Why community is vital to tech’s future

09/08/2022
Jeff Watkins (CPTO at xDesign)

by Jeff Watkins, CPTO at xDesign

THE tech sector is growing at a staggering pace and isn’t showing many signs of slowing. Tech was one of the first industries to recover from our last global “situation” (i.e. the Pandemic) and from personal experience, we seem to bounce back quicker and harder every time. But, how do we sustain this? 

Answer: By forging tight-knit communities driven by real purpose and intent to act.

Framing the issues

There are a few assertions which frame this piece:

The tech industry is one that in many roles requires technical expertise

The number of developers, systems and apps is growing

The risks attached to delivering insecure, inaccurate or inaccessible software are growing (see GDPR, the VW emissions gaffe, Equality Act (2010) /  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

We’re working in a space, which is growing in size, complexity and risk. In some ways, humans are apt to sleepwalk into these situations, convinced that it’s actually a SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem). However, it’s vital that we rethink our approach to the challenges we face. 

The key takeaway? We all need to be doing more as individuals and organisations to create a collaborative tech community. By doing so, we can reimagine our sector as one that is sustainable, accessible and driven by quality. It’s improving, but it’s not there yet.

With that in mind, here’s some food for thought on how we go about doing this.

Growing a community within your organisation

Change your mindset

It’s not about what you delivered, what you know, or how smart you are anymore. It should be about what we learned, how we grew, and how we delivered together. It should also be about how knowledge was shared, and how open and compassionate you’ve been in sharing what knowledge and insight you have. When you learn to enjoy nurturing others, by simply doing it, you’ll understand how much it benefits all parties.

Ditch the ego

I’ve had developers approach me, almost apologetically, like my time is somehow made of platinum and they’re not worthy of it. I think it’s part of the human condition, but I try to always make it clear that I’m just another human, perhaps with a few more laps around the sun. This also means I am open to learning from somebody that people would consider to be more “junior”, as there are many areas I have only passing knowledge of, AI/ML for example.

Set objectives and measure success

If people are only rewarded by their own delivery, then that’s all they’ll do, unless they’re compelled to help grow people. As a leader, positive nudging towards growing people can really make it happen.

As a result, change your objective setting process and you’ll change people. Bake the growth of colleagues and community into performance review objectives.

Hire those who want to teach

If your cultural interview process doesn’t provide your people with the opportunity to probe a prospect’s inclination to share knowledge and nurture talent, then it should. I’d rather hire 10 good, but not rockstar developers, who can train up the next generation, than one developer with 10x the output.

Outside of your organisation

There’s a whole other world that exists outside of your bubble that you’ll need to consider too. As technologists, I’d argue it’s in our interests to ensure the wider community is better trained, informed and engaged. After all, they’re the next people you’re hiring, right?

Remove elitism and impenetrability of what you do

If there’s one thing technologists have been accused of in the past it’s a sense of elitism. The fancier your CS degree, the bigger your brass orbs. I’m not saying we should remove the importance of having good fundamentals, if anything we need more of them, however, try to make it inclusive, and give people a way in. I think the sea has already started to change in this respect, which is great!

Close the diversity gap – Show your success stories

If you can show the outside world that people from diverse backgrounds are finding excellent careers in an area, it demystifies it and encourages those individuals who would otherwise have been put off from applying for open roles. 

Diverse workforces not only help to avoid so-called ‘groupthink’, but also makes our culture richer, stronger and more vibrant. At xDesign we have several advocates across our business who regularly give talks internally and externally  – all with the aim of showing how everyone has something to bring to the business.

Work collaboratively with your network to close the skills gap

The digital skills gap won’t magic itself away, so having a structured and collaborative approach with other organisations in your network is a good way to really help chip away at this perennial challenge.

xDesign’s recent partnership with the sports gaming company FanDuel, for example, will support new entrants into the technology industry, by creating 400 high-value jobs by the end of 2022.  

Teach in the community

There’s ample opportunity at events, colleges, universities or just from the LinkedIn community to teach good engineering practices. It needn’t cost you more than a couple of hours each week. 

Teaching in the community is something I’m really passionate about, having just come back from speaking at Agile on the Beach in Cornwall. Some of my colleagues dedicate time to talking about tech roles in schools with a view to encouraging the next generation of technologists – particularly among young women.

As the old adage goes, ‘you reap what you sow’, and teaching is an extremely important part of community building.

Conclusion

One thought you might be having is “but I’m only one person”, and it’s true, you are. But collectively, we are stronger than the sum of our fleshy parts. Just doing something often spurs those around you to also do something too, and if you can start to bubble that up the organisation, then we’ll get even closer to building the collaborative and vibrant community we need.

To find out more about xDesign, visit: www.xdesign.com 

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