Monday, May 17, 2010

Mentorship and Community

If you ask some of the people who know me well, you’ll find out that I’m pretty big on community in both professional life and life in general. Personally, I view it as a way to help others, be helped, and be exposed to things that you might not otherwise consider.

Since I graduated from college, it has seemed like, professionally, I’ve been on my own. I’ve had friends, but it felt like I had no sense of professional community.

From my viewpoint, it’s like I’ve been trapped in some sort of insular bubble and the only direction and inspiration for “what do I learn next” has been stumbled upon by either bare necessity of a project I’ve been working on or through running across a mention of something in an article online. This is, to be honest, a Sisyphean task and, after a while, it starts to become discouraging.

I’ve missed the sense of community, knowledge sharing, and mentorship that I had while I was in the last couple of years of high school and throughout my time in college. Due to the exposure to other people and their ideas, my own ideas seemed to flow much more smoothly and I worried less about making mistakes because there was always someone that I could bounce ideas off of or go to for advice.

Professional development seems to be so much more difficult when you feel like you’re doing everything on your own. Add to that the fact that we are inherently social creatures, and being on your own can be nerve wracking.

Last night, I had a realization: I seem to have found that sense of community and mentorship again. And it’s on…Twitter?

Okay, to be fair, it’s in person as well since I get to see a lot of the people I talk to at least once a month, but the bulk of conversations occur over digital medium (twitter, email, and Live messenger primarily).

Roughly a year and a half ago, I found CONDG online when I went looking to see if there were any .NET developer’s groups nearby (I know. Novel idea.). Their most recently listed meeting at the time had a twitter link for the presenter, so having just gotten twitter a few weeks before, I clicked on the link and checked out their stream.

It just sort of went from there.

Now I’ve gone from basically knowing nobody in the field in this geographic area (since most of my college friends in CS were from other parts of the state/country/world) to knowing a number of them and feeling much more like a person again than I did a year or so ago.

It’s nice to be part of a group of people who help each other out, offer advice, chat, joke around and hang out together on occasion, and, when needed, give a kick in the ass to get you going again.

I’ve missed the camaraderie and exposure to new things and viewpoints. Maybe even more than I realized. It’s also nice to know that I’m not the only one that experiences self doubt about their abilities and worries about failure (Even if Phil Japikse does use it as an opportunity to make a good-natured joke at my expense heh).

I try to give back as well, but I sometimes worry that I take more than I give in return. I honestly hope that isn’t the case, because they’ve all been great, and I don’t want to put any of them out. I also don’t want to feel like I’m being a bother

What brought on this realization? The feedback from my last post, mostly sparked by the first commenter, who called me arrogant. I got tweets and emails from a number of people that I follow and have met with advice and constructive criticism on both the post, aspects of my professional development, and my resume as well as assuring me that the post was not, in fact, arrogant but generally fairly sensible.

I appreciate the support, advice and critiques. Some changes have already been made to the resume (paring down some of the older experience, breaking out skills by skill level, etc) and others are planned.

As a (rather large) added bonus, I’ve started to feel a lot more social over the last year. I view this as a great thing because I basically used to be a social butterfly (as difficult as that may be for some people to believe).

Thanks again, guys. You’ve been great and I hope that I am able to return the favor in at least some small way.

Current mood: humbled
Current music: Bush – Swallowed


mgroves said...

I felt the same way when I basically stumbled into the local developer's community and groups like CONDG and what not. I would say that community alone has been responsible for as much or more of my professional growth than any formal training.

James Hollingshead said...


I know. It's been a great source of not only information, but advice and inspiration for me.

It's made me a lot less afraid to take more chances in the things that I do as well (which is something I've needed for quite a while).