Contributing to the Community

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to participate in a number of “coffee chats” with some who are just getting started in the developer community. They come from all over the place: Ohio, North Carolina, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, India. But they all share a common desire to join the developer community. I’m grateful to be a tiny part of their learning process and I wanted to share just a little bit about my experiences so far.

I’ve written in the past about ways to contribute to the community and why we need to give back to make the community a better place. But in the years since that post, I’ve greatly expanded the ways I’ve given back personally and felt like it was time for an updated post.

It’s important that those of us who are further along in our careers make the time to share the wisdom of experience with those who are just starting out or haven’t gotten as far along the road as we have. So, what are some ways that we can give back to the community?

Mentoring Sessions

I’ll start with the above-mentioned chats. One of my fellow central Ohio devs Calvin Allen turned me on to this. He started tweeting about these #coffeechats he was doing with students who were involved in the #100Devs program. #100Devs is a program started by Leon Noel doing a free online software engineering boot camp.

He started offering time on his calendar to those involved in the program or anyone who wanted to chat and get some thoughts from someone who has been in the field for a while. I felt like it was a worthwhile endeavor and opened up some time on my own calendar to do the same.

It doesn’t require a lot of your time. I set aside 30-minute blocks of time, 5 or 6 times a week. Some have been shorter, others have been longer. And I have found with the handful of chats I’ve had so far that these students mostly come in with their own agenda of things they want to ask me about. I’ve been very impressed with their drive, determination, and preparation for our chats. I just hope that they find at least something of use in all of my blathering.

Call it coffee chats or office hours or whatever you like, but it’s a good way to get some 1 on 1 time with those just starting out.


There is no end of speaking opportunities available in our community: conferences, user groups, meetups, podcasts, Twitch, YouTube, Lunch & Learns, team training, speaking to school students, church groups, library groups, the list goes on and on.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several conferences and been on multiple podcasts. Next week I’ll be giving my first meetup presentation based on a recent conference talk I gave. Speaking still terrifies me. But that’s fine. A little occasional terror in one’s life can be a good thing.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t selected to speak at StirTrek again this year. But I will be there as a volunteer. This brings me to…


There are a lot of opportunities for volunteering in our community. Most user groups, meetups, and conferences depend on people volunteering their time to keep them running.

For me, I am on the board of directors for the JavaScript and Friends conference, and I also volunteer at StirTrek (though one of these years they’re gonna pick me as a speaker!). And I’m contributing time each week to hold mentoring sessions.

There’s no shortage of opportunities, and what I said before still goes. Your excuses are bullshit. There’s no reason why any of us is unable to contribute in some way. So just do it.


There are a lot of opportunities for teaching and passing on your knowledge and experience to others. It doesn’t have to be in a classroom setting. You can speak (see above), blog, tweet, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, pair programming sessions, mentoring sessions, and so on.

Another great way to teach is to participate in user forums such as StackOverflow or any language or technology-specific user forum. There are thousands of them out there.

It doesn’t matter how you transfer that knowledge. There are a bunch of ways to teach. And if you mix it up with some variety, you won’t get bored of doing it!

Donating Money

There are a TON of worthy developer-based causes that you can donate to. Some of them focus on specific target demographics and some of them focus on expanding the developer world in general. Some of them are broadly based programs and others are specific.

Here are a few of my favorite causes to donate to when I can:

Black Girls Code – focuses on young black girls, one of the most under-represented groups in tech

Girls Who Code – focuses on developing female engineers

Stir Scholarship – A scholarship extension of the Stir Trek developer conference that provides scholarships to women learning tech. – focused on expanding computer science education in K-12.

As I said, there is no end to worthy programs and scholarships out there that you can contribute to and help foster the future of technology.

Donating Skills

Another great way to contribute back is to participate in code projects. These may be open-source projects, charitable projects, or helping those who have their own projects.

These contributions don’t have to be hands-on coding either. There are a lot of ways to contribute your skills: code reviews, updating documentation, triaging and documenting bugs, QA testing, participating in road maps, and so forth.

But, if you want to code, then there are plenty of ways to do that as well. Here are a few projects I know about and sites that connect developers to charitable projects.

donate:code – This site focuses on matching developers to charitable projects.

Social Coder – Connect volunteer programs to coders

hack4impact – another site to match coders to charities in need of code

<CODE>YOUR FUTURE – a site for helping people develop their tech skills and have numerous volunteering opportunities.

Humanitarian Toolbox – This charity focuses on developing free tech tools for communities to respond to disasters.

There are many, many more.

Donating Equipment

As senior devs, we know that a lot of us push to have the latest and greatest laptops for development. And the truth is, we really don’t need to have it, but we often do. So, what to do with that old laptop?

The answer is simple. Donate it. There’s a lot of need for entry-level and career changes who come from less fortunate backgrounds. A lot of them can’t afford a laptop to use to hone their skills. And we all know that for most development, a 2 or 3-year-old “power” laptop is more than sufficient. Heck, even a 5-year-old laptop is fine for a lot of dev work.

Find a charity or group that can get that refresh that laptop and get it in the hands of someone who needs it to start off on their journey. And it’s one less hassle for you to deal with.

Give Positive Feedback

Some of the best ways to give back to the community are to just plain offer some positive feedback. It doesn’t have to be much. It doesn’t have to take more than 20 or 30 seconds of your time.

It could be on Twitter, in a YouTube comment, an email, a text, a phone call, whatever. There’s so much fucking negativity on the internet. Be a word of positivity and buck the trend.


The tech community has brought many of us so very many blessings. It’s our responsibility, our duty even, to give something back to it. So stop being a selfish bastard and just do it. 🙂 You won’t regret it.

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