Remember In-Person Meetups?!
Earlier this year, before the advent of COVID-19, I attended my first in-person coding meetup in Pittsburgh, PA. I remember there were only a little over a half dozen of us that showed up. The general purpose was for the meetup to be a space fit for focus and deep work. Everybody mostly kept to themselves; headphones on. But I managed to connect with one person there, and we continue to stay in touch through social media.
About a week and half after that meetup, most of the United States went into lockdown due to COVID-19. Soon after that, all future meetups were cancelled until further notice. It was pretty disappointing for me because I had just started my online bootcamp. I was excited to get to engage with the community. Eventually, as the year progressed, the world as we knew it went online, including coding meetups!
After finishing my bootcamp in July, I spent a few months getting to know some engineers in the Greater Boston area. Soon after, I finally felt ready to reengage with the community and attend an online meetup.
My First Online Meetup
The meetup I attended was a weekly hack night at the Code for Boston brigade, a child organization of the Code for America Brigade network . Many engineers I connected with in the area recommended I check out Code for Boston because it was a gateway into gainful employment for them. More importantly, they gained an incredible amount of quality, hands-on experience working with a team to solve unique, challenging problems.
Living just under 2 hours south of Boston, I figured that, once the world came out of quarantine, I could commute every week to attend the meetup. The fact that they moved their hack nights online made attending all the more easier.
When I hopped on the video call for the meetup, I could tell the physical experience had been emulated pretty well (minus the pizza :( ). The first 20 minutes were some general announcements about various developments at Code for Boston. The next 10-15 minutes were sort of like a "daily-scrum" where different members gave updates on the projects they were leading.
Afterwards, most of the attendees left the virtual room and those who were "newly joined members", including myself, remained. This was the "orientation section" where each person (about four of us) had to introduce ourselves and talk about what they hoped to get out of their experience at Code for Boston. The group leaders were super nice and welcoming. They were excited to hear about someone like myself adding some representation from nearby Cape Cod.
The event leaders began to talk about which ongoing projects were recruiting new members to help out. The one that stood out to me the most was a project about " plogging ", which is the act of jogging while picking up litter and waste.
In the near future, I hope to work with Code for Boston on the cause of increasing funding for the arts in the Greater Boston area. Over the last few decades, education in the arts has faced severe budget cuts and COVID-19 has only made the situation worse. If it wasn't for my early exposure to the arts as a kid, I wouldn't be who I am today.
Here are three key lessons I took away from the meetup:
Lesson #1 : It's Alright to Be Uncomfortable
During the "daily scrum" portion of the event, a few people, the project leads, gave brief updates about the projects that they were leading. While that was going on, I didn't feeling completely confident that I understood what was being said. A few days later, I'd realized: it's ok.
First of all, it was my first time ever attending this meetup. Of course I wasn't going to feel in sync with what was going on! Starting anything, especially for the first time ever, can feel overwhelming. But as American humorist Mark Twain once stated:
The secret to getting ahead is getting started.
I believe its as true today as it was for Twain in the 19th/ early 20th centuries.
Lesson #2 : Be Open to Working with New Tools
With new projects come new challenges and problem sets that may require one to go beyond just the tools in their "toolbox". New languages, frameworks and technologies may be introduced as you get involved with more projects.
This holds true even beyond meetups. I was introduced to Ruby and Ruby on Rails in the bootcamp I attending earlier this year. Currently, I'm learning TypeScript while working on a project with a colleague/ friend outside of work.
Lesson #3 : Have Fun with Problems You're Passionate About
One of the things that drew me to Code for Boston (other than being in proximity to where I currently live), was that it's a civic technology meetup. "Civic tech" is described by Code for Boston as "using technology in a creative way to help better the lives of individuals in our communities". More info here.
Having grown up in the City of Pittsburgh, my school background was primarily in arts education (specifically, vocal performance). Though I'm now working in an industry different from what I went to school for, I still hold a deep appreciation for the arts and what it gave me in my life. Over the years, I've felt like arts education has been held as less important in a person's education and, as a result, most of everything in the arts (education, theaters, studios, galleries, concert halls, opera houses, etc) have been economically strained. Keeping the arts as an integral part of our culture is an issue that is near and dear to me. Therefore, the first problem I'd like to tackle with Code for Boston is helping in the arts. One idea that comes to mind is helping artists with showing exhibits of their work in a socially distant way.