Making the Tech World a Better Place

Most people who know me professionally are aware that I’m pretty active in the local (Chicago/Milwaukee) JavaScript scene. I speak at conferences and meetups a handful of times a year, I support various events (either in person or through social media) and I try to generally raise awareness of the awesome things happening in our mid-west tech community.

Although my activities have subsided recently since I took a new job, I have been giving a lot of thought to how I will continue to be active in 2016.

Why care?

In the past I’ve talked to hundreds of people who have asked why I’m as active as I am in the tech scene. In the vast majority of cases my answer is simple: I just enjoy it!

But honestly, that’s just not a good enough reason for you to care about these events.

If I take a step back and really ask myself: Art, why do you put so much time into blogging and creating presentations? Why do you bother to attend other meetups and conferences in the area? — it’s a hard question to answer.

The reality is that I have a full-time job, I’m involved in a small startup, I’m married, I have three kids… how in the world do I have time to worry about the local JavaScript scene, and is the time I spend doing any of this really worth it? There has to be more to it than “I just enjoy it!”.

On the one hand, I do in fact “get something” by being active. I have grown my professional network considerably by attending meetups and conferences. It’s literally free (in most cases) continuing-education. Often there is free pizza and beer… which, if you know me, is an invitation I rarely refuse.

But why do I really care? I thought about that question for a long time, and then it hit me: I have been raised and educated to value people, to give back to my community, and to help people less fortunate than myself. Being active in the tech community can be just like volunteer work, and I believe it is this calling which over time has drawn me into being so active.

Volunteer Work

My high school, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, has a mission statement stating that they are “Developing men for others.” The idea is not unique to my high school — in fact many Jesuit schools teach their students to practice social justice and prioritize community service. I learned a lot during my high school years about the importance of volunteering: you don’t need to do much in order to positively impact your community, and anything you do is appreciated.

In a similar vein, I returned to my alma mater Loyola University Chicago (also a Jesuit school) this past fall for a business course. With no surprise, the course had a great amount of focus on ethics and the social/environmental impact of business — even a deep focus on creating our own personal core values. There are opportunities every day to develop and practice your core values; when you decide that caring about other people (or your community) is a priority, your actions should always demonstrate your intentions.

While I have spent more than 16 years of my life attending Catholic schools, the lesson here has little (if anything) to do with religion. I have come to believe that because I have found success I am obligated to help others in my community do the same.

I have been very fortunate over the years to meet incredibly talented developers, attend dozens of conferences and meetups and play with the latest tools and technology in web development — I would be doing a disservice to my community by not sharing my knowledge and experience with those who have similar interests.

Notice that doesn’t mean I have to speak at every event I attend. Simply attending events helps to ensure there are future events. Yes… being active in the tech community is as easy as simply showing up.

I’ll be the first to admit that attending tech meetups doesn’t make me Mother Teresa, not even close. Calling free pizza and beer “volunteer work” is probably a stretch… but in an industry where diversity is a known problem, I have come to believe that we (I) have an obligation to help those “less fortunate” than ourselves succeed. If my participation in this community enables someone with less knowledge or opportunities to grow then it’s worth every moment of my time.

And yes… I also enjoy it!

Should You Attend or Speak at an Event?

Yes! Yes 10,000%!

It should go without saying that attending events increases the possibility that you’ll learn something new. But you’ll also meet new people, often cool people with the same interests as you. Professional networking is an added bonus — I have lost count of the number of job offers I’ve found through people I met at these events.

Should you speak at an event? HELL YES.

There are some great blogs [Pamela Fox, Mediacurrent] that detail some of the benefits of becoming a speaker — and often they’re not what you immediately think of.

  • You’ll get better at public speaking (you have to start somewhere…)
  • You’ll learn your content better than you ever thought possible
  • You might get free admission to a larger event
  • Free pizza and beer!

How do you get started? Just show up. (Well, maybe RSVP first.)

I may be overly opinionated, but I believe that everyone has the ability to attend 4 events a year — a staggering one event every three months. Check meetup.com for free events near you; search Google and Twitter for free online events; there’s plenty of goings-on, you just need to commit to showing up.

Have the time/ability to do more? Running tech events (be it meetup groups, conferences, etc) takes a considerable amount of time — and I have never met an organizer who didn’t need more help. Volunteer to speak, help with scheduling, ordering the pizza… remember, you don’t need to do much in order to positively impact your community, and anything you do is appreciated.

Local Events You Should Support

As I eluded to earlier, I’m no longer running the Chicago Sencha Meetup Group because I no longer work at Sencha. Being a meetup organizer involved a considerable amount of work — and we’ll see how I work my way back into the larger Chicago/Milwaukee tech scenes this year.

Having said that, there are some groups that you should consider attending or getting involved with:

  • That Conference: Probably the single, most-fun tech event I’ve ever attended.
  • Chicago Code Camp: For a free tech conference, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll get out of this event!
  • Milwaukee JS: For JavaScript devs in greater-Milwaukee
  • JS Chi: For JavaScript devs in greater-Chicago

Hopefully I’ll see you at one of these events in 2016!

About 

With nearly 20 years of software engineering and operations experience, Arthur Kay offers an extraordinary set of leadership skills and technical expertise to develop meaningful products and high-performing teams. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, VC-funded startups and companies across a wide variety of industries to build cutting-edge software solutions.

Arthur is a successful entrepreneur, technology professional, and mentor. He is a full-time family man, part-time consultant and spare-time musician. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago and currently lives in greater Chicago-land.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *