I’ve seen a lot of tweets recently and been a part of a number of conversations with people in tech who are interested in joining a DevRel team or applying for a community position, but don’t know how to get the experience to do that. I’ve thought a lot about that, and I have some tips for getting experience that you can represent on a resume. I’ll be focusing specifically on community in this post, but feel free to drop some tips for DevRel experience in the comments.

First, let’s define community–if that’s even possible. I really like Chris Brogan’s definition: > The difference between an audience and a community is which direction the chairs are pointing. In this sense, community is about developing relationships, engaging with people, being a part of something together. You’re not talking at them; you’re talking with them.

I would guess that you’ve been a part of a community at some point in your life. It doesn’t have to be a formal community like Virtual Coffee. It might be a moms group that meets up once a week or a fitness class where you work out with others. Think about what made those communities special to you. How can you take that experience and apply it to something new?

Now, to get experience in Community, you can start your own or support an existing community. Let’s talk about starting your own community first. Now, I would not recommend the “go big or go home” method here, but let’s take a look at some of the questions to start with:

  1. Exploration: What do you enjoy doing that you’d like to share with others? What do you feel like you’re missing in your life right now? Maybe you’re learning to code, and you’d really like to have a study group to help with accountability, co-learning experiences, and support. This is a great place to start. Another approach is to think of what you have to offer others. Is your background in marketing, but you’ve moved over to tech? Maybe you want to start a 6-week learning experience: Marketing for Developers.

  2. Logistics: Decide on what the goals of your group will be, and consider things like how often you want to meet, where you’ll meet, and what the expectations are. I have some tips here for self-created cohorts that could apply here as well.

  3. Implementation: Who are you going to invite to this new Community? Do you have a Code of Conduct–which is really important for keeping your community safe. How are you going to nurture the relationships, share information, and fulfill the goals of your Community? Do you want to lead the group? What should the structure look like?

Supporting an Existing Group

There are a lot of great groups already out there. Some, like Women Who Code have clear paths for how to support the organization. Often, smaller and newer organizations are trying their best to support the community, know they need support, but don’t know how or where to start.

You can always ask the group leaders how to volunteer if there isn’t a clear path to do so. But as a member, you also have a unique perspective on the needs of the group. You can give a specific help offer: “Hey, I noticed there are a lot of questions about where to get started with this community. Could I record a video intro for new community members that walks them through the highlight reel?” Or “I have a lot of experience documenting processes. Could I help create a document that explains how to participate in the small group meetups in our community?”

Here are some key roles that I’ve identified as useful in the community:

  • Documentation -> When a Community is doing a lot of things, it can be hard to see clear paths to what’s happening, what to expect, and who to talk to about things. Documentation can certainly ease the onboarding for new members.
  • Community Health and Support -> Do you have a good read on people and communities? Do you like providing support by answering questions, identifying the growing needs of the community, and bringing concerns to the Community Leads?
  • Event Support -> Depending on the group, this may or may not apply. But take a look at the events that are happening. Are there ways you can support them? Are you willing to be a hype person for the event, recruit volunteers and participants, organize speakers, coordinate logistics? There’s a lot that goes into it; chances are there will be a need.
  • Ideation & Feedback Support -> For a lot of Community Leads who are volunteering their time, it can be hard to work through new member ideas and feedback. It can seem overwhelming even. Are you willing to take feedback, organize it, and communicate recommendations to Community Leads?
  • Moderation -> Most communities could always use more support with moderation. Are you willing to abide by the group’s COC, create/review guidelines for moderation and help to implement them?
  • Volunteer Coordinator -> This is really a catch-all for all of the above. When there are a lot of things happening, it can be hard to keep track of it all. Are you good at leading people? Figuring out ways to be more efficient with organizing and communicating with volunteers? Identifying where and when volunteers are needed? This would be a great support to many communities.

One of the things I’ve found most helpful as a Virtual Coffee Maintainer is when members see a need in the community and provide for that need. For instance, Marie Antons saw that a lot of community members had questions about breaking into tech, interviewing, and landing a job. So she started a small group meetup to support those members. Ayu noticed that we had a recurring need to get some things on the site every month, and before I even think to get the issue up, she’s already on it. Ray has filled a number of needs from a React mentoring group to an indie-hackers group. And these are just a fraction of the examples of the community support that we receive.

See a need; support the need.

Remember, there’s always opportunity to support your community; it doesn’t have to be big and organized. You can answer questions, welcome new folks who introduce themselves, send DMs to members you haven’t seen in slack/discord for a while. This is what really defines the community, in my opinion. If the members support each other with openness, empathy, and a willingness to learn and grow together, then you have something special, and that starts with the little things the members of the community do for each other.