Techmakers Berlin community. I was pleasantly surprised by everything that evening. From the people, I had the chance to meet to the place where the event happened.

Since then, I started to attend more and more events related to the topics that I was interested in. I wasn't working, therefore I had plenty of free time and energy to attend a couple of events a week. Today I would like to share with you what kind of benefits I've found while spending my evenings that way, at the meetups.

I will group them together since they are closely related to each other.

Networking. (Expand your network of like-minded people & find new friends)

Events organized by big local communities attract a lot of people, especially for popular occasions. With such a crowd it's hard not to talk to anyone even if you are extremely shy as I am. It happens absolutely spontaneously. Someone passing you by, throwing a word or a phrase and only 10mins later you notice that you are involved in an interesting conversation without any effort. I also find it's a great way to meet new acquaintances if you're new in a city, moved alone or maybe just came for a vacation. Besides, you never know what these acquaintances will bring into your life. Perhaps the person you've just met will be your future neighbor, colleague, mentor, friend or soulmate.

A group of people playing kicker at Droidcon Berlin 2018. Photo by Maria Ovsyannikova.

As an extra bonus, within a few months, you will know most of the people who are organizing events and those who are the regular visitors. Therefore it will no longer be as awkward, uncomfortable and lonely as it was at first. Also, if you don't want to attend events because you don't know anyone there, you could take a friend or colleague with you, it will help to soften the atmosphere and relax.

Knowledge & Inspiration. (Get inspiration and learn new things)

There are several types of events that could give you those benefits.

First of all, all events with talks. Talks could be about absolutely any topic, but usually, you can see titles and short abstracts of the talks before the event, so you can decide whether it'll be interesting for you or not. It can be one long talk for the whole evening or a bunch of shorter talks. After each talk or during a break you'll have a chance to ask a speaker your question.

Sometimes a topic of the talk is outside of your knowledge area, but you still feel a temptation to come and listen to this talk, since it could give you some inspiration to try new tools or technologies, for example.

I personally don't like the talks about updates, like a new version of the framework X, or new features of the library Y. But when it's a talk about benefits or issues of using those tools, it's a completely different thing. In this case, you can learn from the experience and mistakes of others.

Another type of events where you can learn something is chats or panel discussions with experts from different fields. These type of events are usually led by someone, who's interviewing the experts about their career paths, experience or other things. Plus, there is always a possibility for the audience to ask a question as well. Maybe you want to change career and have a fear about a certain thing in a new field, then you could ask experts how they handled it.

Notes from the Public speaking workshop, part 1. Photo by Maria Ovsyannikova.

I would also recommend having a pen and paper next to you while listening to a talk or panel discussion. You might want to make notes of tools, articles, books, main points or ideas that were mentioned. It'll be easier to retrieve information later when you'll need it. As for me, I prefer to make a sketchnotes with drawings or pretty detailed notes during talks and discussions. It helps me to concentrate on a talk and understand it deeper since I need to convert it immediately into a short image or phrase that will be clear for me later on. It's also more exhausting compared to just listening. Choose what fits better for you.

Coming back to benefits, there are also events, where you without any doubt are gaining knowledge and learning something new, those are courses, workshops and study groups. Even if you are familiar with the topic of a course or a workshop, there still can be little things, like shortcuts, another approach or new a technique, that you might not know before, or haven't thought about. In addition, if you already finished your part of the task, you can always help your neighbor. This gives you extra practice in explaining things to others, which is one of the best ways to understand everything better. Study groups are based on the same approach. A bunch of people come together, at the beginning of the event everyone introducing themselves and also shortly explains what they will work on today. And while working on your idea you can also ask something and discuss questions with others and help them with their projects.

A girl standing in the middle of a park with a bag with a Women Techmakers community logo on it. Photo by Celia Gómez de Villavedón.

Sharing, Teaching & Mentoring. (Share your ideas, experience, and knowledge with others and give back to the community)

That is the last bunch of benefits that I want to cover today. At some point, you might want to share your thoughts, ideas, experience with others. It doesn't have to be something big and you don't need a lot of expertise for that. For sure, if you have exceptional knowledge in a certain topic, that's a great option for sharing, but also your thoughts while solving something or reflections might be helpful for people around. I myself like to read personal stories, how people started their career, how they are building their way and growing. It's very inspiring.

You might think that teaching and mentoring is only beneficial for students or mentees, and only experienced people can do it, but it's not like that. It's helpful for all who are learning something new and in this case that's both of you. You'll go through the things you know once again, refresh your knowledge and maybe find some gaps that you'll fill in while explaining something to your student or mentee. You'll also have a chance to look at new tools and technologies that you had no chance to try before, which will help you to expand your experience. As a result, you'll fulfill your need of sharing information with people, feel joy because of helping others, grow personally and professionally, and you'll support communities that are doing their best to attract more people into technology.

Last year, we organized a JavaScript course together with my colleagues, to teach people (mostly women) how to code. I had a lot of doubts at the beginning, that I won’t have enough knowledge to answer questions that students might ask. But after the first lecture, it all went away. I felt that I knew enough, that I can be helpful and explain something to others. Try it out yourself and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

That's all that I wanted to share with you today.
I hope that you found something useful for yourself from my article.

Don't hesitate to ask in comments if you have any questions. 
Follow me on Instagram or Twitter, there I post shorter notes but more often.

Thank you for reading!

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