I am not going to speak about the importance of technical contacts for very long. Rather I will put location of those into perspective.
Knowing people, affairs and news in technology should be the prime quest for every professional. I’ve noticed a correlation between the quality of a developer and his/her interest in technology. Not only developers (the main target of my blogging), but designers, testers, sales personnel and everybody else as well. It is what allows us to keep in touch with reality and not remain hidden in our personal shells. By keeping an eye on the technology market, you ain’t as likely to miss the next big thing.
The best way to meet people with common interests is to go to conferences and meetups. The smaller the group, the more likely it is that people will actually remember you due to your awesome set of skills and not discard your business card as people sometimes do with ‘contacts’. Personally? I hate the idea of making ‘contacts’. It is so degrading. Since when are people measured by our ability to use them? Eh, besides politics of course. Yet geeks and nerds live in a world of their own. I do not wish to talk to people about shampoos (well sometimes I go, because of my haircut) and television series (besides Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Firefly, Big Bang Theory and Downton Abbey). Sometimes I just with to comment on the Google Glass Explorer news, Moto X Drive assist, Mozilla CEO scandal or just talk about how awesome it will be when C++12 becomes a thing. Guess what? You can’t talk about the news your RSS reader filters for you to people who just watch the FOX News (or any other TV with bus crashes, adopted kittens, robbed elderly and Miley Cyrus).
Now, ‘contacts’ are nice to have if searching for a job or trying to change a framework in use. They aren’t really the thing, when it comes to a beer ‘n brag. The old fashioned way to socialize with people. When this fails, there is always the internet. But it has been so wildly polluted by trolls and weirdos that it gets tough even to a geek like myself. What about people from other branches? Contributing to communities is nice, but will forever remain anonymous. No social network will change this.
When you live in a bigger city, you can go and search meetup.com. You will find meetups for technologies that you are passionate about and grab a beer with like-minded people. The statistics for myself is not very promising, but it might be better for you. There are currently 10 interesting meetups in Bratislava (Scala, Web Design, Bitcoins and others), 72 in Vienna (including AngularJS, Ruby, Python, Android and Meditation), a few 100s in Dublin, and 1 in Graz (at least it’s Python..). I can’t stop to wonder how the second largest city in Austria can have 49 technology enthusiasts. That is so little. Just imagine that if just a few of those have children, jealous partners or general lack of motivation once in a month, nobody actually arrives!
It is not that Graz is not a great city. It has history, bars, castles, IT companies and 2 breweries. But I’ve been living in larger cities for a large portion of my life. It never occurred to me that there can be a relatively large city with a struggling developer community. With 300k people Graz ranks among the smaller European cities. There is a number of tech companies here and because developers tend to stack I would expect a number of techies. Am I therefore impressed that there are only 49 techies? YES! Should I be? I guess not… But it matters not, if I would be talking about Graz or any other small city. I could even exchange the name for a few ***** and the point would still be valid.
As for other options of meeting techies, conferences are a different story. It does not really matter where they take place. People from all around gather and spend a few days together. I especially like the idea of meeting online open source contributors live. Yet, the conference is over, the people go to their regular lives and there is still no-one you can talk about Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball. As I said earlier, talking to people on chats and forums and via push messages does not substitute a good meetup.
Waking up after two years of not meeting many people (offline) is hard. People move to capitals and IT centers for exactly this reason. It is easier to meet people there, have a better selection of companies and a better ground for start ups. I moved out of the capital without realizing what an impact this can has on one’s professional development. Listening to opinions of others and being forced to verbalize my own opinions helps growth. It does not matter how much time one spends in front of the PC reading blogs, watching podcasts, learning from online courses or contributing to open source. What matters at the end is your ability to transfer this knowledge to your former techies.
There are so many interesting technologies emerging every year! So many start-ups solving problems that you never even knew that existed! Not being part of it, because it happens somewhere else, makes me sad.
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